Did this headline grab your attention?
If you’re anything like me, you’re always excited to hear how one of your vices might actually not be so bad for you, right? It’s super exciting to learn that not only might they not be BAD for you, but they might actually be good for your health! Crazy good!
A few blogs back, I wrote about 3 things you can do to heal your gut and one of them was about adding probiotic and prebiotic foods to your diet to encourage the growth and well-being of our beneficial gut bacteria, as well as avoiding foods that encourage the growth and persistence of NOT so beneficial (harmful!) bacteria. If you didn’t read it, you can read it here.
In this blog, I want to address a lesser known set of food compounds that can significantly benefit and help to heal your gut. And yes, some of them can be found in your favorite wine or chocolate!
This set of compounds is called “Polyphenols” and they naturally occur in plants. They are largely responsible for the color of a plant and give the plant protection from environmental dangers they face like sunburn, pests and disease. Consuming them then transfers this protection and other benefits to us!
Polyphenols have captured the attention of many scientists; in recent years as more and more health benefits are uncovered.
There are 4 different classes of polyphenols and multiple subdivisions under these classifications. Some exist naturally in the plants while one class, Stilbenes, are actually synthesized by the plant. The other 3 are Phenolic Acids, Lignans and the most well-known and researched class: Flavonoids. (So far, of the 8000 polyphenols that have been discovered in plant foods, 4000 of them are in the flavonoid group.) I’m not going to go into a big discussion about what each class of polyphenol does, but it is pretty fascinating so maybe I will go into detail in a future blog.
Ok, let’s get back to how polyphenols can heal our gut!
It’s interesting to note that when we eat foods that contain polyphenols, only about 5-10% of them are absorbed in the small intestine as the molecules are too large. Most of them make their way to our colon where they are further broken down and then interact with other gut bacteria to produce MORE polyphenols with beneficial effects! So, the polyphenols are actually interacting with our gut to help it become or stay healthy! I love it!
As I covered in a previous article, our gut contains trillions of bacteria and they play a big role in our total health: of course, gut health but they also can affect blood sugar levels, cholesterol levels, our immune system and even our mental health! It’s crucial to make sure that our “good” bacteria are thriving and that we keep the “bad” bacteria at bay.
While polyphenols are not probiotic or prebiotic they act as a prebiotic-type compound and help to increase the number of good bacteria in our gut, especially the Lactobacillus and Bifidobacteria strains. Even if you can’t pronounce them, just know they are super heroes in our gut. Not only do they encourage the growth and survival of healthy bacteria, they also help to repress the growth of bad bacteria and can even help to control the growth of human pathogens like Salmonella and Staphylococcus! Wow! Super heroes, indeed.
So now that you know how beneficial polyphenols can be for your gut (along with probiotic and prebiotic foods), where can you find them?
First of all, consider that the study of polyphenols is very young and as I said earlier, there are over 8000 that have been identified so far and it is not yet known which might have the most positive benefit so it would be wise to get a wide variety of them into your diet regularly.
I’m going to break down a few here, starting with…you guessed it: wine and chocolate!
Both red and white wine contain all 4 classes of polyphenols so they can both support the growth of healthy bacteria and suppress the bad ones. There are many different thoughts about which polyphenol confers the most benefit and how much drinking wine benefits us versus the potentially deleterious effects of drinking too much! Also, how the grapes are handled and how the wine is processed makes a difference, too. I found this article fascinating and you may, too.
The good news is that it appears that drinking wine might be good for us! Yay!
Now, onto chocolate. I’m not personally a huge chocolate fan but I know many of you are so I will lay it out. Turns out the relationship that polyphenols have with our gut bacteria is what makes it possible for us to benefit from consuming them! As I said earlier, many polyphenols, especially those in cocoa, are molecules too large to be absorbed into our blood so by interacting with our microbiome, the material they get broken down to (metabolites) in the colon can be absorbed and we can get the beneficial results of consuming the polyphenol containing food. These metabolites have been shown to increase population of beneficial bacteria strains Lactobacillus and Bifidobacteria as well as suppress the proliferation of Clostridium histolyticum bacteria, which are present in the guts of individuals with inflammatory bowel disease. Wow! Chocolate really can be good for you!
Cocoa powder, without the sugar and other stuff, is where the polyphenols come from, so you may want to consider that when choosing your next chocolate treat.
Here is a list of some foods with high polyphenol levels you can choose from, keeping in mind the wide variety out there and the lack of definitive research showing which polyphenols are the most beneficial for human health.
- Most spices (especially cloves)
- All berries (a wide variety is suggested)
- Soy products
- Cocoa (and chocolate products)
- Grapes (and wine)
- Green & Black Tea
- Red Onion
And really, just about any fruit or veggie. Remember, variety is always key.
Many of these babies are in the plant powders that Jake and I have been eating every day for 25 years. You may want to consider adding them to your diet.