Concord grapes from my vine

Sometimes I feel like people are seeking magic cures. I am just as bad here and there. I really want there to be some easy answer – some one pill magic bullet that will make me skinny and not have to work through the exercise or the detoxing or the diet modifications or what-have-you. The same goes for when I am sick. A one pill fix-all would be FANTASTIC! However, it doesn’t exist. Sorry to burst the bubble, but it just doesn’t.

See…that’s the thing with herbal and natural health: it requires you to actually revamp your life. Sorry, not sorry! You simply cannot eat cakes, cookies, pies and artificially colored and flavored craptastic food nonstop and expect a wee biddy pill taken three times to do anything for you. And really, it is pretty naïve and ignorant to believe it would, isn’t it?

The good news is you do not have to suffer through the lifestyle and diet changes. There are great foods out there which offer health benefits! Let’s talk about one chemical component: polyphenols.

Poly-whats?

Polyphenols are chemical components found in certain-plant based foods. They are jam-packed with antioxidants. When paired with other dietary puzzle pieces, like vitamins E and C and carotenoids, they are a collective power house fighting oxidative stress and assorted dis-eases which can be diagnosed by qualified medical personnel as cancers, coronary heart disease and assorted inflammatory conditions. They are called POLY phenols because, chemically, they are made up of lots and lots of those little phenolic rings. You know the ones. They have six sides and often are shown in chemical diagrams with letters like O and H hanging off of them. They are just some of the stuff I studied in organic chemistry in college. Research shows polyphenols help your blood vessels flexible, reduce chronic inflammation and can help reduce and/or control blood sugar levels.

Where do I find these things?

There are over 500 known unique polyphenols. They include flavonoids, phenolic acids, stilbenes, and lignans. Plant based foods are the only places to get them and the less processed, the better. Spices like turmeric, ginger, peppermint, and cocoa supply some kinds. Coffee, tea and red wine supply others. Berries of all colors and leafy greens supply even more. I am choosing to focus on those in grapes at the moment

Dark reds and purples

Grapes are high in polyphenolic compounds.

Grapes are high in anthocyanins, flavanols, flavonols and resveratrol, among other polyphenols. While the concertations of these compounds differs according to the type of grape and the location in the grape, itself, the fact stands they are there. One clue to find the grapes with the highest content is the color of the skin. The darker, more red and purple the skin, the higher the content of polyphenols. Dark, tannic red wines have been shown to be naturally higher in polyphenols, however the thinner skinned light grapes used in pinot noir is also very high in resveratrol. Here’s the kicker: you can get these resveratrol polyphenols from just grape juice and eating the grapes. There’s no need to exclusively gather those from the fermented drink. In fact, consuming wine on a regular basis can aggravate other concerns like hormone imbalances, gastrointestinal issues, liver issues and more. So eat those grapes.

Catechins are found in grapes (and dark red cherries), as well. Apple skins contain these polyphenols, too. Quercetin, found in a rather large quantity in apples, has been shown in some studies to have a beneficial effects on weight and blood sugar levels. As an herbalist, I suggest high quercetin containing herbs for people who experience discomfort due to seasonal allergies and the like.

How do they work?

These polyphenols function as antioxidants. You probably have heard of these and how they combat “free radicals”, but what does that mean? Let me try to break this down for you in a metaphor comparing oxygen molecules to something you encounter every single day: a car.

Your car has four wheels which make it steady and stable to travel about. An oxygen molecule has pairs of electrons that circle around its nucleus. These electrons travel in pairs to keep the molecule steady – just like the pairs of wheels (tires) keep your car steady. Well, we encounter junk every single day that threatens to knock those oxygen molecules off balance. Stress, pollution, excess alcohol, hormone imbalances, shitty diets….ALL of these create situations where rogue molecules bump off electrons from their stability points. This is kind of like someone ripping a wheel off your car. Suddenly it doesn’t drive very well and runs into stuff leaving dents and dinks all over the place. Those oxygen molecules do the same. They spin out running into your body’s cells, ripping off electrons where they can in attempts to get balance again. Some can form nasty stuff. Just like throwing a jack stand under where your missing wheels was, these morphed oxygens can bind and suddenly no longer function properly. Just think about arterial plaquing, etc.

What these polyphenols do is act like the roadside assistance crew. They swoop in and give a spare tire – in this case an electron – to the oxygens so they no longer are spinning out of control and do not careen into your body’s cells wrecking everything. The only way to get these roadside cell repair guys is to eat or drink them from plant based foods in your diet! PERIOD!

Eating plant foods of many colors is the only way to get polyphenols into your body!

The take-away

So there you have it: eat your rainbow, people! The darker red, green and purple a plant food is, the more anthocyanins and anthocyanidins it contains. Plants of all colors contain an assortment of polyphenols. Stop fighting it and make the lifestyle changes you need to get them in your diet. Herbs are foods. They do not work overnight and they only only work if you do the work.