Polyphenols are micronutrients that naturally occur in plants. They’re included in many supplements, though they’re also easy to get in your diet from foods like fruits, vegetables, teas, and spices.
There are more than 8,000 types of polyphenols, which include:
- Flavonoids like quercetin and catechins in fruits
- Polyphenolic amides like capsaicinoids in chili peppers
- Phenolic acids like lignans and stilbenes in vegetables and whole grains
- Others like resveratrol in red wine and ellagic acid in berries
Studies show that polyphenols are powerful antioxidants. In this role, they prevent or reverse damage in your cells caused by aging, the environment, and your lifestyle. Over time, this damage is linked to an increased risk of many chronic diseases.
Why You Need Polyphenols
A lack of polyphenols isn’t associated with specific side effects. But they’re regarded as “lifespan essentials” for their potential to reduce your risk of chronic diseases.
Studies show that people who have polyphenol-rich diets — consuming more than 650 milligrams per day — have lower death risks than those who get less than 500 milligrams per day.
Polyphenols help protect your body by:
Improving Heart Health
Research shows polyphenols can help manage blood pressure levels and keep your blood vessels healthy and flexible, promoting good circulation. They also help reduce chronic inflammation, another risk factor for heart disease.
Lowering Your Diabetes Risk
Polyphenols can reduce and help control your blood sugar levels. They also stimulate your body’s release of insulin, a hormone that signals your body to use sugars efficiently. These effects can lower your insulin resistance — a condition where your body doesn’t respond properly to the hormone.
This effect supports good digestion, but a healthy balance of bacteria is also essential to strong immune system function.
Foods With Polyphenols
Most plant-based foods contain polyphenols, like vegetables, fruits, and whole grains. It’s easy to get enough in your diet to boost your health, but some sources are more nutritious than others.
These eight foods have the highest polyphenol content per serving in addition to their other essential nutrients.
Berries are low in calories and high in vitamin C, fiber, and polyphenols, making them an easy addition to any diet. Chokeberries and elderberries have the highest amounts, with 1,123 and 870 milligrams of polyphenols per half-cup serving, respectively. Many other common berries have a high content per half-cup as well, including:
- Herbs and Spices
To boost your meal with polyphenols, look no further than your spice cabinet. Along with their polyphenol content, dried herbs and spices often contain a range of nutrients like calcium, magnesium, and potassium. Seasonings highest in polyphenols include:
- Cloves with 542 milligrams per ounce
- Peppermint with 427 milligrams per ounce
- Star anise with 195 milligrams per ounce
- Cocoa Powder
While you should limit your sugar intake, cocoa powder is a potent polyphenol source with 516 milligrams per tablespoon. Heating and processing cocoa powder to make chocolate products can reduce this content, however. For example, dark chocolate has 249 milligrams per tablespoon, while milk chocolate has just 35 milligrams.
Nuts are an easy way to add fiber, protein, and essential fatty acids to your diet, though because they’re high in calories you should moderate your portions. Most nuts contain polyphenols, but chestnuts come out on top with 347 milligrams per ounce — about three nuts. Other good choices include hazelnuts and pecans with 140 milligrams and almonds with 53 milligrams for a one-ounce serving.
Flaxseeds are sometimes used to improve digestion and relieve constipation. Along with their high fiber content, they also have 229 milligrams of polyphenols per tablespoon. You can add flaxseeds to cereal, sandwiches, and salads, or bake them into cookies and breads.
Experts recommend we eat 2.5 to 3 cups of vegetables per day. Because most vegetables contain polyphenols, getting enough in your diet helps you benefit from these antioxidants’ health effects. Some vegetables highest in polyphenols include:
Olives are rich in vitamin E, fatty acids, and polyphenols. Twenty grams of black olives — about five olives — has 113 milligrams of polyphenols, while the same serving of green olives contains 70 milligrams.
- Coffee and Tea
If you start your day with a cup of coffee or tea, you’re already adding polyphenols to your diet. Twenty grams of coffee, or roughly the amount to make one brewed cup, contains about 35 milligrams of polyphenols. We consume teas like black, green, or ginger in smaller amounts, but a cup can still add some polyphenols to your diet.