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Polyphenols – what are they?
Polyphenols are biologically active plant compounds that give plants their colour, are responsible for their sour and bitter taste and protect them from UV rays. Their task is to defend the plant against the attack of bacteria and fungi and to deter insects.
It is one family of substances, but it is very rich and diverse. Polyphenols in the human body play a very important role, because they have anticancer and anti-inflammatory properties, lower blood pressure and protect us from atherosclerosis and its consequences. So what are polyphenols and why are they so important to our body? It must be emphasized that these are, above all, very powerful antioxidants, that is, compounds that capture and neutralize the so-called free radicals. The source of polyphenols is fruits, vegetables and grains.
Polyphenols – properties
The most important properties of polyphenols:
- Polyphenols are among the most powerful natural antioxidants. They “catch” the free radicals that are responsible for DNA damage, neoplastic processes and the aging of the organism. For example, quercetin (a compound belonging to flavonols) is known to destroy and inactivate cancer cells. Research indicates that it inhibits the proliferation of cancer cells and promotes apoptosis, or programmed cell death.
- Polyphenols strengthen blood vessels, reduce their permeability, and thus reduce the risk of developing cardiovascular diseases. In addition, they lower blood pressure and prevent the formation of atherosclerotic plaques. For example, catechins work in this way, helping to remove “bad” cholesterol from the blood and increase “good” cholesterol. Catechins also stimulate the pancreas to produce insulin, which means that it lowers blood sugar levels.
- Polyphenols are anti-inflammatory and antioxidant, so they are an important component of cancer prevention.
- Phenolic compounds (lignans, stelpenoids and tannins) help in the proper functioning of the digestive system.
Polyphenols – where are most of them?
Foods rich in polyphenols are mainly fruits. In addition, it can be found in vegetables, cereals, coffee, tea and many other food products of plant origin. Most of the polyphenols are concentrated in the peel of fruits and vegetables.
Polyphenols can be divided into several groups. These are phenolic acids, flavonoids and phenolic compounds (the most numerous group of natural polyphenols).
We mainly look for phenolic acids in raspberries, black currants, wild strawberries, red onions and tea. Another name for these compounds is phenolic acids. So, among the phenolic acids we have gallic acid, salicylic acid, ellagic acid, chlorogenic acid and hydroxybenzoic acid. Some phenolic acids are part of tannins or vegetable tannins.
Flavonoids are actually a group of compounds. In nature, there are probably about 8000 species of flavonoids, and scientists have described only 500 of them so far, these groups include: catechins, flavones, isoflavones, flavanones, flavanols and anthocyanins.
Where are most flavonoids found? The National Center for Nutrition Education lists the following products: apricots, cherries, red wine, cocoa, green tea, celery, parsley, grains, soybeans, white citrus parts, peach seeds, onions, tea, red wine, grapes, berries, and cranberries.
We also have a group of compounds called Stilbenes. It’s resveratrol, which is an antioxidant found in fruit, grape seeds, and wine. On the other hand, lignans are primarily found in flaxseeds, cereals, and coffee.
Is it worth considering whether polyphenols are healthy or not? It is certainly an indispensable component of food, and certainly contributes to the improvement of the condition of our bodies. They provide longer youth and keep us healthy. You also don’t have to worry about excess polyphenols. Let’s eat fruits and vegetables as desired.
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