A list of the richest common foods in polyphenols!

Coffee, chocolate, tea, red wine, olive oil, vegetables, fruits, herbs, and spices are among the top-100 high-polyphenol foods!

What are polyphenols?

Polyphenols are plant compounds that have powerful antioxidant properties. There are over 8,000 polyphenols.

These phytochemicals give food its color, flavor, or bitterness.

Polyphenols protect plants from oxidation. Additionally, they protect the human body from free radical damage and UV radiation.

Several epidemiological studies strongly showed that the consumption of polyphenols offered better protection against chronic diseases such as:

  • cancers,
  • cardiovascular diseases,
  • diabetes,
  • neurodegenerative diseases, and 
  • aging

Recommended Daily Intake of Polyphenols

Polyphenols don’t have an officially approved daily intake recommended value, like vitamins and minerals.

Polyphenols don’t store in the body. So, their health effects are difficult to be measured. Also, it’s difficult to measure their bioavailability.

Many studies have been conducted to find the daily polyphenol consumption of the population around the globe. For instance, scientists measured that the daily intake of polyphenols was between 183–4,854 mg per day in Japan (5).

On the contrary, in the famous EPIC study, scientists measured that the daily intake of polyphenols was 584–1,786 mg per day (6).

The EPIC study is a well-known large study conducted in 10 European countries: Denmark, France, Germany, Greece, Italy, Norway, Spain, Sweden, The Netherlands, and the UK. Scientists tried to investigate the role of diet, and other environmental factors on the etiology of cancer, and other chronic diseases. Over half a million participants were recruited.

The highest total polyphenol intake was in Denmark (1,786 mg per day), whereas the lowest intake was in Greece (584 mg per day).

Studies have found that the daily polyphenol intake is on average 1,000 mg, depending on lifestyle and dietary preferences (11).

According to certain studies, we should get at least 500 mg of polyphenols a day for greater health benefits (9).

Most noteworthy, high consumption of polyphenols is unlikely to cause toxicity or side effects (7).

Therefore, you should increase the daily consumption of foods rich in polyphenols.

The easiest way to really boost the polyphenol intake is by following a whole-food plant-based diet. Vegetables, fruits, beans, legumes, herbs, and spices are particularly rich in polyphenols!

Types of Polyphenols

Polyphenols are divided into four different categories (1):

  • Flavonoids are predominantly in fruits, vegetables, legumes, red wine, and green tea. They are further divided into flavones, flavonols, flavanones, isoflavones, anthocyanidins, chalcones, and catechins. They have potential health benefits as complementary medicine and utilized in various formulation implied for antioxidant, anti-inflammatory, neuroprotective, anti-diabetic, anticancer, anti-infertility, anti-obesity, anti-arthritic, neuroprotective, antihyperlipidemic, anti-cataract and wound healing properties (1).
  • Stilbenes are found in red wine, grapes, and peanuts. The most well-known compound of this group is resveratrol.
  • Phenolic acids are found in coffee, tea, cinnamon, blueberries, kiwis, plums, apples, and cherries.
  • Lignans are found in seeds. Flaxseed is especially rich in lignans. Legumes, whole-cereals, whole-grains, fruits, algae, and certain vegetables are all good sources as well.

Food usually contains complex polyphenols, mainly found in the outer layers of the plants. Avoid throwing away the peel of fruits and vegetables. Prefer organic foods, as herbicides and pesticides tend to accumulate in the peel.

Health benefits of Polyphenols

Polyphenols protect plants from UV radiation, pathogens, oxidative stress, and harsh climatic conditions.

Polyphenols are so important for the human body as well. They can prevent several major chronic diseases associated with oxidative stress. Actually, polyphenols have many powerful biological properties such as (1,2,8,9):

  • anti-diabetic,
  • anticancer,
  • anti-inflammatory,
  • cardioprotective,
  • osteoprotective,
  • neuroprotective,
  • antiasthmatic,
  • antihypertensive,
  • antiageing,
  • antiseptic,
  • cerebrovascular protection,
  • cholesterol-lowering,
  • hepatoprotective,
  • antifungal,
  • antibacterial and
  • antiviral properties

What foods are high in polyphenols?

Plants are the only good sources of polyphenols. Fruits, vegetables, legumes, whole-cereals, even chocolate, tea, and coffee are all good sources of polyphenols.

For instance, most common fruits (such as grapes, apple, pear, cherries, and berries) contain up to 300 mg of polyphenols per 100g.

