Eat These, Live Longer Says Study

(photo by Getty Images)
(photo by Getty Images)

A group of international scientists has located the fountain of youth, and it's in our kitchens. A new study in the Journal of Nutrition reports that older adults who consume higher amounts of polyphenols have a 30% lower mortality rate. Polyphenols are micronutrients in found mainly in fruits, vegetables, legumes, nuts, grains, coffee, and tea, and evidence suggests they have a role in preventing cancer, cardiovascular disease, inflammation, osteoporosis, and other degenerative diseases.

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The 12-year study, which included over 800 participants, is the first to use a specific biomarker (in this case, urine analysis) to measure polyphenol levels instead of relying on questionnaires. "The results corroborate scientific evidence suggesting that people consuming diets rich in fruit and vegetables are at lower risk of several chronic diseases and overall mortality," lead author Raúl Zamora Ros, PhD, of the University of Barcelona, said in a statement. "This methodology makes a more reliable and accurate evaluation of the association between food intake and mortality or disease risk," added colleague Cristina Andrés Lacueva, PhD.

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A polyphenol-rich diet includes at least 650 milligrams a day. Among the top hundred richest dietary sources of compounds, 20 foods (polyphenol content listed as mg/100 gram serving) that are commonly available are:

Dark chocolate (1766 mg) and cocoa powder (3448 mg)

Black olives (569 mg) and green olives (346 mg)

Hazelnuts (495 mg) and pecans (493 mg)

Soy flour (466 mg)

Plums (377 mg)

Cherries (274 mg)

Artichokes (260 mg)

Blackberries (260 mg), strawberries (235 mg), red raspberries (215 mg)

Red chicory/radicchio (235 mg)

Whole wheat flour (201 mg)

Almonds (187 mg)

Black grapes (169)

Red onion (168 mg)

Apple (136 mg)

Spinach (119 mg)

Don't just stick to the top listed foods, though. "Any plant-based foods are good in their whole form," Angela Lemond, RDN, spokesperson for the Academy Nutrition and Dietetics, tells Yahoo Shine. In general, polyphenol-rich foods are bright or dark colored and have a strong or astringent flavor. She recommends adding fruits and vegetables to breakfast and lunch since most people focus on their dinner menu. Slip vegetables into sandwiches and pack a colorful salad for lunch. She also says, "branch out from your favorites and experiment with seasonal produce." The orange and red foods that are hitting markets and farm stands now are great sources of polyphenols. For kids, Lemond suggests cutting fruits and vegetables into snackable sizes and storing them eye level in the refrigerator.

Polyphenols are found in hundreds of combinations in different foods, and for maximum benefit, its helpful to eat a variety over the course of the day to keep blood levels high. Eat produce when it's fresh, because the beneficial compounds deteriorate with age. "There is also some destruction with heat," says Lemond. Cooking, especially deep-frying and boiling, can destroy the compounds, but steaming retains the highest degrees of nutrients. Because some nutrients are released by cooking, she generally recommends eating a mixture of eating raw and cooked food. Processing foods can destroy the compounds, so choose whole grains that are minimally processed. Also leave skins on fruits and vegetables for maximum benefit.

Spices and herbs such as cloves, rosemary, oregano, and many others, are super rich in polyphenols, so season your meals liberally. Beverages contain polyphenols too, especially coffee, green and black tea, red wine, and beer. Dark juices and citrus juices are also good choices, but to keep calories in check, avoid high levels of added sugar.

To learn more, the Phenol-Explorer is an open access database that lists over values for over 500 different polyphenols in more than 400 foods. It also includes information the effects of processing and cooking on nutrient retention.

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