Not so long ago, indulgences like red wine and dark chocolate were considered pleasurable extravagances. In recent years they have, in moderation, become accepted as components of a healthy diet. The reason for this is the polyphenols they contain and the health benefits these micronutrients provide.
What are Polyphenols?
Polyphenols are types of nutrients that are found naturally in all plant-based foods. These compounds — and there are many — are loaded with antioxidants that can offer a wide range of potential health benefits.
Here are the four main classes of polyphenols:
- Flavonoids: these can be divided into over 400 different subclasses including chalcones, flavones, and isoflavonoids. You’ll find them in just about every fruit and vegetable you can think of.
- Lignans: there is only one subclass of lignans and this contains 53 type different types s of polyphenol. These are typically found in fibrous plants and particularly their seeds.
- Stilbenes: there is only one stilbene subclass. The most widely known stilbene is resveratrol, the heart-healthy molecule found in the skin of red and purple fruits such as grapes.
- Phenolic acids: there are numerous subclasses of phenolic acids. They can be found in many fruits and vegetables.
It’s helpful to think of polyphenols as plant-specific antioxidants that work to support health in a variety of ways.
What are the Benefits of Polyphenols
Alright. You know there are four main kinds of polyphenols, each with potentially hundreds of sub-classes. Now let’s talk about their benefits.
Polyphenols influence a number of activities in your body like:
- The way your body naturally responds to inflammation
- How well you balance glucose levels
- Your body’s ability to fend off radicals and oxidative stress
- Supporting heart health
- Boosting the body’s immune system
- Influencing how your body ages
Ever wonder why so many diets recommend eating a broad range of plants? That’s because eating this way provides your body with all kinds of polyphenols that contribute to good health and dozens of different ways.
Remember, polyphenols are common to all plants. Here are some of our favorite foods that are bursting with polyphenol nutrition.
The Complete List of Polyphenol-rich Foods
If you want to make the most of these health benefits, here is a list of food sources of polyphenols you’ll want to include in your diet every week (if not every day!).
Herbs and Spices
- Cloves: This popular spice is comprised of dried flower buds from the Syzygium aromaticum, which is an evergreen tree native to Sri Lanka and Madagascar. Cloves contain 15,188 mg of polyphenols per 100g. That makes them the highest available food source of polyphenols. They can be used in cakes, drinks, and curries.
- Dried peppermint: This is a popular herb is a hybrid of water mint and spearmint and is cultivated throughout the world. Known for its strong, fresh scent. It contains 11,960 mg of polyphenols per 100g, specifically flavanones, flavones, and phenolic acid. It makes a great way to freshen up fruit drinks, teas, and deserts. You can even chew on a raw leaf to freshen your breath.
- Star anise: Also known as aniseed, this sweet spice has a very high content with 5,460 mg of polyphenols per 100g. Specifically, it contains phenolic acids and hydroxyphenylpropenes. Star anise is recognized by its licorice flavor and can be used in baking or as a tea.
- Cumin: One of the most popular spices in the world, cumin provides 55 mg of polyphenols per 100g. The spice is derived from the plant’s seeds and adds an earthy, warm taste to any meal. As well as polyphenols, cumin is also rich in iron, manganese, phosphorous, calcium, and vitamin B1.
- Fresh thyme: There’s nothing like the aroma and flavor of fresh thyme. You can use it to liven up casseroles and stews and it makes a great dressing. Thyme contains 163 mg of polyphenols per 100g. It is also a great source of fiber, vitamin A, vitamin C, and iron.
- Dried ginger: One of the most popular spices, ginger has an earthy aroma and a warm flavor. It contains 202 mg of polyphenols per 100g. It contains also contains a compound known as gingerol which has anti-inflammatory and antioxidant effects.
- Dried lemon verbena: Also known as vervain, lemon verbena has a strong, lemon scent. It contains 106 mg of polyphenols per 100g. As well as providing a range of flavonoids, lemon verbena is also a good source of antioxidants.
