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Improve Your Gut Health with Polyphenols

Polyphenols are in many plant foods and provide many health benefits! I am excited to share a few ways that polyphenols help boost gut health and in addition, how they prevent other chronic diseases. We will check out some of the different types of polyphenols and which foods are full of them! And I have a new recipe that I hope that you will love!

We are going to talk about which foods are high in polyphenols and flavonoid foods, which foods increase BDNF and we will talk about quercetin in green tea along with lots of other information about these beneficial phytochemicals.

What are Polyphenols?

Polyphenols are powerful phytochemicals that help our body through an amazing antioxidant activity that helps fight off inflammation in our body to reduce free radicals which increase our risk for chronic disease.

How Do Polyphenols Affect Your Body?

Let’s talk about how polyphenols improve our health.

While I was researching during the development of Vine Ripe Nutrition’s Digestive Wellness Program, I was pleasantly surprised to learn the best polyphenols to benefit gut microbiota. I was able to learn even more about it at a recent webinar presented by Kate Scarlata on “A Holistic Approach to IBS” which was sponsored by Fody Foods which had some wonderful resources that I can use.

Health Benefits of Polyphenols in Gut Health

How do polyphenols improve GI Health?

Because polyphenols are not easily digested, they act inside our body similar to prebiotics by nurturing and helping increase the number of healthy bacteria in our gut. And they can help reduce the potentially bad bacteria. Below is a list of these foods.

The healthy bacteria help improve our body’s ability to use polyphenols in other ways to improve our health. This makes it sort of a win/win, symbiotic relationship! Here is a research article that highlights a little more about this.

Best Polyphenols for Gut Health

Here is a list of foods Here is a list foods highest in polyphenols for digestive wellness.

  • Dark berries with polyphenols like strawberries, raspberries, cranberries and elderberries
  • Purple plums and currents
  • Cocoa powder and dark chocolate
  • Flaxseed
  • Tea
  • Coffee

    I was surprised to learn that coffee beans have some of the highest sources of polyphenols which include chlorogenic acid which helps reduce oxidative stress and inflammation . And caffeic acid another polyphenol in coffee benefits the immune system with its antioxidant and anti-inflammatory properties.

Other Health Benefits of Polyphenols

As a registered dietitian, I learned the about the benefits of polyphenols but researching about what they do was almost overwhelming but in a very good way.

More research needs to be done in this area but these are very exciting possibilities where so many chronic diseases can be prevented and managed by what we eat!

Health Benefits of Polyphenols in Cardiovascular Wellness

Two ways that polyphenols help promote a healthy heart include their role in reducing inflammation as well as their antioxidant activity to help remove free radicals in the blood vessels.

These actions help lower LDL cholesterol, blood pressure, decreases stroke risk and helps increase HDl cholesterol. Check out this article which has more about how it helps.

Some of the health benefits of polyphenols of olive oil includes reduce the risk of heart disease. Here is a great article with more about how polyphenol rich olive oil can reduce cardiovascular disease.

The polyphenol quercetin found in green tea, apples and additional foods help prevent strokes and cardiovascular disease.

Health Benefits of Polyphenols in Our Brain

The antioxidant benefits of polyphenols along with the fact that they help improve the health gut are some of the big reasons that they help prevent neurogenerative brain disease. There has been much research on the relationship between a healthy brain and gut.

In addition, the polyphenols known as “stilbenes” most commonly found in blueberries may promote the secretion of beneficial brain promoting chemicals like “brain-derived neurotrophic factor (BDNF). You can find out more in this informative research article from 2015. When there is increased BDNF levels helps prevent the death of brain cells.

More research is being done to see how polyphenols affect anxiety, depression and other mood disorders but much more needs to be studied how they benefit. Here are some additional ways to increase your BDNF levels.

Health Benefits of Polyphenols Cancer in Prevention and Survival

These medicinal antioxidants also play an important role in cancer prevention and may even affect many of the cellular mechanisms which are involved in cancer growth.

