Exploring the sense and nonsense of food and health

What are Polyphenols?

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I just read a study from my Alma Mater (Texas Woman’s University) that reinforced the overused term “superfood” for blueberries.

The study was not done in humans, but used tissue cultures from mice, so the studies are a far cry from relating to what actually happens in the human body.  But here is what they found.

A polyphenol extract found in blueberries was combined with the mice tissue samples and the findings were quite positive.  The purpose was to examine the effect of this polyphenol in the development of fat cells.   The result: there was a 76% reduction in the number of fat cells using the highest dose and a 27% reduction in the smallest dose.  The author of the study said that the doses used in this study still need to be tested to make sure that the same results occur in humans and that the doses used would not cause any adverse effects.

What are Polyphenols?

Polyphenols are the most abundant antioxidants in the diet. They are found only in plants.  Compared with other antioxidants, polyphenol intake in humans are about 10 times higher than vitamin C and 100 times higher than vitamin E and carotenoids.

Their health benefits have been studied only recently, specifically since 1995.  Current research strongly supports a preventive role of polyphenols in heart disease, cancers, osteoporosis, brain function, and diabetes mellitus.  However, most of the effects have only occurred  in animals.  Animal studies often use doses much higher than would be found in the typical American diet even when the diet is considered healthy.  There has been more progress and stronger evidence in the prevention of heart disease in humans with polyphenols, either from supplements or foods. Until further research is done, it won’t hurt to increase our intake of these in some favorite foods.

How To Boost Your Intake

The levels in the blood of these compounds will peak soon after they are eaten, so it is best to consume them in small amounts throughout the day.

Eat fresh whole foods (fruits, vegetables, whole grains).  Processing and refining removes these valuable compounds.  Cooking does not necessarily destroy them with moderate cooking and actually cooking may make them more available to the body.

Where are They Found?

  • Dark colored berries and fruits – blueberries, cranberries, red grapes, pomegranates and their juices – watch the sugar content
  • Turmeric (curcumin) spice – used in curry
  • Caffeinated tea and coffee – decaffeination may remove polyphenols.  Green tea is especially high.
  • Red wine – Pinot Noir is especially rich in resveratrol (another polyphenol) – moderation please
  • Beer- from the barley and hops – dark beer is best – moderation please
  • Dark chocolate and cocoa powder – dark bitter is best – moderation due to calories and saturated fat content
  • Yellow onions
  • Extra virgin olive oil – first press preferred
  • Organic peaches and pears
  • Apples
  • Prunes
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One thought on “What are Polyphenols?

  1. Pingback: Does Eating Organic Food Really Make a Difference? « Alternative Health Answers

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