The importance of Polyphenols in a balanced diet
There is a lot of talk lately about polyphenols and why you need them in your diet. And they are found naturally in many plant-based foods. So you're probably getting some already. But focusing on foods rich in polyphenols will also get you onto foods that are rich in all sorts nutrients your body needs.
So, what are Polyphenols?
Polyphenols are a category of plant compounds that offer various health benefits. They are considered "micronutrients" which means you don't need vast amounts of them, like you need amounts of proteins and carbohydrates.
You won't see specific side effects if your diet is lacking in polyphenols. But they are considered to be "lifespan essentials" because they help reduce your overall risk of chronic diseases.
Polyphenols protect your body from free radicals and inflammation.
Polyphenols are like tiny little superheroes for your body.
Imagine your body is like a big city. You have good guys - ambulance attendants, policemen, firemen, doctors and nurses. So, let's consider this analogy here and take a look at how polyphenols help against free radicals and from inflammation.
What are free radicals? How do polyphenols protect us from free radicals?
In this "big city" analogy, the criminals - the "free radicals" are like little villains causing chaos. These free radicals can damage our cells. They're kind of like the little hooligans that like to break stuff up just for the fun of it.
In this case, the polyphenols, come in like superheroes. They have a special power called "antioxidant activity," which means they can fight off these free radicals and protect our cells from damage.
Antioxidants are a tool your body uses to battle free radicals. Examples of antioxidants are vitamin C, vitamin E, Selenium, beta-carotene, lycopene, lutein, and zeaxanthin.
What is inflammation? How do polyphenols help protect us from inflammation?
Continuing our big city analogy, let's say a harmful bug (like bacteria or a virus) enters the city. Bacteria and viruses are like little villains too, causing trouble. It's a different kind of trouble than the free radicals.
You could kind of think of the "free radicals" as the hoodlums in the neighborhood. On the other hand, bacteria and viruses are more like sophisticated, coordinated attacks from outside the city - like a small military invasion or something.
In this case, your body's immune system, is like the city's police, fire and ambulance services.
Inflammation is like the city's emergency response team.
When terrorist threat or a bank heist is going on, the emergency response team rushes to the scene. They might block off the area (which is why the area might swell up or get red when you're injured or sick), and they might cause a bit of a ruckus as they fight off the villain (which is why you might feel pain or heat).
What is inflammation at a cellular level?
At a cellular level, inflammation involves various types of cells. Some cells send out an SOS signal, like a distress flare, when they're in danger. This signal attracts immune cells, the EMS, which rush to the scene to help.
These immune cells can do things like engulfing the harmful bugs to neutralize them, or repairing damaged cells.
So, why is it important to protect against inflammation?
Inflammation is a good and necessary response to short-term problems like an injury or an infection.
But chronic inflammation is like having the superheroes and the EMS team on high alert all the time.
If the EMS, police and fire department are always on "high alert," they can accidentally "damage" parts of the city.
As you can see, it's not the perfect analogy. But this is what happens in our bodies with chronic inflammation - it can lead to damage over time and contribute to various health problems, like heart disease or arthritis.
Free radical damage and inflammation cause problems like heart disease, cardiovascular disease and kidney problems. Polyphenols protect our bodies from that by giving our cells the building blocks they need to clean that stuff up and rebuild our cells more accurately.
Have you heard of these different types of polyphenols?
If you want to dive deeper into it, it's interesting to know that there are over 500 unique polyphenols.
But they can be generally classified into four different "types" of polyphenols: flavonoids, stilbenes, lignans, and phenolic acids.
Here's a brief overview of each type and some food sources that are rich in them:
Flavonoids: These are the most abundant polyphenols and they are divided into six subclasses: flavonols, flavones, isoflavones, flavanones, anthocyanidins, and flavanols (catechins and proanthocyanidins).
- Flavanols (found in onions, kale, leeks, broccoli, apples, berries, and tea)
- Flavones (found in parsley, celery, and chamomile tea)
- Isoflavones (found in soy and soy products)
- Flavanones (found in citrus fruits)
- Anthocyanidins (found in red, blue, and purple berries, as well as red and purple grapes)
- Flavanols (found in green tea, red wine, dark chocolate, olive oil and apples)
Stilbenes: Resveratrol is the most well-known stilbene, which is found in red wine and peanuts.
Lignans: These are found in seeds, particularly flaxseeds, as well as in grains and vegetables.
Phenolic Acids: These are divided into two main types: hydroxybenzoic acids and hydroxycinnamic acids.
- Hydroxybenzoic acids (found in tea and strawberries)
- Hydroxycinnamic acids (found in coffee, blueberries, kiwis, plums, apples, and cherries)
The best science shows that regularly consuming polyphenols can boost digestion and brain health, reduce chronic inflammation, protect against heart disease, type 2 diabetes, and even certain cancers. That's a lot.
What are the most polyphenol-rich foods?
If you stick to a Mediterranean diet, you're likely to pick up pretty much most of these polyphenols. Things like plant-based foods, such as whole grains, vegetables, legumes, fruits, nuts, seeds, herbs and spices, are the foundation of the Mediterranean diet. Olive oil is the main source of added fat.
Fish, seafood, dairy and poultry are included in moderation. Red meat and sweets are eaten only occasionally.
Olive oil provides monounsaturated fat. That lowers the total cholesterol and low-density lipoprotein (LDL, or "bad") cholesterol levels. Nuts and seeds also contain monounsaturated fat.
