People have long been searching for the fountain of youth and while it does not exist, there is a group of micronutrients that come close to living up to the coveted myth: polyphenols. These naturally occurring antioxidant compounds found in plant foods have shown to drastically decrease the effects of aging, but are often over-looked as the science behind polyphenols is not always understood.
Polyphenols are found in foods like red wine, blueberries, tea, fruits, vegetables, and extra virgin olive oil (1). Their power lies in their potential to protect our bodies against aging. By eating poorly and becoming accustomed to bad lifestyle habits, our body’s protection barrier wears down, allowing free radicals to infiltrate cells which results in accelerated aging, e.g. unwanted wrinkles and disease. By consuming these naturally occurring plant foods rich in polyphenols, we boost our immune system and protect our bodies from free radicals that can damage and accelerate aging to our cells.
Polyphenols are divided into four categories which contain a myriad of different foods:
1. Flavonoids: antioxidant rich foods such as red wine, fruits, vegetables, green tea, and legumes
2. Stilbenes: commonly known as revesterol, are also found in red wine and peanuts
3. Lignans: found in flax, cereals, grains, fruits, and vegetables.
4. Phenolic Acids: found in cinnamon, blueberries, kiwis, plums apples and cherries (1).
Once consumed, polyphenols aid our bodies in a variety of ways. According to a study on polyphenols done by Dr. Mercola, polyphenols fight cancer cells, reduce inflammation, protect the cardiovascular system, reduce skin damage from ultraviolet radiation, promote normal blood pressure, and protect against dementia (1). Since polyphenols are fat soluble and, thus, are best absorbed when eaten with fat, an easy way to get the most out of the antioxidant is to eat them with fat containing omega 3 rich foods. A simple idea would be to cook salmon in olive oil or use pecans and black olives as a topping to side salads. There are a variety of healthy meals and snacks you can create to get the most out of polyphenols without having to take a supplement.
Dr. Mercola’s article highlights how our body reacts to polyphenols, certain foods, and free radicals. Although free radicals are damaging to our cells and tissues, our bodies need them in order to attack foreign invaders in the immune system and for signaling purposes in the cell. Without free radicals functioning properly in our bodies, we would die quickly. This is why it is important to consume even “healthy” foods in moderation, and most importantly, get polyphenol nutrients from real food rather than from supplements. By eating real foods, we can easily gage and monitor what foods we are consuming and feel good about the nutrients we pick. An easy rule to keep in mind is to aim for a colorful plate of food at almost every meal. Fresh. seasonal fruits, green vegetables, whole grains, lean protein, plenty of water, and a glass of red wine here and there is a perfect spectrum to match when you feel like you have swung the pendulum too far.
Below is a small list of foods high in polyphenols to help you choose products wisely and incorporate new items to your cooking regimen:
· Star Anise
· Cocoa Powder
· Mexican Oregano
· Dark Chocolate
· Flaxseed meal
· Black olive
· Red Grape
· Red Onion