How to add phenolic acids to your diet

Shereen Lehman, MS, is a healthcare journalist and fact checker. She has co-authored two books for the popular Dummies Series (as Shereen Jegtvig).

Emily is a fact checker, editor, and writer who has expertise in psychology, health and lifestyle content.

A phenolic acid is a type of phytochemical, also called a polyphenol. Other types of polyphenols include flavonoids and stilbenes. Phenolic acids and other polyphenols are found in a variety of plant-based foods; the seeds and skins of fruits and the leaves of vegetables contain the highest concentrations.

Benefits of Phenolic Acid

Phenolic acids are readily absorbed through the walls of your intestinal tract. They may be beneficial to your health because they work as antioxidants that prevent cellular damage due to free-radical oxidation reactions. They may also promote anti-inflammatory conditions in your body when you eat them regularly.

Foods rich in phenolic acids, such as fruits and vegetables, may be beneficial for your health, but it's difficult to understand how much of that benefit is actually due to the phenolic acids or to the nutrients, fiber, and other phytochemicals also found in those foods.

Drinking coffee has been associated with a decreased risk of certain cancers and other chronic diseases. It contains caffeic acid and chlorogenic acid, but it also contains caffeine and other potentially beneficial compounds. Similarly, red wine has phenolic acids. But it also has resveratrol, another polyphenol that has potential health benefits.

Where to Find Phenolic Acids

Phenolic acids are abundant in a balanced diet. You should get plenty of them as long as you consume a variety of fruits, vegetables, and whole grains.

The many different phenolic acids found in nature can be divided into two categories: benzoic acid derivatives, such as gallic acid; and cinnamic acid derivatives, including caffeic acid and ferulic acid. Cinnamic acids are the more common of the two.

Types of Phenolic Compounds
Sources of Benzoic Acid Derivatives Sources of Cinnamic Acid Derivatives
Tea Coffee
Grape seeds Blueberries
Red wine
Cereal grains: corn, whole wheat, oats, rice

Coffee contains caffeic acid and chlorogenic acid. Blueberries, kiwis, plums, cherries, and apples contain large amounts of caffeic acid. Red wine and citrus fruits contain cinnamic acid.

Ferulic acid is found in the outer coverings of cereal grains. Maize has the most ferulic acid of any grain, but whole-grain wheat, rice, and oat flours are good sources of ferulic acid as well.

Phenolic Acid Supplements

Phenolic acids may be available commercially in the form of dietary supplements, such as grape seed extract or green tea extract, which contain gallic acid.

These supplements are usually marketed as antioxidants, but current research evidence suggests that eating fruits, vegetables, and whole grains is more beneficial than taking any antioxidant supplements.

H. E. Campbell, Nutrition and Dietetic Department, Guy’s and St Thomas’ NHS Foundation Trust, Guy’s Hospital, 1st Floor Guy’s Tower, Great Maze Pond, London SE1 9RT, UK.

Tel.: +44 (0) 20 7188 7188 ext. 84128

Fax: +44 (0) 20 7188 4131

London Dental Institute, King’s College London (KCL), London, UK

Diabetes and Nutritional Sciences Division, King’s College London (KCL), London, UK

London Dental Institute, King’s College London (KCL), London, UK

Diabetes and Nutritional Sciences Division, King’s College London (KCL), London, UK

Department of Gastroenterology, Guy’s and St Thomas’ NHS Foundation Trust (GSTFT), London, UK

Diabetes and Nutritional Sciences Division, King’s College London (KCL), London, UK

Department of Nutrition and Dietetics, Guy’s and St Thomas’ NHS Foundation Trust (GSTFT), London, UK

Department of Gastroenterology, Guy’s and St Thomas’ NHS Foundation Trust (GSTFT), London, UK

Diabetes and Nutritional Sciences Division, King’s College London (KCL), London, UK

Department of Nutrition and Dietetics, Guy’s and St Thomas’ NHS Foundation Trust (GSTFT), London, UK


H. E. Campbell, Nutrition and Dietetic Department, Guy’s and St Thomas’ NHS Foundation Trust, Guy’s Hospital, 1st Floor Guy’s Tower, Great Maze Pond, London SE1 9RT, UK.

Tel.: +44 (0) 20 7188 7188 ext. 84128

Fax: +44 (0) 20 7188 4131

London Dental Institute, King’s College London (KCL), London, UK

Diabetes and Nutritional Sciences Division, King’s College London (KCL), London, UK

London Dental Institute, King’s College London (KCL), London, UK

Diabetes and Nutritional Sciences Division, King’s College London (KCL), London, UK

Department of Gastroenterology, Guy’s and St Thomas’ NHS Foundation Trust (GSTFT), London, UK

Diabetes and Nutritional Sciences Division, King’s College London (KCL), London, UK

Department of Nutrition and Dietetics, Guy’s and St Thomas’ NHS Foundation Trust (GSTFT), London, UK

Department of Gastroenterology, Guy’s and St Thomas’ NHS Foundation Trust (GSTFT), London, UK



Orofacial granulomatosis (OFG) is a rare disease of unknown cause. A cinnamon- and benzoate-free diet is successful in up to 72% of patients. Phenolic acids are among the chemical constituents restricted in this diet, which avoids some but not all of these structurally similar compounds. The present study aimed to: (i) develop a novel diet low in phenolic acids; (ii) implement this in a small clinical trial; and (iii) assess its nutritional adequacy.


