One of the reasons why plant-based diets are so beneficial is because of their rich supply of antioxidants. Antioxidants help protect your body by preventing or reversing the damage to your cells that occurs as part of the normal process of aging, from lifestyle factors like smoking, as well as environmental factors like radiation, air pollution, and chemical exposure. Without antioxidants, the damage to your cells contributes to inflammation and increases your risk of chronic illnesses like diabetes, heart disease, Alzheimer’s, and cancer,
The vitamins and minerals found in food are known a micronutrients. Some of these micronutrients occur naturally in plants and are called polyphenols. Polyphenols are powerful antioxidants and there are more than 8000 different types, which fall into four main categories:
Flavonoids account for more than half of all polyphenols. They are found in a wide variety of foods including berries, spices, kale and leafy greens, onions, tea, red wine, dark chocolate, and soybeans.
Phenolic acids make up another 30% of polyphenols and are found in foods like grapes, berries, pomegranates, spices, walnuts, chocolate, coffee, and green tea.
Polyphenolic amides include capsaicinoids in hot peppers and avenanthramides in oats.
Other polyphenols include resveratrol found in red grapes and red wine, as well as ellagic acid in berries.
The health benefits of polyphenols are wide ranging because of their antioxidant activity in keeping your cells healthy and reducing your risk of disease. These include the following:
- Blood sugar control – in addition to protecting the insulin-producing cells in your pancreas, polyphenols also increase cell sensitivity to insulin to lower insulin resistance and reduce your chances of developing obesity and diabetes.
- Lower cancer risk – antioxidant polyphenols prevent cell damage and reduce the chances of those cells mutating and becoming cancerous. They can even block the growth of tumors and kill active cancer cells.
- Better heart health – polyphenols help lower blood pressure and LDL (bad) cholesterol while helping to increase HDL (good) cholesterol. They also help keep your blood vessels healthy and flexible for good circulation.
- Immune support – polyphenols help you fight off infection and disease; they also help the good bacteria in your gut grow while limiting the bad bacteria.
- Brain health – the risk of declining brain function is lower in people who regularly consume polyphenols. This is most likely due to the antioxidant effects as well as improved circulation and blood flow to the brain.
By consuming whole, plant-based foods, you automatically increase your intake of polyphenols. Make sure to include a wide variety of herbs and spices, fruits (especially berries), vegetables, whole grains, nuts and seeds, olive oil, tea, coffee, dark chocolate, and red wine.