See, plants produce polyphenols when they’re injured or under stress, Mayer explains on this episode of the mindbodygreen podcast—like exposure to pests, drought, or UV light. Those stress signals shimmy down into the plant’s root system, which excretes a sugar-like molecule that attracts microbes into the roots. “These microbes then stimulate the plant roots to produce polyphenols, which is the medicine of the plant,” he continues.
Here comes the fun part: When you eat those stressed out, polyphenol-rich plants, these unique phytonutrients and other plant compounds (e.g., fiber) interact with our gut microbes to help produce good-for-you molecules.* “We ingest [the plants], and then our own microbes break [them] down. It’s almost like a sealed package,” says Mayer. “They break it down once it gets down to the large intestine and open up the package with all the goodies that are in there.”*
Still with us? Below, find Mayer’s menu of polyphenol-rich foods.