It appears mainstream science might finally be catching up with what nutritionists have known for hundreds of years: antioxidant-rich plant-based polyphenols can build health and stave off disease.
Earlier this month, the American Chemical Society (ACS) held a symposium, “Polyphenolic Chemistry in Food Science: Flavor, Color, and Biofunctional Properties,” as part of its 246th National Meeting & Exposition.
Polyphenols are found in over 450 foods, including many fruits and vegetables, spices, dried herbs, nuts and cocoa products. Many are considered superfoods. Cloves and peppermint top the list, with blueberries, oregano, dark chocolate, olives, pecans and flaxseed meal in the top 25.
Noting “a range of possible health benefits,” ACS set out to cover a dozen polyphenol-related topics. Research presented at the symposium covered the polyphenol gamut. Scientists found that polyphenols are not just anti-inflammatory but could also help prevent cancer from forming; pterostilbene, (a polyphenol in blueberries and grapes) alleviated neurological conditions such as anxiety disorder; healthy gut flora is necessary to aid absorption and properly metabolize polyphenols to get the most health benefit; and black tea theaflavins even extended the overall lifespan of fruit flies.
Other topics covered included a polyphenol-rich cooking oil that was found to make fried foods more healthful and the fact that people who adore the pleasantly bitter flavor of coffee have polyphenols to thank.
The most noteworthy developments in polyphenol research presented came from the Department of Food Science at Spain’s Higher Council for Scientific Research. Scientist Francisco Tomas-Berberan presented evidence that gut flora play a more vital role in polyphenols than previously thought. He found that less than 5% of these phytochemicals are readily digested in their original form and are nearly unaltered when they reach the colon. This is where a properly balanced, healthy gut microbiome is key, as gut flora and polyphenols share a two-way relationship. As a vast majority of a person’s immune system is reliant on properly balanced gut microbiota, and polyphenols are significant in tackling auto-immune diseases, these two work together to protect the body from inflammation and illness.
Now that science is recognizing the true importance of antioxidant polyphenols in the diet, it could help the public make better informed diet choices that aid in preventing disease versus simply leaving people to become eventual patients at the mercy of the medical-industrial complex.