Polyphenols are abundant micronutrients in our diet, and evidence for their role in the prevention of degenerative diseases such as cancer and cardiovascular diseases is emerging. The health effects of polyphenols depend on the amount consumed and on their bioavailability.
Lycopene, a polyphenol is thought to help fight prostate cancer and has been studied as a therapeutic. The soy flavonoids called isoflavones are known for their structural similarities to estrogen. They are therefore called phyto (plant) estrogens and are used for the alleviation of menopausal symptoms, though they have not been proven to protect against bone loss or other menopausal problems. At this point, the effects of these compounds seem to be due to their antioxidant properties rather than their influence on specific hormones.
They’re are foot soldiers in the battle against aging and disease
The more brilliant the colors of a fruit or vegetable, the more power it packs. The highest concentration is often right at the surface, where the color is the strongest. Also, all the polyphenols are metabolized rapidly, which means we have to eat them on a daily basis to take advantage of their protective effects.
Now that you know color is wonderful when it comes to foods, think about this: How many cancer-fighting phytochemicals do you find in white, refined
foods? And considering that most of the vitamins you need every day come from plants (as do most of your trace minerals and all fiber).
These color boosters are divided into four groups, based on their biochemical structure:
- Stilbenes. A small but important group that includes the anti-carcinogen resveratrol, found in the skin of red grapes. (We always knew red wine was a good thing!) By the way, small doses of alcohol are known to increase HDL (“good”) cholesterol. Though the effect is limited, there it is. The benefit of wine
is therefore double-barreled, so to speak — but do limit it to one or two glasses a day.
- Lianans. Found in flaxseed and legumes, they turn into antimicrobials in the intestine and fight off infections.
- Phenolic acids. The most important of these are:
a. Caffeic acid — found in coffee (yes, coffee can be a good thing!) and fruits
b. Gallic acid — found in tea
c. Ferulic acid — found in the outer part of the whole cereal grain, mainly left in bran after milling. These antioxidants also contribute to water-soluble fiber in the gastrointestinal tract and help lower cholesterol.
- Plavonoids. We saved the big group for last. These are the most numerous — some 4000 are known. They are found in produce of all colors as well as in chocolate (another surprisingly beneficial treat!), tea of all colors, red wine and soy. The deep rich blue of blueberries is one of the strongest antioxidants known to us, anthocyanin. Quercetin is found in greens, hesperetin and tangeretin in citrus fruit, beta-carotene in yellow/orange produce. Red wine and green tea packs catechins and gallocatechins. Tomatoes are full of the red cancer-fighting antioxidant lycopene. You have heard that eating grapefruit might interfere with certain medications; this is because the flavonoid naringenin may affect the concentration of some drugs in your system.
For more information please read,”Resveratrol powerful antioxidant and one of the best free radical scavengers“.
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