Polyphenol-Rich Foods to Start Eating Today
What Are Polyphenols?
You likely know all about antioxidants already—they help increase cell turnover, which speeds up healing and slows signs of aging. But what about polyphenols?
Polyphenols are a specific type of antioxidant derived from plant compounds. During digestion, your body transforms polyphenols into viable antioxidants.
There are a wide variety of polyphenols found in foods such as tea, wine, chocolate, fruits, vegetables, and extra-virgin olive oil, according to research in the International Journal of Molecular Sciences
. But how do you reap the most benefits? Here, we share some of the top polyphenol-rich foods, so you know what to grab on your next grocery run.
Polyphenols can be broken down into subclasses, and in one BMC Medicine
study, researchers found that a higher intake of one subclass called stilbenes could extend your life span. You can find these potent polyphenols in Concord grapes. But if you can't find the fresh fruit in the produce section, you can easily get your fix with 100 percent Concord grape juice, says Amy Gorin, M.S., R.D.N., owner of Amy Gorin Nutrition in Jersey City, New Jersey.
"These polyphenols help keep your heart healthy by promoting good circulation," says Gorin. "One of my favorite ways to use the juice is in sauces for veggies, or as an ingredient in smoothie recipes."
You probably already know that walnuts top the list of good-for-you nuts thanks to their heart-healthy omega-3s. But what really makes these nuts reign supreme is their antioxidant value—walnuts ranked higher than any other nut tested for quality and potency of polyphenols, according to research from the University of Scranton. "Walnuts have been shown to help reduce inflammation in the body, which could reduce disease risk," says Gorin.
Another subclass of polyphenols you should pay attention to are lignans. They can be found in flaxseed and have also been linked to decreased mortality rates.
Nutrition pros approve of flaxseed for its ability to help reduce inflammation, balance hormones, protect against mood swings and depression, and prevent heart disease and diabetes. The combination of polyphenols and an abundance of omega-3 fatty acids make flaxseed a nutritional powerhouse for cardiovascular health, says LeeAnn Smith Weintraub, R.D., M.P.H., of Los Angeles. "To get the greatest benefit, consume ground flaxseed and keep it refrigerated."
Get more polyphenol bang for your buck and grab an apple, because the fruit contains four different types of the polyphenols. One study published in the Nutrition Journal
reported that the polyphenol compounds found in apples can help prevent chronic disease.
"Apples may also play a role in helping to improve lipid profiles," says Kristin Kirkpatrick, M.S., R.D., L.D., manager of wellness nutrition services at the Cleveland Clinic Wellness Institute. Lipid profiles tell a lot about someone's heart health, as they relate to cholesterol and triglycerides.
The antioxidants found in cocoa have been linked to improved memory and cognition and they may even help you lose weight. These are just two of the reasons you should be eating more chocolate. Yeah, you read that right.
"I love adding unsweetened cocoa powder to plain Greek yogurt or using it in an energy ball recipe," says Gorin. (Try it in these Almond Pistachio Cocoa Bites.) "The polyphenols in cocoa may benefit everything from heart health to blood pressure to gut health. Plus, a teaspoon of unsweetened cocoa powder is naturally sweet without any added sugar and is only about 5 calories."
Research has found popcorn to be one of the best sources of antioxidants—it has even more than some fruits and vegetables, says Kirkpatrick.
As a low-calorie, nutrient-dense snack, popcorn is a much wiser choice than any greasy potato chip that offers basically no nutrition. Next time you're craving some, skip the movie theater butter and opt for one of these healthy, tasty topping options.
There are many different herbs and spices known to have healing powers, but rosemary stands out for its anti-inflammatory properties and antioxidant value. Rosemary and its extract contain polyphenols that have been said to help prevent cancer and that hold numerous other health benefits. "Rosemary and other fresh and dried herbs are flavor-enhancing staples of the heart-healthy Mediterranean diet and are rich in polyphenols that play an important role in cancer prevention at the cellular level," says Weintraub.