Polyphenols: Why You Should Be Adding These Antioxidants Into Your Diet

People on plant-based diets around the world share the benefits of eating so many vegetables and fruits. Between high levels of naturally occurring nutrients and their proven impact on mental health, whole foods certainly live up to the hype. As if you needed another reason to eat more fresh foods, they also supply a high level of polyphenols — a plant-based nutrient that aids in gut health, among other vital processes.

According to Mindbodygreen, polyphenols naturally occur whenever a plant finds itself under attack or stress. Whether they have an injured stem, have been nibbled at by insects, sprayed with chemicals or gone without water, this is the phase in which plants begin to produce a molecule that's similar to sugar, which then combines with various microbes. As gastroenterologist, Emeran Mayer, MD, tells the outlet, "These microbes then stimulate the plant roots to produce polyphenols, which is the medicine of the plant."

Putting the medicine in "plant medicine", these polyphenols also interact with gut bacteria to keep things humming along. "We ingest [the plants], and then our own microbes break [them] down. It's almost like a sealed package," Dr. Mayer reveals. "They break it down once it gets down to the large intestine and open up the package with all the goodies that are in there."

Everyday foods contain high levels of polyphenols

Luckily, you don't need to find a specific type of bean only grown in a far-off mountain range to reap the benefits of these molecules. In addition to aiding in gut health, these antioxidants also protect cells against free radical damage, increase longevity and reduce inflammation throughout the system, Women's Health reports. However, some polyphenols aren't readily bioavailable to the body, so finding the types that your body can actually absorb is crucial. Subcategories of polyphenols include flavonols, flavonoids and isoflavones, so if you're looking at labels, these will point you in the right direction.

For instance, cloves provide high levels of these antioxidants — actually, they contain the highest amount of any food, the outlet reports. Add them into your cooking and warm beverages to get the nutrients you need. As for seeds, opt for chia! These contain 42% more polyphenols than flax seeds, Mindbodygreen notes, supplying your body with a surge of antioxidants. Of course, green tea as well as other types offer these benefits as well. Oranges, cherries and cocoa also will help your gut feel its best while protecting your cells as they age.

Yet another term to add to your plant-based vocabulary, polyphenols come from an injured plant to help give your body the protection and support it needs to function properly. Grocery shop accordingly!