Healthy Foods High in Polyphenols

Medically Reviewed by Christine Mikstas, RD, LD on November 23, 2022
4 min read

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:

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

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. 

Maintaining low insulin resistance and healthy blood sugar levels reduces your risk of conditions like obesity and diabetes.

Anticancer Properties

Polyphenols’ antioxidant and anti-inflammatory effects could lower your risk of cancer. Studies show that polyphenols may even block tumor growth and kill active cancer cells

Raising Immunity

Research shows that polyphenols can activate your immune system to fight off infection and disease. Polyphenols also promote good bacteria growth in your gut and limit harmful bacteria.

This effect supports good digestion, but a healthy balance of bacteria is also essential to strong immune system function

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.

  1. Berries
    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:
  2. 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:

    Oregano, celery seed, sage, rosemary, and thyme also have more than 30 milligrams for the same serving.

  3. 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. 
  4. Nuts 
    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.
  5. Flaxseeds 
    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. 
  6. Vegetables 
    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:
  7. Olives 
    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. 
  8. 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.