The Power of Polyphenols
Polyphenols are chemicals produced in plants that have an antioxidant effect on the body when consumed. They can help reduce inflammation, help regulate hormones, slow the growth of cancer cells, and discourage development of some metabolic disorders. They are naturally occurring in many fruits, vegetables, red wine, coffee, chocolate, and tea. The more colorful and fresh your diet is, the chances are good that you’re getting lots of polyphenols.
Polyphenols are a source of nutrients which help your gut flora thrive. When the body consumes foods with polyphenols, the gut transforms these complex compounds into usable nutrients. It is estimated that only 5% of polyphenols are absorbed in the small intestine before the rest pass to the colon to be broken down by gut bacteria. Bacteria are needed to utilize polyphenols, then the polyphenols can promote healthy probiotic gut bacteria in return. This is a good example of how good health and good nutrition build and support one another.
Flavonoids, one of the most common types of polyphenols, are a diverse type of phytonutrient found in almost all fruits and vegetables. They are found in beverages like tea, cultured drinks like kombucha, coffee, and wine. They’re also found in leafy greens, onions, berries, apples, plums, and more. Flavonoids are known for their benefits to the immune system, antioxidant and anti-inflammatory effects, and helping buffer against toxin and free-radicals exposure in the body.
4 Popular Sources of Polyphenols
Tea contains anti-cancer and anti-fungal properties. Many studies suggest that regular tea consumption can positively benefit the gut microbiome. When healthy gut bacteria consume polyphenols from tea, they can release healthy byproducts to encourage the colonization of commensal (beneficial) and probiotic bacteria in the gut.
The process of making chocolate from cacao beans begins with fermentation of simple sugars by our good friends, Bifidobacterium and Lactobacilli. Chocolate can also have positive effects on the immune system and Gut-Associated Lymphatic Tissue (GALT). It has also been shown to reduce cortisol and other stress related hormones. Choose chocolate that is high in cacao solids. Just remember, quality matters. The higher the cacao percentage, the lower percentage of inflammatory ingredients such as dairy and sugar. Cacao is both an antioxidant and a prebiotic. The less processed the chocolate is, the better it is for you. Unsweetened cocoa and cacao nibs make excellent additions to smoothies and hot cereal.
Red Wine or Grape Juice
In moderation, red wine has been found to have some positive health benefits. Full of antioxidants, both red wine and grape juice have a beneficial effect on the gut and can reduce inflammation. Resveratrol is a polyphenol found in wine that has a positive impact on blood sugar and sometimes cholesterol levels.
Fruits and Vegetables
The healthiest way to get polyphenols, flavonoids, and nutrients, will always from fruits and vegetables. Strive to eat 5-6 servings of a wide variety of fruits and vegetables every day. This introduces your body to new colonies of beneficial bacteria and supports existing colonies. It provides your gut with pre- and probiotics. It supports immune health, and it discourages the production of cancer cells. Strive to eat a broad spectrum of colors for all your natural foods to diversify your nutrient intake, and the fresher, the better.
Packing a Polyphenol Punch
It’s also important to consider how you prepare your food. A good rule to follow is that the harsher the cooking method, the fewer polyphenols are retained in the food itself. The older the produce, the less likely it is to retain as many nutrients as possible. Consuming whole foods and herbs, rather than isolates and extracts, can provide numerous benefits.
Polyphenols may have positive effects on disease prevention, weight management, and immune function. Experiment with different varieties of foods and see how many you can incorporate into your bio-individualized diet on a regular basis for increased health and wellness.