Polyphenols, flavonoids and their health benefits

Polyphenols are a large and diverse group of plant-based compounds. Based on their chemical make-up polyphenols are divided into different groups and sub-groups (see diagram 1 below). Some polyphenols have health benefits such as antioxidant activity fighting free radicals. Other polyphenols have anti-inflammatory activity redirecting metabolic pathways that cause inflammation processes. And another class of polyphenols acts as prebiotics, which cannot be digested by our small intestine, but they promote the growth of gut-friendly bacteria called probiotics, ultimately leading to healthy gut flora.

One group of polyphenols is called flavonoids, which have been extensively studied for potential health benefits for the last two decades (see diagram 2). The research suggests that flavonoids play a key role in promoting cardiovascular, anti-cancer, cognitive, gastrointestinal, anti-inflammatory and urinary tract health. Whilst flavonoid research has shown promising results we are not yet able to make specific recommendations for dietary intake of flavonoids or its subgroup.

However, we know that different foods contain different types of flavonoids (Diagram 3). For example, tomatoes and capsicum contain different types of flavonoids. If you are eating a variety of seasonal fruit and vegetables, nuts, seeds and legumes then you can be sure that you are getting a wide variety of flavonoids as well as fibre, vitamins, and minerals, which all are important for maintaining good health.

A healthy diet will contain a diverse range of polyphenols with different properties and health effects.

Sourced: American Society for Nutrition

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