A polyphenol is a naturally-occurring chemical in plants that makes it a particular color, depending on the specific polyphenol. These chemicals can also influence the taste of the food but they also provide (drumroll pleease!): ANTIOXIDANTS!!
That's right, I said it. The "A Word" that has been toted by food companies, abused by manufacturers, posted on every article about food and nutrition and smothered across every no-so-healthy processed food item with a tiny amount of vitamin E added (as a preservative) to convince consumers that this item is "healthy"! Just because a food has antioxidants 1) Does not mean those antioxidants are necessary viable or 2) In large enough quantities to be helpful or 3) Are good-quality antioxidants (think of the difference between an '86 Honda with a broken transmission and a brand-new convertible Hybrid at 60mpg....and let's be honest here folks, we ALL want that convertible Hybrid at 60mpg!).
Antioxidants do what they say they will: to Anti the Oxidant....or better yet, they prevent the oxidation of cells. Some examples of excessive cellular oxidation of cells are: premature aging and wrinkles, stroke, cancer, coronary heart disease, and many other terrible and usually completely preventable (if not treatable or curable) diseases.
Eating optimal amounts of high-quality antioxidants in whole-food form can help prevent oxidative stress on the body, which can help you:
- Think clearer
- Feel rested after less sleep
- Breathe easier
- Have more energy
- Prevent illness
- Become less stressed
- Look more vibrant
- Look younger
- Improve skin, hair, and nails
- Improve organ function
- Detoxify the body
- Lose weight
Think of the rainbow. Yes, that thing that through clever marketing will always remind you of the omnipresent candy: Skittles. Except, replace those tiny, artificially-colored, nutrient-devoid, genetically-modified high fructose corn syrup balls with fruits, vegetables, and grains. Like in a bag of Skittles (pretend like you eat the yellow and orange ones too) you eat every color of the rainbow. In any two-day span, try your best to also eat every color of the rainbow in whole, natural, organic foods. Every color of the rainbow, and sometimes even different hues, is caused by those things we talked about earlier: polyphenols. And different polyphenols make up different colors, which all have different antioxidative and therapeutic qualities. For example, the red/purple-red polyphenol quercetin helps inhibit cancer cell growth, combat gout and arthritis, protects the heart, and helps treat hives and asthma by blocking histamines.
Instead of following the tactics of segmentation and fractioning that Western medicine has proven to be ineffective in the realm of natural health, try seeing antioxidants in a broad, relative spectrum. For example, instead of hearing that Omega-3 fatty acids can help protect the heart and increase brain function and plopping your credit card on the counter of your local health food store or GNC to buy a 2-year supply of Omega-3 pills, try eating it in whole form, as nature intended. If you eat nutrients, minerals, and protective compound in whole form, you are gaining the synergy of that entire food. Most substances work more effectively as a whole food, working with the other compounds in that food to provide you maximum benefits, versus being chemically separated from a whole food and sold back to you in a less-potent and less-viable form. So, save your money and instead of loading up your cupboards with a pill bottle of vitamin B-complex, a pill bottle of melatonin, a pill bottle of anthocyanins, a pill bottle of zinc, and a pill bottle of alpha lipoic acid, eat all of these substances in your food! Then you are not simply supplementing your normal meals, you are actually changing your food choices to shift your entire paradigm of health in a positive way. Eating your nutrients and therapeutic compounds can help you in many, many more ways than simple and dangerous pill-popping of nutrients, chemicals, and minerals, which can create imbalances in the body, deficiencies, malabsorption, and even overdose in the case of minerals and even some vitamins (such as vitamin A and vitamin D, which is actually a hormone).
To obtain the maximum benefits possible from antioxidants and polyphenols, eat from every color of the rainbow in each 2-day span from as many in-season and local foods as possible. Since blueberries offer the polyphenol anthocyanin, cherries offer quercetin, and watermelon offers lutein and more lycopene (which help the heart and eyes) than tomatoes, in the summer when you can get many of these foods from farm stands, farms, U-pick places, the health food store, co-ops, and farmer's markets locally, eat a fruit salad that combines the power of all three foods and their health-promoting abilities. In the fall, eat buttnernut squash for its beta-carotene (the pre-cursor to Vitamin-A which helps keep skin glowing, keeps acne at bay, keeps hair and nails strong and shiny, helps promote good eyesight, fights free-radicals that cause oxidative damage, and reduce signs of sun damage and wrinkles) and remember one thing about this tricky orange-pigmented polyphenol: beta-carotene is fat soluble, meaning it can only be assimilated into the body in a fatty medium. So, eat your orange foods with a little fat: oranges and mandarins with a few almonds or pistachios, eat butternut squash, pumpkin, and acorn squash with organic extra virgin olive oil (which offers a host of benefits including vitamin E and omega-3 fats), and eat carrots with a little olive oil-based salad dressing and so on.