One of the ways that is does this is that polyphenols help reduce our body’s inflammation and boost our immune system. I like the nice overview that the article on the different types of polyphenols that are in our food how it can help. It is just an important reminder that the more variety that we have of medicinal plant foods that we have the more benefits that we get!

Health Benefits of Polyphenols Skin

In addition to the above benefits, research has shown that polyphenols even protect our skin from the harmful effects of UV rays which gives our sunscreen an additional boost when we eat these foods. The antioxidant benefits from these foods also provide a real anti-aging advantage. You can find out more about how polyphenols benefit our skin here.

Health Benefits of Polyphenols to Prevent and Manage Diabetes

Because of the anti-inflammatory role in the body, polyphenols provide a big benefit to not only preventing Type 2 Diabetes but they might also have a role in helping improving blood sugar. You can check out this entire article about these benefits.

Polyphenols In Achieving Healthy A Body Weight

I have included an article below that highlights the Potential Health Benefits of Polyphenols and their relationship to a healthy weight. For instance, a few of these ways include assisting the body to burn fat, limiting the ability to store excess fat and reducing inflammation in the body, You can find out more details about how polyphenols help maintain a healthy weight here.

What About Polyphenol Supplements?

It is best to get beneficial food components like polyphenols from food itself. Supplements are not well regulated and may not always have the active ingredients that they say they have, and some may even have less healthy by-products in them. There also is a food synergy where all the parts work better together than a small, isolated component.

And it is much more delicious to have some dark berries high in polyphenols instead of swallowing a pill.

Purple Foods Rich in Polyphenols
The more colorful your food, the higher in nutrients

Types of Polyphenols In Our Foods

Before really jumping into this research in this blog post, I usually thought of only resveratrol and anthocyanins as polyphenols with their blue, violet and red hues. These two polyphenols are known for their antioxidant activity benefiting heart health and preventing cancer. However, there are much more than that!

From my research, I learned that there are two main types of polyphenols.

  • Flavonoids

  • Phenolic Acids

And within each of these two main types, there are subcategories within them.

You might wonder like I did, “why so many names for these polyphenols, it’s so confusing!”

But thinking back to my old chemistry and life science science courses in college, I realized that the names often come from its chemical structure and biological activity. That is why there are so many names to keep these beneficial plant chemicals straight!

Subcategories of flavonoids include:

  • anthocyanins
  • favones
  • flavonoles
  • isoflavonoids.

Subcategories of pheolic acids include:

  • lignans
  • stilbenes
  • hydroxybenoic acid
  • hydroxycinnamic acid.

And within these subcategories, these polyphenols. They are further divided into individual members within each subcategory. Some of these beneficial phytochemicals may sound familiar and include:

  • EGCG found in green tea
  • Quercetin found in apples
  • Geinstein found in soy
  • Ellagic acid found in berries
  • Revesterol from grapes

These are all a type of polyphenols!

Recipe Rich in Polyphenols

Today’s recipe is rich in polyphenols, beautiful color and delicious taste. Above all, I love the interesting cultural background of my recipe for Behl.

What is Behl?

Behl is an appetizer or salad often served by street food vendors in India. It often contains something crunchy like puffed rice. People enjoy this salad/snack for it’s sweet, salty, tart and spicy components that make it rich in flavor. Other familiar ingredients in Behl include cabbage, tomatoes, and potatoes.

You can serve this recipe as a side dish to your favorite Indian dish, for example, this recipe below or I think it would be delicious as a side dish with anything!

Purple Salad with Polyphenols
We eat with our eyes so make your food beautiful!
Purple Cabbage Behl Salad

Inspired by a delicious salad served seasonally at one of our favorite restaurants in Asheville, Chai Pani which features Indian Street Food. I used purple cabbage in my recipe and added sweet potatoes. I love the green and red of the cilantro/green onion and tomatoes. You can even mix purple and green cabbage! Serve it over quinoa if desired. Top with roasted peanuts and drizzle with chutney!