Fatty fish like mackerel, herring, sardines, albacore tuna and salmon, are rich in omega-3 fatty acids.
Omega-3 fatty acids also help decrease triglycerides, reduce blood clotting, and lower the risk of stroke and heart failure by reducing inflammation.
Will a healthy diet give you all the polyphenol content you need? Or, do you need a polyphenol supplement?
In a world of synthetic and processed foods, it's always prudent to supplement our food intake with natural supplements as much as possible. Can we really get enough of the right polyphenols in our diet for optimal health?
The unfortunate reality is, probably not. We live in a day where we eat highly processed foods, grown in fields that have been very much depleted of all the proper micronutrients and minerals that make our foods healthy. And there are fertilizers, pesticides, herbicides and the like.
They all take away from the quality of our food sources. And the "polyphenol supplying parts" of our foods from modern farming suffer as much as anything else.
So, if we need supplements, what are the best polyphenol supplements?
Where can you find them? And what can you expect to achieve by taking them?
Four of the most popular polyphenol supplements: Curcumin, Resveratrol, Quercetin, and NMN.
We've covered Curcumin elsewhere on the site. But essentially, curcumin is an extract from the orange spice called Turmeric. It is often used in Indian cooking but is also known for its healing and anti-bacterial qualities.
Curcumin is known to be a good antioxidant, a help for cognitive support and also a good ant-inflammatory. It is quite popular lately also for being good for relieving joint pain and is sold in some supplements for pain relief.
Curcumin is not always easily absorbed by itself, and so it is best taken with certain fatty foods or black pepper for better absorption.
You can read more about curcumin in this article. For our recommendation for the best, most bioavailable curcumin supplement, check out Curleve. It has ingredients that make it much more bioavailable, and is especially good for those who might not handle black pepper well.
Resveratrol is a polyphenol found in red wine, grapes, and berries. In fact, grape seed extract is known to be a great source of "proanthocyanidins" - one of the many kinds of flavinoids.
Resveratrol has anti-inflammatory and anti-cancer properties, as well as potential benefits for heart health and brain function.
However, the amount of resveratrol in supplements can vary greatly, and some studies have shown that excessively high doses may have negative effects on the liver. But an exceptionally high dose might be hard to do anyway, so it's not likely a concern. But always check with your doctor.
There is a detailed and informative video that goes to great lengths explaining what the optimal dose of resveratrol is shown below.
What is the optimal dosage? Short answer is, "it depends."
Watch this video to get "the education of a lifetime" on the optimal dosage of resveratrol for whatever situation you're dealing with. (Note: I'm neither a doctor nor the son of a doctor. Always check with a health care professional for what, if any, the optimal dose is for you.)
Sources for Resveratrol:
When it comes to sources for resveratrol, it can be found in supplements made from red wine or grape seed extracts.
As you can learn from the video, low dosages over long time seem to be able to extend lifespan; if dealing with an acute situation, it seems megadoses might be best. But again, always check with a healthcare professional.
Quercetin is a "flavonoid" that is in many fruits and vegetables, including apples, onions, and berries. It has anti-inflammatory and antioxidant properties, as well as potential benefits for heart health and immune function. However, the bioavailability of quercetin can be low, meaning that the body may not absorb it well.
Part of the problem with absorbing nutrients is that some nutrients are best absorbed further in the gastrointestinal tract; but sometimes, the digestive processes break them down before they can get to where they can best be absorbed.
As such, if you're going to take a quercetin supplement, be sure to follow the directions on the label for best results.
Sources for Quercetin
Quercetin can be found in supplements made from fruits and vegetables. It isn't terribly expensive, but it is a valuable product and a lot of fruits and vegetables have to give their lives to give the stuff up for adoption by your body. So expect it will cost a little bit.
NMN, or nicotinamide mononucleotide, is a molecule that is involved in the production of energy in cells. I've written elsewhere about this stuff, and why I take it as a supplement.
Studies have shown it has great potential benefits for slowing the aging process and battling against age-related diseases. It also offers some wonderful potential benefits for heart health and brain function.
However, more research is needed to fully understand its effects, and it can be expensive compared to other polyphenol supplements.
There are people that advocate for the taking of NAD supplements. But if you look at the other article, you'll see why NMN is a far better way to supplement for NAD.
NMN is a "precursor" to NAD - it is one of the components your body uses to make NAD. The problem is the NAD molecule is too large to get into the cells in your body. Your body does far better by you taking an NMN supplement so your body can use it to build the NAD inside the cells.
Sources for NMN
NMN supplements are typically made from synthetic sources, and of these different polyphenols, this stuff tends to be a little more pricy.
But my personal experience with it has been remarkable. Speaking from experience, I had tried multiple different prostate supplements and this stuff seems to work wonders by comparison.
NMN and absorption
I had mentioned previously that there can be issues with absorption of some of these nutrients. NMN is one particular polyphenol that can often be digested in the stomach before it can be fully absorbed.
That's why you want a Liposomal NMN
NMN can break down in the digestive tract. But the folks at Leading Edge Health have developed a special "liposomal" coating to go around the NMN supplement so it gets past your digestive tract before it gets exposed to your system. That way, it isn't digested before your body can absorb it.
So that means Liposomal NMN is much more bioavailable than any other formulation of NMN on the market.