Although the green color in foods is not caused by a polyphenol, it is extremely important as well. The green color in foods is due to chlorophyll. Chloroplasts (the tiny cells that lay atop one another to create stacks called chlorophyll) are the plant cells responsible for mixing light and carbon dioxide together in its cauldron to create the wonderful products (another drum roll, please): oxygen and glucose!!! Those products of photosynthesis we love so much which allow us to breathe and to eat plants for energy! Anyway, on the cellular level chlorophyll is extremely similar to human hemoglobin. Chlorophyll helps build hemoglobin in humans, which is responsible for transporting oxygen from the lungs to body tissues. So, chlorophyll is the oxygenator of the body. It brings oxygen to the cells, which helps them to live long, live optimally, to replicate healthily, and to use nutrients, minerals, and energy effectively. A good supply of oxygen also makes the muscles more flexible, heal better, helps create a feeling of peace and calm inside the body, helps promote clarity and mental alertness, and helps create energy and fight fatigue as well as enhancing mood. A similar experience is when athletes work out, they flood their body with oxygen at first (which also stimulates the secretion of endorphins), creating a runner's high. Mamma was right: eat those greens! Green foods also help detoxify the blood and organs of toxins, heavy metals, chemicals, bad fats, and more. Like OxyClean (only better-tasting, trust me!) greens oxygenate and clean. Mean and green, baby. Mean and green.
To celebrate, I have a soup to tempt you all with because I like to see you suffer after a long lecture of all sorts of crazy science-things that may or may not make any sense to you whatsoever. The soup:
Fall Farmer's Soup (try for ingredients as local as possible):
- One big, 2-3 gallon soup pot filled 1/3 of the way with filtered water and some Himalayan pink-, French clay-, or sun-dried Celtic sea-, salt.
- 3 big ole carrots, cut into rounds or sweet potato, squash, or pumpkin
- 1/2 head of celery cut into half-moons or celery root (also called celeriac) cut into dime-sized cubes
- 5 fat cloves of garlic, sliced or crushed
- 1/2 yellow onion, chopped
- 6 cups freshly-shelled black-eyes peas, chick peas, fava beans, green peas, or other pea
OR 6 cups quinoa or local seed such as buckwheat if possible.
- 2 bay leaves
- black pepper to taste
- 1 tsp fresh ancho chili powder
- 2 tsp paprika
- 1 1/2 tsp fresh or dried thyme leaves
- 1 1/2 tsp dried sage leaves or 4 medium fresh sage leaves chopped
- 1 small bunch of parsley, chopped fine
-When boiling, add the quinoa, buckwheat, fresh peas, or lentils and turn heat down to medium-high
-When bean/pea/seed (like buckwheat and quinoa) are half-done (bite one to check for stiffness), add the orange food (carrot, pumpkin, squash, or sweet potato) and the celery, onion, garlic, and whatever extra fall vegetables you'd like to add such as torn kale, beets, or rutabaga.
-Cook on medium heat (not boiling, just at a low simmer) until all the vegetables are 4/5 of the way done (they will continue to cook in the hot soup so turn the heat off now to prevent over-cooking).
-Turn off heat!
-Stir in 3 Tbsp of extra virgin olive oil to help absorb fat-soluble nutrients like vitamin K and beta-carotene
-Taste for saltiness and add more salt and/or spice if necessary.
-Add chopped parsley into pot, give a good stir, and let all flavors meld for about 10 minutes then get out that bowl, your favorite soup spoon and sit on the couch to a great book or movie and warm yourself in the beautiful health soup you made! Check out the pictures below....
|Fall peas for shelling....also known to some as meditation and to most: lots of work|
|Fresh peas from a drier and easier-to-shell pod. These peas, when dried will turn brown and hard and can keep for the winter just like the dried beans you see in bins or bags at the store or market.|
|Into the soup you go: walk the pod to your doom!|
|About 1/2 way through the cooking process|
|The final stage. With a generous grind of fresh pepper on top to help facilitate nutrient absorption of course!|