Seeds, Nuts, and Grains
- Flaxseed meal: This refers to ground flaxseeds. Flaxseed meal contains 1,528 mg of polyphenol per 100g. It is rich in lignans and phenolic acids. It also has a high content of fiber, copper, manganese, and magnesium. Flaxseed meal can be added to cereal and yogurt, used in baking, and used as an egg substitute in vegan recipes.
- Celery seed: Celery seed has a long history of use for its health and medicinal properties. It contains 2.094 mg of flavonoids per 100g and is rich in flavonoids. You can add celery seeds to meals, drink them in tea, or take celery seed as a supplement.
- Pecans: Of all the nuts, pecans contain the highest content of polyphenols with 493 mg per 100g. This nut is frequently used in pecan pie, nut butter, and muesli. Pecans are also a great source of fiber, vitamin A, vitamin E, calcium, zinc, and potassium.
- Almonds: Of all the nuts, almonds are the second highest in polyphenols. They contain 187 mg of polyphenols per100g. They have a dry, interesting flavor and are also a good source of fiber, vitamin E, magnesium, and manganese.
- Whole grain Hard Wheat Flour: Believe it or not, whole grain wheat flour provides 201 mg of polyphenols per 100g. It also has a high protein content. Whole grain hard wheat flow is great for making bread with a soft, sticky texture. It has a high gluten content, so you should avoid it if you have Celiac disease or if you suffer from gluten sensitivity.
- Grape Seeds: Grape seeds are an incredibly rich source of polyphenols, with 5-8% of their nutritional value being derived from these plant antioxidants. Grape seeds also contain a subgroup of polyphenols called proanthocyanidins, which have been shown to have an antioxidant power that is 20 times greater than vitamin E and 50 times greater than vitamin C!
To get the most benefit from grape seeds, you can actually take an extract form, which you can learn more about here.
- Black currants: This tasty fruit contains 758 mg of polyphenols per 100g. As well as eaten raw, the fruit can be used in cakes, jams, jellies, and candy. They contain a range of phenolic acids and flavonoids.
- Black olives: With 569 mg of polyphenols per 100g, black olives are delicious and healthful. They provide flavonoids, tyrosol, and phenolic acids. Black currants are also a good source of monounsaturated fat.
- Black Chokeberry: These fruits contain 1,756 mg of polyphenols per 100g. They are rich in compounds known as anthocyanins, which have commonly found in black and dark purple plant foods, such as blueberries, blackberries, and black elderberries.
- Plums: Plums are small red or dark purple fruit with a sweet flavor. They contain 377 mg of polyphenols per 100g. Specifically, they are a good source of phenolic acids, flavanols, and flavonols.
- Peaches: This sweet, fleshy fruit provides 59 mg of polyphenols per 100g, specifically phenolic acids and flavanols. Peaches are native to China but are now cultivated throughout the world. This fruit is also a good source of vitamin C.
- Apples: Apples contain 136 mg of polyphenols per 100g in the form of flavonoids. They are also a good source of vitamin C. They are a staple fruit and can be used in many different desserts as well as applesauce and apple juice.
- Green olives: Related to the black olive, green olives contain 346 mg of polyphenols per 100g. They contain tyrosol, flavonoids, and phenolic acids. Green olives are also a good source of antioxidants and vitamin E.
- Strawberries: One of the world’s favorite fruit, strawberries contain 235 mg of polyphenols per 100g. This bright red fruit is a great source of phenolic acids and flavonoids. Strawberries are also a good source of vitamin C.
- Raspberries: This delicious berry is sweet in flavor and soft in texture. It contains 215 mg of polyphenols per 100g and is rich in phenolic acids, flavonols, and flavanols. Raspberries are also an excellent source of vitamin C, vitamin K, folate, and potassium.
- Black grapes: Containing 169 mg of polyphenols per 100g, black grapes are rich in phenolic acids, flavanols, stilbenes, and anthocyanins. The most well-known polyphenol in black grapes is resveratrol, which is also a compound of red wine.
- Extra virgin olive oil: Olives are an extremely healthy food and a key ingredient to any Mediterranean diet meal plan, and their oil is no different. Extra virgin olive oil is the highest classification of olive oil. It is produced without using any solvents and is made under temperatures which will not degrade the oil. Extra virgin contains 62 mg of polyphenols per 100g.