The European Journal of Clinical Nutrition published the 100 richest dietary sources of polyphenols (2).

The polyphenol contents ranged from more than 15,000 mg per 100g in cloves to 7.8 mg per 100 mL in rosé wine. The richest food in polyphenols is cloves.

The richest sources of polyphenols are spices and herbs. For instance, peppermint, Mexican oregano, sage, rosemary, spearmint, and thyme are particularly rich in polyphenols.

As, we can’t consume large amounts of spices and herbs, we should consume a wide variety of vegetables and fruits. According to the American Heart Association, we have to consume at least 5 servings of fruits and vegetables a day.

List of common foods rich in polyphenols

First, berries are among the richest common foods in polyphenols. They’re particularly rich is anthocyanins. Black chokeberry, black elderberry, blueberry, and blackcurrant are all rich in polyphenols.

Due to their unique nutritional value, berries are great for weight loss. Hence, you can enjoy raspberries, blueberries, and other berries, as part of a low-calorie diet for weight loss.

Plum, cherry, and blackberry are the richest sources of polyphenols among the fruit group. Other fruits rich in polyphenols are strawberries, raspberries, grapes, apples, peaches, apricots, nectarines, and pears.

Chestnut, walnut, hazelnut, pecan nut, almond, and flaxseeds are nuts and seeds rich in polyphenols.

Soy flour and roasted soybean are rich in isoflavones (a type of polyphenol).

Cocoa powder and chocolate are also rich in polyphenols.

Black and green olives are particularly rich in tyrosols. Other vegetables that contain polyphenols are globe artichoke heads, green chicory, red and yellow onions, shallots, spinach, broccoli, asparagus, potatoes, endive, lettuce, endive, and carrot.

In addition, coffee, black tea, green tea, and red wine are beverages rich in polyphenols. Typically, a cup of tea or coffee or a glass of red wine contains more than 100 mg of polyphenols. In fact, coffee and green tea can be the main sources of polyphenols for people who follow a standard Western diet (5).

Only red wine is rich in polyphenols, though. Polyphenol-rich grape skins are removed during the production of white wine. In fact, red wine has 10 times more polyphenols than white wine.

Some fruit juices also contain great amounts of polyphenols. For instance, pomegranate juice is particularly rich in polyphenols and other antioxidants.

Furthermore, cereals, such as whole grain flours from wheat or rye, contain some polyphenols.

Last, but not least, two vegetable oils contain polyphenols. First, the extra virgin olive oil is pretty rich in tyrosols. Rapeseed oil is a good source of polyphenols as well.

You can see the table with the top-100 high-polyphenol foods here.

Serving size matters

Certain foods and beverages, like beer, red wine, and coffee, contribute to the total polyphenol intake, although they aren’t in the top-100 high-polyphenol foods.

On the contrary, dark chocolate and cocoa powder, although they are rich in polyphenols, they don’t significantly contribute in the daily polyphenol intake. We only consume small amounts.

In fact, dark chocolate with 85% cocoa solids has many health benefits. Besides its high polyphenol content, it’s a good source of fiber, iron, and many other minerals.

The consumption of cocoa, tea or coffee could increase the daily polyphenol intake by 500–1,000 mg (7).

Sources:

  1. NCBI – PMC: A Critical Review on Polyphenols and Health Benefits of Black Soybeans
  2. Nature.com – European Journal of Clinical Nutrition: Identification of the 100 richest dietary sources of polyphenols: an application of the Phenol-Explorer database
  3. Office of Disease Prevention and Health Promotion (ODPHP): Dietary Guidance for Americans 2015-2020
  4. NCBI – PMC: The role of polyphenols in modern nutrition
  5. NCBI – PMC: Estimated Dietary Polyphenol Intake and Major Food and Beverage Sources among Elderly Japanese
  6. NCBI – PMC: Dietary polyphenol intake in Europe: the European Prospective Investigation into Cancer and Nutrition (EPIC) study
  7. British Journal of Nutrition: Dietary reference intake (DRI) value for dietary polyphenols: are we heading in the right direction?
  8. NCBI – PMC: Effects of Polyphenol-Rich Foods on Human Health
  9. NCBI – PMC: Systematic Review on Polyphenol Intake and Health Outcomes: Is there Sufficient Evidence to Define a Health-Promoting Polyphenol-Rich Dietary Pattern?
  10. Oxford Academic – The Journal of Nutrition: Dietary Intake and Bioavailability of Polyphenols
  11. NCBI– PMC: Tea polyphenols, their biological effects and potential molecular targets