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Friday, December 18, 2015

Polyphenols: What They Are, and Why You Need Them


Polyphenols are phytochemicals, meaning compounds found abundantly in natural plant food sources that have antioxidant properties. There are over 8,000 identified polyphenols found in foods such as tea, wine, chocolates, fruits, vegetables, and extra virgin olive oil,1 just to name a few.

Polyphenols play an important role in maintaining your health and wellness. Antioxidants as a group help protect the cells in your body from free radical damage, thereby controlling the rate at which you age.

If your body does not get adequate protection, free radicals can become rampant, causing your cells to perform poorly. This can lead to tissue degradation and put you at risk of diseases such as heart disease, cancer, and Alzheimer's disease, for example.

    Antioxidants can be divided into three major groups:
        Carotenoids, which are discussed in greater detail in my "Basic Vitamin A Primer"
        Allyl sulfides, found in garlic and onions
        Polyphenols (also known as phenolics)

Types of Polyphenols

Polyphenols can be further broken down into four categories, with additional subgroupings based on the number of phenol rings they contain, and on the basis of structural elements that bind these rings to one another.

As a general rule, foods contain complex mixtures of polyphenols, with higher levels found in the outer layers of the plants than the inner parts:
  • Flavonoids, which have both antioxidant and anti-inflammatory properties, found in fruits, vegetables, legumes, red wine, and green tea
    • Flavones
    • Flavonols
    • Flavanones
    • Isoflavones
    • Anthocyanidins
    • Chalcones
    • Catechins
  • Stilbenes, found in red wine and peanuts (resveratrol is the most well known)
  • Lignans, found in seeds like flax, legumes, cereals, grains, fruits, algae, and certain vegetables
  • Phenolic acids
    • Hydroxybenzoic acids, found in tea
    • Hydroxycinnamic acids found in cinnamon of course but also in coffee, blueberries, kiwis, plums, apples, and cherries

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