- Red wine: In moderation, red wine can be good for your health, with 101 mg of polyphenols per 100g. It has a wide profile of polyphenols including stilbenes, flavonoids, and phenolic acids.
- Green tea: Popular throughout China and Japan, and becoming increasingly popular in the Western world, green tea contains 89 mg of polyphenols per 100g. Green tea is also an excellent source of antioxidants.
- Blood orange juice: Blood oranges are native to China and the South Mediterranean. These unique oranges have a distinct red flash encased in a thick skin. They contain 59 mg of polyphenols per 100g. Blood oranges are also an excellent source of vitamin C.
- Black tea: Although all tea contains a certain amount of polyphenols, black tea, like green tea, contains more than most. It provides 102 mg of polyphenols per 100g. These include a wide range of flavonoid, particularly phenolic acids, flavonols, and catechins
- Pomegranate Juice: This healthful juice contains 66 mg of polyphenols per 100g. in particular, phenolic acids and flavonoids. Pomegranates are also a rich source of vitamins C, D, and K, fiber, protein, folate, magnesium and potassium.
- Dark Chocolate: As well as being deliciously decadent, dark chocolate contains 1,664 mg of polyphenols per 100g. It also has many of the same health benefits as cocoa, such as supporting heart health, circulation, blood pressure, and healthy cholesterol levels. To get the maximum benefit, choose dark chocolate with at least 70% cocoa.
Vegetables and legumes
- Red onions: This flavorful onion is purple in color and contains 168 mg of polyphenols per 100g. This gives it the highest polyphenol content of all the onions. The specific compounds found in red onions include phenolic acids and flavonols. They can be eaten raw in a salad. Cooking them makes their taste sweeter.
- Capers: Another polyphenol-rich food, capers contain 654 mg of polyphenols per 100g. This pea-sized pickled bud is packed with flavor. With its salty taste, it can be used to jazz up fish dishes or salads.
- Shallots: The polyphenol content of shallots is 113 mg per 100g. Their sweet taste can be used to add flavor to many meals from stews to salads. They provide polyphenols such as quercetin, flavonoids, and phenolic acids.
- Spinach: Of all the cruciferous vegetables, spinach is the most nutrient-dense. It provides 119 mg of polyphenols per 100g. It is also a great source of vitamins A, C, K, as well as B2 and B6. Spinach is also rich in calcium, folate, manganese, and copper.
- Yellow onions: Yellow onions contain 74 mg of polyphenols per 100g. They contain a number of flavonoids including quercetin. Yellow onions are also a rich source of magnesium, iron, calcium, potassium, phosphorous, and copper.
- Black beans: Black beans are small legumes which are popular in South American dishes. They contain 59 mg of polyphenols per 100g, particularly anthocyanin flavonoids. Nutritionally they are also rich in fiber and protein and they are a good source of magnesium and iron.
- White beans: White beans are cultivated throughout the Americas. They contain 51 mg of polyphenols per 100g. There are several different varieties of white bean, these include butterbeans, navy beans, Great Northern, and cannellini beans. All of these beans are also a great source of vitamin C and magnesium.
- Broccoli: This plant is a member of the cruciferous vegetable family. It contains 45 mg of polyphenols per 100g. It originates from Italy but is now cultivates all over the world. Broccoli is also a great source of fiber, vitamins A, C, D, iron, calcium, potassium, manganese, and magnesium.
- Asparagus: This vegetable is a flowering plant which produces edible stems. It provides 29 mg of polyphenols per 100g, particularly the flavonol quercetin. Asparagus is also a rich source of vitamins A, C, E, K, and B6. It also contains calcium, protein, fiber, folate, iron, and copper.
- Bean sprouts: Typically, mung beans or soybeans are used to grow bean sprouts. They contain 15 mg of polyphenols per 100g. Because they have such a high water content, bean sprouts are low in calories, carbohydrates, and fat.
Polyphenol-rich foods present a natural pharmacy to help support your bodily functions. Not only do they have a delicious range of flavors, but they also help to support heart, immune, and digestive health.