It isn’t often you hear the term “polyphenol” thrown around by amateur dieticians or wellness gurus. This is because polyphenols are not well understood, and their benefits can come across as arcane or obscure to those who aren’t big into nutrient science. Plus, their bland and synthetic-sounding name gives them the appearance of being complex, industrial, or even dangerous.
But in reality, polyphenols are anything but dangerous. In fact, they are the exact opposite. All it takes is one look at the many scientific studies and research papers exploring the benefits of polyphenols to know they are the real deal.
Polyphenols are small (“micro-”) nutrients found naturally in plants. As they have become the focus of more scientific study in recent years, these little guys have gained the reputation of “nature’s pharmacy”. And this is not for no reason, either. For millennia, plants dense with polyphenols have been used by civilizations as natural remedies for disease. They were also used as frontline treatment for common ailments.
So what are they really, and why have you never heard of them? Like any other mineral or vitamin, polyphenols imbue your body with the power to perform specific functions. In the case of polyphenols, the body is empowered in a myriad of ways from protecting cell lining in blood arteries to supplying your brain with vital membrane reinforcements.
To fully understand the role of polyphenols in your diet, we will first have to explore what antioxidants and free radicals are. This is because the powers of antioxidation are central to what polyphenols do.
Polyphenols, Antioxidants, and Free Radicals
In basic terms, polyphenols are a kind of antioxidant. Since the term “antioxidant” has grown into a wellness buzzword in recent years, this has generated a lot of media hype around the potential benefits of polyphenols. What, then, are antioxidants and what’s all the buzz about?
Antioxidants themselves are organic compounds that fight the body’s oxidation processes. When chemicals in the body undergo oxidation, byproducts are emitted that have been shown to cause damage to cells and, at worst, are potentially toxic. Chief among these byproducts are “free radicals”, nasty chemicals that have the power to destroy cells necessary for protecting the body and its vital organs.
Thanks to the dangerous effects of free radicals, antioxidants should be included in every health-conscious diet. But there are several kinds of antioxidants, so it is important to break down exactly which are the most important. The three main varieties of antioxidant are:
- Allyl sulfides
The most important variety of antioxidant are polyphenols. This is because this kind is most commonly found in natural foods, and are not the product of chemical manipulation. So when it comes to fighting free radicals, instead of “antioxidant”, think “polyphenols”. The more polyphenols in your diet, the greater the chance you will keep free radicals at bay.
Where can you find polyphenols? Now that we know what they are and how they work, let’s get down to the good stuff and find out which tasty, nutritious foods contain them.
The Best Polyphenol Supplements
For some, especially those on carnivorous or super low calorie diets, it may be a challenge to get your daily intake of polyphenols from food sources alone. Luckily, you can buy polyphenols in the form of handy, powered supplements or in pills or tablet form. And don’t worry, these are 100% natural and proven safe for regular consumption.
Powders with a concentrated polyphenol blend are optimal for getting the most biologically active polyphenols. Luckily for you, we’ve sifted through countless product reviews and ingredient profiles to find the top three polyphenol supplements for those looking to get an extra antioxidant boost.
For those looking for a no-fuss, quick and easy solution, this is the choice for you. Jamieson’s signature formula is made from extracts of wild European blueberry so it is 100% natural with no additives or synthetic components. Its powerful blend helps support eye and circulatory health in both humans and pets.
Miracle Reds is the classic powered alternative to the Jamieson’s pilled variety. This superfood power is professional designed to provide the best tasting any-time delivery of antioxidant support. Featuring 19 superfood extracts including goji, acai, mango, and pomegranate, this is the perfect choice for those looking for a more complete whole foods supplement.
The DopaPlus Dopamine Support System is the heavy-duty choice. This product is not recommended for beginners or those looking for an easy fix. DopaPlus recommends taking 3 capsules twice daily with food in order to reap the full benefits of its green tea and grape seed polyphenols. Plus, this product is jammed with other natural ingredients to support health brain function and mood regulation.
This is another no-nonsense polyphenol tablet featuring grade seed extract. While specifically marketed toward those looking to lower blood pressure, these tablets have all the same full-range benefits as other polyphenol concentrates. This means that for a discount price, you can get all the same health benefits.
The Best Polyphenol Foods
There are many foods rich in polyphenols. However, not many of these are commonly found in the average diet, even among those with healthy lifestyles. We have went to great lengths to ensure that we’ve made the best polyphenol food list possible. This means one featuring both commonplace and more obscure food items so that you can introduce new foods to your diet or simply add more of your regular favorites
And if you need evidence to back us up, here’s a breakthrough 2010 study that compiled a list of the 100 richest polyphenol dense foods. We based our list below on select foods from the study, while also considering the other nutrient properties of each food.
There are many berries with polyphenols, however there are few with the sheer density of black elderberry. You may have heard the expression before, the blacker the berry, the sweeter the juice. Well, in the case of polyphenols, the darker the berry the fewer free radicals will remain. Okay, it may not have the same ring to it, but the point stands: black elderberries, and many other dark berries, are free radical fighting machines.
Yes, you read that right. Cocoa powder, the primary ingredient in chocolate, is rich in polyphenol-type antioxidants. So next time you’re stuck at the supermarket checkout, feel free to indulge and grab a bar of chocolate. Just make sure it’s dark chocolate of at least 75% raw cocoa. Or, if you have less of sweet tooth, you can buy raw cocoa powder and add it to oatmeals, pastries, or smoothies.
Ground flaxseed is an excellent source of polyphenols. We selected flaxseed specifically because of its versatility. You can add flaxseed to breakfast cereal, oatmeal, shakes and smoothies, and numerous others while hardly even tasting a difference. Plus, flaxseed is loaded with omega-3 fatty acids, which your body needs to supply the brain with the fuel it needs to perform optimally.
It can be hard to remember what fruits contain polyphenols and which do not. This is why we recommend adding pomegranates to your diet. Pomegranates are rich in numerous antioxidant properties, including polyphenols, compared with other non-berry fruits. Plus, these seedy sweets are packed with vitamin C and fiber. If you aren’t a fan of the sweetness, try pomegranate juice instead.
We added kiwis on the list not only because they share nearly all the same benefits of pomegranate, but also because they’re our personal favorite. Kiwis are a delicious superfood that are criminally underrated natural wellness communities. So join the crusade for kiwis, and pick a few up the next time you’re at the supermarket.
Mexican oregano leaves have been used by Central American and Mexican peoples for millenia to treat infections and aid against common illnesses. While we don’t recommend oregano for fighting infections, it definitely makes for an easy polyphenol-dense addition to most dishes. Alternatively, boil Mexican oregano in a cup of water and natural sugar to make a sweet, antioxidant tea.
You’ll go nuts for the antioxidants in these little guys. Chestnuts are jam-packed with vitamins and minerals to aid in digestive health, dental and bone health, treating flu and cold symptoms, and maintaining blood vessel longevity. Of course, chestnuts are also crammed with polyphenol compounds that are extremely effective as both an anti-inflammatory and antioxidant.
Best of all, they’re easy to cook with. Chestnuts can be added to both savory and sweet dishes, and can be thrown in with stews and soups. For pairing, we recommend serving roasted chestnuts with dark meat such as steak or roasted pork.