Polyphenols are a group of chemical compounds found in plant foods that can have positive effects on health. The ingredients are found in many plant foods such as vegetables, fruit, red wine, tea and dark chocolate. Polyphenols act as antioxidants in the body, which means they protect the body and neutralise free radicals that can damage cells.
Free radicals are very active oxygen molecules that are produced in normal cellular processes, but also by external factors such as air pollution, radiation, chemical exposure or smoking. Without neutralising the free radicals, the body’s cells are damaged. This increases the risk of heart disease, diabetes or cancer.
Over time, researchers have discovered more than 8000 polyphenols and divided them into the following groups
+ Phenolic acid (main occurrences: berries, grapes, nuts, chocolate, coffee)
+ Flavonoids (main occurrences: kale, onions, soy, tea, red wine)
+ Polyphenolic amides (main occurrences: chilli peppers, pepper, oats)
+ Other polyphenols (main sources: grapes, red wine, turmeric, sesame)
Polyphenols offer health benefits as antioxidants, i.e. in protecting cells from free radicals. Eating enough polyphenols helps keep the body’s cells healthy and reduces the risk of certain diseases.
Researchers have also discovered that polyphenols help keep blood sugar levels in a healthy range. Regular consumption of tea, berries or grapes can reduce the risk of diabetes.
One of the causes of type 2 diabetes is insulin resistance in the body’s cells. Insulin-resistant cells react less to the hormone insulin. This means the glucose stays in the bloodstream longer.
Increasing the cell’s sensitivity to insulin helps absorb more glucose from the blood to keep blood glucose levels in a healthy range.
Plant-based diets are often associated with a reduction in cancer risk. Research shows that polyphenols help reduce the risks of some cancers. Flavonoids can affect the growth of tumour cells and signal cell death to remove the cancer cells.
Increasing polyphenols in the body through diet can improve heart health and lower the risk of cardiovascular disease. They can lower the following risk factors
+ Low blood pressure
+ Lower LDL cholesterol
+ Increase HDL cholesterol
+ Prevention of blood clots
Eating polyphenols can improve digestion by promoting the growth of beneficial bacteria while limiting the growth of harmful bacteria
Research also suggests that polyphenols may improve brain function and protect against neurodegenerative diseases. The benefits to brain function may be related to the antioxidant effects and improvement of blood flow to the brain