4 cups thinly sliced purple cabbage
1 medium sweet potato, baked until still slightly firm
½ cup chopped tomatoes
2 green onions chopped
1/4 cup garlic infused oil
1/3 cup lemon juice (you could even use lime instead)
1 jalapeno pepper, chopped and seeded
1/3 cup chopped cilantro
Sliced avocados
Garnish with additional cilantro, green onions, cilantro chutney (see recipe below), and peanuts.

This chutney recipe is from Bon Appetit. I included it because I like the simplicity of it. Feel free to create your own or make one of the other great ones out there.

Cilantro Chutney

After sweet potatoes have cooled, peel and cut them into 1/2 inch cubes. Add thinly sliced cabbage and tomatoes in a medium bowl. Lightly mix in the lemon/lime juice, olive oil, salt, and pepper to taste. Toss in the sweet potatoes and green onions.

Add sliced avocado to the top and garnish with your favorite toppings or serve them on the side.

Purple Cabbage Behl Salad
Prep Time
30 mins
Cook Time
0 mins

This salad is packed with nutrient-rich polyphenols!

Course: Salad, Side Dish
Cuisine: Indian
Keyword: anti-inflammatory, gluten-free, low fodmap recipe, plant-based, vegetarian
Author: Denise Barratt Registered Dietitian Nutrition
  • 4 cups

    Thinly, sliced purple cabbage
  • 1 medium Sweet potato, prebaked until slightly firm
  • 1/2 cup

    Chopped tomatoes
  • 2 Green onions, chopped
  • 1/4 cup Garlic infused oil
  • 1/3 cup Lemon juice You can use lime instead.
  • 1 Jalapeno, chopped and seeded
  • 1 Avocado Use for garnish at end.
  • 1/3 cup Chopped cilantro
  • Salt to taste
  • Pepper to taste
  1. After sweet potatoes have cooled, peel and cut them into 1/2
    inch cubes. Add thinly sliced cabbage and tomatoes in a medium bowl. Lightly
    mix in the lemon/lime juice, olive oil, salt, and pepper to taste. Toss in the
    sweet potatoes and green onions.

    Add sliced avocado and cilantro to the top and garnish with other favorite
    toppings or serve them on the side.

Foods rich in Polyphenols

Here are the best way sources of polyphenols rich foods. The bigger the variety in your meals, the better!

Polyphenol Rich Fruits

Blueberries, blackberries, raspberries, cranberries, cherries, red and purple grapes, apples, plums, pomegranates, citrus fruits

Polyphenol Rich Vegetables

Red cabbage, red onion, eggplant, purple cauliflower, purple carrots, broccoli, onions, celery, parsley

Other Foods Rich in Polyphenols

Chocolate, black beans, extra virgin olive oil, soy, walnuts, black olives, whole grains, flax and sesame seeds

Polyphenol Rich Beverages

Coffee, tea, red wine, green tea

Other Recipes Rich in Polyphenols

In addition to my latest recipe, here are some additional recipes to try to get more of these nutrition powerhouses! Hope that you find a new one in this collection.

Apple Blueberry Tofu and Kale Salad

Both the Pomegranate Spritzer and the Black-Eyed Pea Salsa are full of polyphenols.

Decadent Chocolate Dip with Strawberries

In conclusion, my original intent of this post was to just share the health benefits of polyphenols and our gut health but the more I learned, the more I wanted to share the role of these foods in our overall health! I hope that I have inspired you to eat more of them!

As a registered dietitian living in Asheville, NC, I love to help others find an eating plan that works for them to feel the best that they can be!

If you are looking for an Asheville Nutritionist to help you on your journey to gut health, you may be interested in working with me through the Fresh Approach Program for Digestive Wellness.

Colorful Fruits and Vegetables
A great recipe starts out with great ingredients and these fruits and veggies are as beautiful as they are delicious!
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