What’s all the Buzz about Polyphenols?

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We’ve all heard about the value of an antioxidant rich diet, right? Now, scientists are starting to uncover the miracle of polyphenols, a certain class of antioxidants that are getting intense scrutiny and a lot of praise. So what, exactly, are polyphenols?

Wild Blueberries

Polyphenols are natural chemical compounds that protect plants from the insults of nature, among other helpful functions. These same compounds are also helpful to humans. Polyphenols are known for helping protect against the effects of aging and oxidative stress. Their powerful antioxidant activity can help neutralize free radicals, reduce inflammation, and may slow the growth of tumors.

Are you getting enough of these beneficial compounds? Well, let’s put it this way: if you are eating plenty of dark and colorful foods – such as Wild Blueberries, Blackberries, Dark Chocolate, Kale, Spinach, Red Wine, Coffee, Nuts and Green Tea – which are loaded with these compounds—you’re on the right track. If you’re not getting enough polyphenols, you might want to take a look at how to increase your intake.

So how do you get more polyphenols?

You just have to know where to look! Thanks to Cornell University scientist Rui Hai Liu, who measured the phenolic content of 53 common fruits and veggies, it’s pretty easy to see which foods will help bump up your intake.

Remarkably, among the 26 fruits and 27 vegetables most commonly consumed in the United States, Wild Blueberries ranked #1 (beating out blackberries, pomegranates and cultivated blueberries) for the highest total phenolic content per serving. If you know anything about Wild Blueberries, then you won’t be surprised they ranked first.

Unlike cultivated berries, which are planted and grown around the world, Wild Blues thrive in the most inhospitable of climates and supercharge their polyphenolic capacity while literally clinging to the rocky barrens of eastern Maine and Canada. And they have been doing just that for over 10,000 years.

As one scientist who works closely with Wild Blueberries likes to say, Wild Blueberries are “stressed for success.” In other words, the “stress” they endure in nature triggers them to devote their natural resources to accumulating protective phytochemicals for their benefit and ultimately ours too!

Finally, new research from the Institute of Food Research recently revealed more about the fascinating mechanism by which polyphenols protect us. Their study is getting noticed and reveals how compounds in certain fruits and vegetables that are high in polyphenols can help us fight against disease.

Bottom line: keep eating your fruits and vegetables daily, and refer to Dr. Liu’s chart for the most effective sources of polyphenols. And if you want to read more, check out The Cornell University research here.

Phenolic Content Chart

Journal of Food Science – Dietary Bioactive Compounds and Their Health Implications. *Spinach had the highest total phenolic content of the 27 common vegetables tested (Kale was not tested).

About the Author

Betta Stothart is a writer and book editor who arrived in Maine as a raft guide, made her way into the newspaper world, found and married a Mainer and eventually became a mom. She enjoys writing profiles and articles about sustainability, health, yoga, and the environment and is a Wild Blueberries blog team member.