Polyphenols, or phenolics, are natural plant chemicals which have potent antioxidant effects. There are more than 8,000 of them identified in fruits, vegetables, chocolates, tea, and wine.
Polyphenols, allyl sulfides, carotenoids, and other antioxidants protect cells from free radical damage, thus controlling your disease potential and aging process.
So, lack of antioxidants can cause free radical damage which increases the risk for cancer, heart disease, Alzheimer’s, and other chronic diseases. There are 4 general types of polyphenols – stilbenes, flavonoids, phenolic acids, and lignans.
Generally, the skin or outer layers of plants contain the highest concentration of polyphenols. They give fruits, vegetables, and berries their vibrant color and add to their aroma, flavor, and oxidative stability.
How Polyphenols Affect Your Health
Polyphenols play different biological functions in the human body, including the following:
- Inhibit the growth of blood vessels that feed tumors
- Fight cancer cells
- Protect skin against UV radiation
- Reduce inflammation
- Fight free radicals
- Support brain health
- Prevent dementia and Alzheimer’s
- Reduce the appearance of aging
- Reduce the risk for osteoporosis, thus improving the bone metabolism
- Increase the good gut bacteria
- Reduce the clumping of blood platelets
- Stabilize blood pressure and protect the cardiovascular system, thus reducing the risk for cardiovascular disease
- Promote normal blood glucose levels, thus stabilizing the lipid metabolism, lowering insulin resistance as well as the risk of type 2 diabetes
How Polyphenols Protect the Heart
One research investigated the polyphenol effects on the treatment and prevention of cardiovascular disease.
The results showed that high intake of fruit-based flavonoids, especially foods rich in anthocyanins (red, blue, or dark purple colored fruits) and flavone-rich foods (lemon, grapefruit, orange, and other citrus fruits) can reduce the chances of ischemic stroke and nonfatal myocardial infarction in men.
But, in order to get these benefits, you have to consume the entire fruit, including the skin.
Here are other studies which suggest polyphenols can support your heart health:
- Meta-analysis of 14 studies discovered that intake of 6 types of flavonoids (anthocyanidins, flavonols, flavones, proanthocyanidins, flavan-3-ols, and flavanones) can drastically reduce the risk of heart disease.
- A 2016 study suggests that flavonoid metabolism improves their bioactivity in cells which line the blood vessels, thus preventing heart disease.
- Clumping of platelets in blood is one of the major risk factors for angina and heart attacks. But, flavonoids help reduce the platelet clumping, thus reducing the risk for heart attack
- Polyphenols are antioxidants which fight free radicals and decrease inflammation in the body
- Polyphenols hinder the VEGF (vascular endothelial growth factor) which could cause problems with the atherosclerotic plaques in the arteries – a risk factor for cardiovascular diseases.
Organic, Purple Foods Have Higher Levels of Polyphenols
Always choose organically and sustainably grown foods as these are richest in polyphenols. The best examples of polyphenol-rich foods include berries and blue or purple foods like purple potatoes, mulberries, and blueberries.
Spices and herbs contain a good amount of polyphenols as well.
Purple Potatoes Might Reduce the Chances of Colon Cancer
One research analyzed how purple potatoes affect pigs fed with one of the following 3 diets for 13 weeks:
- Standard control diet
- High-calorie diet (associated with higher risk of colon cancer)
- High-calorie diet supplemented with baked or raw purple potatoes, high in anthocyanins and phenolic acids with anticancer properties
The second type of diet raised the levels of the proinflammatory protein interleukin-6 (IL-6) which promotes colon cancer development.
The third one, which included purple potatoes, showed a sixfold reduction of interleukin-6 levels sixfold in comparison with the control group.
Another study discovered that polyphenols help prevent colon cancer cell proliferation and induce cancer cell death (apoptosis) through oxidant-mediated mechanisms.
Even though potatoes are rich in starch, which is not good for your blood glucose and insulin resistance, you can transform huge part of it into digestive-resistant type starch by cooking it and then cooling it in a refrigerator.
Digestive-resistant type starch doesn’t cause blood sugar spikes, but acts as a natural prebiotic, increasing the good gut bacteria.
Mulberry Health Benefits
Besides containing high amounts of polyphenols and other antioxidants, mulberries are also rich in magnesium, potassium, and iron. They also contain resveratrol which supports the heart health.
Some of mulberry’s health benefits include:
- Improve digestive health
- Keep blood vessels healthy
- Controls blood sugar levels
- Supports liver health and prevents liver disease
We hope you’ll start adding more purple foods to your diet now that you know how beneficial they are to your health.