Polyphenols & Your Health

Have you ever heard of polyphenols? No? How about green tea and its antioxidant effects? Yes? OK, now we’re getting warmer. As it turns out, green tea and the very popular black teas contain similar amounts of polyphenols, a class of chemicals found most commonly in plants.

The word derivation of polyphenols is “poly” or many and “phenol”, a very stable, six-sided carbon ring molecule with three double bonds. These phenol molecules, when joined together through plant biochemical pathways, provide some very important features to plants and other organisms, like us, that happen to feed on them.

For plants the benefits are numerous. Polyphenols likely defend against insect attacks, provide pigmentation and offer a built-in suntan lotion effect where the abundance of carbon rings act like light reflectors.

For humans, through our intake of food plants - really our only significant source of polyphenols - these molecules are now clearly associated as a means to fight off some cancers, ward off cardiovascular disease, and interestingly, polyphenol seems to be effective in reducing inflammation. But most importantly, it is polyphenol’s properties as an antioxidant that really prove its health benefits.

It’s at the cell level of all life where an antioxidant does its best work. It is also the location of the great paradox – the need for oxygen to survive at the same time as its reactive by-products contributing to cell death. Oxygen, a two atom gas, when separated into single atoms becomes highly reactive and undergoes instant chemical reactions, mostly beneficial but some deadly. Molecules such as free radicals and reactive oxygen species (i.e. hydrogen peroxide) can form and, if left to roam around a cell’s nucleus, can and likely will attack DNA with the potential of mutations. So antioxidants, like polyphenols, are required to mop up the reactive mess before damage occurs.

What foods are rich in antioxidant polyphenols? Honey is a good source of polyphenols as are legumes, and fruits such as apples, blueberries, pomegranate, cherries, cranberries, grapes. etc. are loaded with them. And let us not forget vegetables such as broccoli, cabbage, celery, onion and parsley. Red wine, cocoa (chocolate), tea (of all colours), olive oil, some grains and yes, coffee, all contain polyphenols. You will know when you are eating or drinking foods with polyphenols because they will usually have a sharp bite, a kindly bitterness to them, like tea when it is brewed stronger than you would like.

And back to the sunscreen idea. We humans have believed for millennia, but could not prove, that plants such as olive and Aloe Vera provided some discernible protection against sun damage to skin. Now, there is scientific evidence that these and numerous other darkly pigmented plants such as tomatoes and soy contain significant powerful anti-sun and anti-aging compounds.

So the take away from this article, well, its as simple as admitting your grandmother was right when she told you to eat your veggies. And now we will add the words, dark and raw.

For a listing of the 100 richest dietary sources of polyphenols check out:

Dietary Sources of Polyphenols

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