Polyphenols are a type of antioxidant, which is a naturally occurring plant compound that works to keep free radicals (oxygen-robbing cells) from harming your body’s healthy cells. Eating foods and drinking liquids that are rich in polyphenols optimizes digestion, supports brain health, and plays a big part in weight management programs.  Luckily, polyphenols are widely available in spices, herbs, select fruits and even wine, so with a little tweaking it is easy to boost your diet with this special little antioxidant.

As Karen Ansel, RDN, author of Healing Superfoods for Anti-Aging: Stay Younger, Live Longer, advises, “Eating polyphenol-rich foods at every meal and snack provides the biggest bang by delivering a steady stream to your body all throughout the day.” So take comfort in knowing that when you sit down with your favorite cup of tea to read a book, you’re doing your body so much more of a favor than simply relaxing.

What foods have Polyphenols?

A lot of popular foods contain healthful doses of polyphenols — with tea, wine, dark chocolate, and berries being some of the most well-known. The world-famous spice, cinnamon, found in teas, curries, oils, pastries, and even toothpastes, provides benefits of several polyphenols it contains: rutin, catechin, quercetin, kaempferol, and isorhamnetin. And there are many other foods, used for thousands of years by Ayurvedic practitioners, that also offer significant amounts of these potent plant compounds. Included is Tulsi (or Holy Basil), which contains the polyphenol eugenol and is found in millions of households across India.  

Mae Nicole Rouhani and her fellow researchers at University of Arizona, College of Public Health and School of Medicine, have reported their findings from scientifically analyzing the multi-faceted healing power of ancient Ayurvedic herbs, revealing that it is their abundance in polyphenols which contribute to blood sugar regulation, a reduction in insulin sensitivity, and prevention of blood sugar imbalance complications — all of which help improve digestion and weight management.  

Clear glass overflowing with Tulsi leaves.
Tulsi Infusion

Digestion and Polyphenols  

Digestion is a complex process involving the work of enzymes, the cellular absorption of nutrients, and the building and replenishing of the immune system. From food consumption to excretion, our bodies employ numerous organs and tissues to break down food particles and distribute their nutrients to the appropriate cells. This means that all organs involved in the digestive process have to work optimally for nutrient particles to reach the body’s cells and fight the toxins and microorganisms there, in addition to creating energy, rebuilding damaged tissues, producing hormones, and so forth.  

The walls of the digestive system are lined with certain kinds of protective cells, and the digestive tract is susceptible to a variety of illnesses if it isn’t fed the right kinds of foods. The result can range from infections to inflammatory disorders, and from mild issues to more serious ones. Polyphenols come to the rescue because they defend against rogue cells that are perpetually threatening to damage the healthy ones. 

 Polyphenols and Weight Management

Numerous studies suggest that consuming polyphenol-rich foods is also beneficial for those trying to manage weight. Of particular note is turmeric, a root containing the polyphenol curcumin that serves to suppress the inflammation that plays a role in obesity.

Hannah Cory and her team at Harvard’s Department of Nutrition showed that polyphenols — such as catechins, resveratrol, and curcumin — are associated with keeping one’s weight down. They regulate the body’s manufacture of fat cells, reduce inflammation, balance blood sugar, and increase the amount of energy that the body can expend.

Turmeric polyphenol for weight management

Adding Polyphenols to Your Daily Diet  

You can drink your polyphenols as well as eat them. There are a number of teas that provide a good supply, including Tulsi, Cinnamon, Peppermint, Hibiscus, and many others. Researchers from the University Institute of Pharmaceutical Sciences, Panjab University, India, reported that tea is the most consumed non-alcoholic beverage in the world, and green tea, in particular, contains about 300 to 400 milligrams of polyphenols.

Medical and nutrition researchers readily agree that polyphenols boost health and ward off disease when we consume them regularly in our food and beverages. It’s well-established that polyphenols reduce inflammation, which is both the cause and effect of many health issues that result from tissue injury, toxins, accidents, and stress. Finding ways to add more polyphenol-rich foods and herbs into your daily diet goes a long way toward building a happier, healthier life.