Polyphenols- The micronutrients that keep you going
The increased inclination towards weight loss through nutrition and the trend of developing a healthier lifestyle has led to the popularization of many micronutrients.
You might’ve heard about protein shakes, omega 3, folic acid, vitamin B12, noni juice and many more such supplements coming into the spotlight.
Well, polyphenols are one such compound that came into limelight for their multiple benefits.
So, what are Polyphenols?
Polyphenols are the naturally occurring micronutrients found in certain fruits, vegetables, berries, dark chocolate and red wine. They are usually plant compounds.
They are believed to have certain health benefits. Polyphenols are believed to enhance digestion, reduce inflammation, might prevent and maintain type 2 diabetes, certain cancers, help to control obesity, dementia, degenerative diseases and cardiac ailments.
Polyphenols are commonly found in foods such as fruits, vegetables, spices, tea, dark chocolate, red wine and many more daily elements of the staple diet.
Types of Polyphenols
There are more than 8000 types of discovered polyphenols. They can be categorized into the following four chief types (let’s get that scientific mumbo jumbo out of the way)-
- Flavonoids – This is the most common polyphenol found in everyday foodstuffs that constitute our daily diet. Flavonoids include quercetin, catechin, anthocyanins, etc.(since they are unpronounceable, they must be very effective, you can bet on that). They are typically found in foods like dark chocolates, apples, onions.
- Phenolic acids – These are the second most common type of polyphenol. It contributes to 30% of all polyphenols. They include stilbenes and lignans which are mostly found in the majority of the fruits, vegetables, whole grains and seeds.
- Polyphenolic amides – The polyphenolic amides are abundant in spices and herbs. This category includes capsaicinoids which are prominent in chilli peppers and avenanthramides in oats.
- Other polyphenols – Some other types of polyphenols are lignans in flax seeds or sesame seeds, resveratrol in red wine, ellagic acid usually found in berries and curcumin found in turmeric.
The amount of polyphenols present in the foods depends upon various factors. It depends on how the particular food crop was cultivated, how ripe it was, how it was stored, how it was cooked and the way it was consumed.
Okay, so where would you find it?
Almost all the plant-derived foods like fruit, vegetables (including our favourite broccoli), legumes, grains, beans, etc. contain polyphenols.
- Fruits and Berries – Blueberries, apples, oranges, peaches, plums, strawberries, blackcurrants, apricots, cherries, grapes, raspberries and almost all fruit.
- Vegetables–onions, potatoes, olives, carrots, spinach, broccoli, beans, red lettuce, etc.
- Dry fruits–Hazelnuts, almonds, chestnuts, pecans.
- Herbs and Spices – Star anise, turmeric, cumin, cinnamon, thyme, basil, oregano, peppermint, saffron, ginger, rosemary, etc. Preferably, the herbs and spices should be consumed dry.
- Other foods–Whole grains, oats, flax seeds, sesame seeds, rye, tofu, tea, wine, coffee, olive oil, dark chocolate, soyabean, cocoa powder and many more.
I know, after reading the list, you must be like- Hey! I’m already getting enough polyphenols!
Yes, you are getting your daily dose of polyphenols. If you have a particular ailment, you can increase the intake of that specific polyphenol which might counter it.
Will Polyphenols give you Superpowers?
Sadly, no. But it can counter some serious lifestyle ailments.
There is evidence available on how polyphenol can counter certain diseases. Here is a brief overview of how polyphenols can prevent or mitigate some big shot diseases.
Neurological disorders: These disorders are also known as degenerative ailments. Polyphenols like curcumin, catechins, resveratrol can protect you against Alzheimer’s, dementia, Parkinson’s and Huntington’s disease. The polyphenols are high in antioxidants that protect neurons and prevent and curb neurotoxicity.
Cancer: Flavonoids like flavonols, catechins and anthocyanins and more of the like may be useful in neutralizing the free radicals and lower cancer risk as it might cause the stoppage of cellular progression in tumours. Polyphenols were proven effective for cancers like colon, prostate, breast cancer.
Inflammation: As we mentioned earlier that polyphenols contain antioxidants, the phenolic compounds might mitigate inflammation. Inflammation can also be prevented as it facilitates restoration of redox balance.
Cardiovascular ailments: Foods rich in flavonoids enhance the ventricular health, lower the platelet activity, keep the blood pressure in check and overall enhance the cardiovascular health. This, combined with its anti-inflammatory properties, helps to reduce the risk of a stroke. The flavonoids and resveratrol can oxidize the cholesterol and keep it in check. Polyphenols are also believed to prevent blood clots.
Obesity: Polyphenols play a role in weight loss and weight maintenance. Catechins, resveratrol, curcumin are associated with anti obesogenic properties, they reduce inflammation, broaden energy expenditure which consequently leads to weight management.
As mentioned above, polyphenols enhance digestion and metabolism, which is vital for weight loss.
This doesn’t mean that you’ll drink a gallon of polyphenol concoction and shred a ton of fat in a day.
Type 2 diabetes: Polyphenols in general and especially anthocyanins are associated with the prevention and maintenance of type 2 diabetes. The antioxidants and anti-inflammatory properties help in mitigation while slowing down starch digestion and controlling glucose.
What about the Supplements?
Just like other vitamins and minerals, polyphenols also come in supplements. But their recommended doses are unclear. It is not known yet if it is okay to consume them in isolation.
Hence, it would be smart of you to consume polyphenols in combination with your regular diet rather than consuming it in isolation. It would be wise to go for the natural sources of polyphenols rather than consuming supplements.
Also, who needs supplements when so many sources are available?
So if polyphenols can prevent all these lethal diseases, all you should do is pop some polyphenol pills so you’ll be fit and live upto 99!
No. Not so soon.
Polyphenols have many benefits, but it’s not a panacea. Anything consumed in excess has some side effects (like if you eat too many carrots, your skin can turn orange).
Excess of polyphenols can give rise to some potential problems like nausea, kidney problems, tumours, sleeplessness, etc.
If you have ailments like blood pressure, thyroid or any other major ailments, then you should consult a doctor before consuming polyphenol supplements.
Till now, polyphenols have reportedly proven beneficial in the prevention and management of pancreatitis, gastrointestinal issues, lung damage, memory improvement, prevention of blood clots, above mentioned ailments and counter many more non-communicable diseases.
So, polyphenols have many significant health benefits and can prevent major ailments if consumed regularly for the long term. However, excessive doses (whatever exceeds the levels of polyphenols present in your staple diet) through supplements can be harmful. There is more research required on the supplements.
Till then, it is safe and advantageous to health to consume polyphenols from the natural sources.