A literature review identified 10 papers quantifying phenolic acids from which 91 10-mg phenolic acid exchanges were devised. A phenolic acid exclusion diet with precautionary micronutrient supplementation was designed and implemented in 10 patients. Phenolic acids were excluded for 6 weeks and were reintroduced at a rate of one exchange every second day for 6 weeks. Wilcoxon matched pairs tests analysed disease outcomes measured by an oral disease severity scoring tool at weeks 0, 6 and 12. Nutritional adequacy was assessed, excluding micronutrient supplementation, at weeks 0 and 6, and compared intakes with dietary reference values.


The diet was nutritionally inadequate for a range of micronutrients. Seven of 10 patients responded. Mean [standard deviation (SD)] severity scores improved from week 0–6 [20.8 (9.39) and 10.1 (5.72); P = 0.009] and were maintained in five patients who completed the reintroduction [6.6 (3.13) and 7.2 (5.54); P = 0.713].


A low phenolic acid diet with micronutrient supplementation holds promise of a novel dietary treatment for OFG. Further work is required in larger studies to determine long-term outcomes.

Bilberry is a type of dark blue-skinned berry native to Europe. It is sometimes called whortleberry, huckleberry, or blaeberry. Today, the bilberry grows in countries outside of Europe, including certain regions of the United States.

At first glance, the bilberry looks similar to the blueberry. The two berries are closely related and share similar nutritional values, but they do have some distinct traits.

One of the most noticeable differences between the two berries is the color of the flesh when they’re in season. Where blueberries have a greenish color inside their dark blue skins, bilberries have a red or purple color. In addition to their differences in color, bilberries also have a more acidic flavor than blueberries.

These berries might be small, but they provide many amazing health benefits.

Health Benefits

Like other types of berries, bilberries have many health benefits. Bilberries contain several plant compounds that can help fight inflammation, improve heart health, prevent diabetes, reduce the risk of cancer, and more.

The health benefits of bilberries include:

Eye health . If left untreated, glaucoma can eventually lead to a gradual loss of eyesight. The anthocyanins in bilberries can help improve eye function for people with normal-tension glaucoma. Some studies suggest bilberries may help with eye fatigue, which can lead to eye strain, headaches, shoulder tension, and blurred or double vision.

Bilberry and bilberry extract can help lower blood sugar levels in people with diabetes. The berries may also help increase insulin secretion in people with metabolic syndrome.

Bilberries contain vitamin K, which can help prevent blood clots that could cause a heart attack or stroke. The anthocyanins in bilberries may also help reduce cholesterol and lower blood pressure. Managing your cholesterol levels and blood pressure can reduce your risk for atherosclerosis and other heart-related problems.

Bilberry is full of vitamin C, anthocyanins, and other antioxidants that help fight free radicals in your body. By protecting against free radicals and cell damage, bilberries may help reduce your risk of developing certain types of cancer.


The antioxidants in bilberries can help reduce inflammation in your body. This helps lower your risk of inflammatory diseases, including cancer, diabetes, and heart disease.

Bilberry contains phenolic acids, and research suggests phenolic acids may help reduce your risk of developing Alzheimer’s disease.

Digestive health

Bilberry can help treat digestive issues. The antioxidants, tannins, and pectin in the berries can reduce inflammation in your digestive system. Reducing this inflammation helps relieve diarrhea, nausea, and indigestion.

Nutrients per Serving

Similar to many other types of berries, bilberries are packed with nutrients. In 1 cup (148 grams) of bilberries, you’ll find:

  • Calories: 85
  • Protein: 1 gram
  • Fat: Less than 1 gram
  • Carbohydrates: 21 grams
  • Fiber: 3 grams
  • Sugar: 15 grams

A cup of bilberries provides 24% of your daily recommended allowance of vitamin C. It also provides small amounts of vitamin B1, B2, B3, B5, and B6.

Bilberries are packed with many other nutrients, including:

  • Vitamin A
  • Vitamin K
  • Magnesium
  • Manganese
  • Copper
  • Iron
  • Phosphorous
  • Potassium
  • Folate

Bilberries are full of antioxidants, including anthocyanins. These flavonoid compounds help give the fruit its dark blue color. Bilberries also contain phenolic acids, which may help prevent cancer.

How to Prepare Bilberry

You can buy fresh, frozen, or dried bilberries in some health food stores. Unlike blueberries, bilberries are much less common in most grocery stores.

When buying fresh bilberries, look for smooth, tight skin. Avoid berries that look overripe or moldy. To store bilberries, place them in a glass jar and cover them with plastic wrap. Only wash them when you’re ready to use them. You can also store bilberries for longer periods in the freezer.

You can eat bilberries on their own or include them in any recipe that calls for berries. Some ways to add bilberry to your diet include:

  • Sprinkle bilberries on yogurt or oatmeal.
  • Add bilberries to granola.
  • Mix bilberries into pancake or muffin batter.
  • Bake a bilberry pie.
  • Drink bilberry juice or add them to a bilberry smoothie.
  • Make bilberry jam or jelly.
  • Brew them into bilberry tea.


Benzie, IFF. Herbal Medicine: Biomolecular and Clinical Aspects, CRC Press/Taylor & Francis, 2011.

Frontiers in Pharmacology: “Berry Phenolic Acids – Implications for Human Health.”

Journal of Medicinal Food: “Ginkgo Biloba Extract and Bilberry Anthocyanins Improve Visual Function in Patients with Normal Tension Glaucoma.”

The Journal of Nutrition, Health, and Aging: “Bilberry Extract Supplementation for Preventing Eye Fatigue in Video Display Workers.”

Journal of Nutritional Science: “A Single Supplement of a Standardized (Vaccinium Myrtillus L.) Extract (36% Wet Weight Anthocyanins) Modifies Glycaemic Response in Individuals with Type 2 Diabetes Controlled By Diet and Lifestyle.”

Biochemistry (Moscow): “Anti-Angiogenic, Antioxidant, and Anti-Carcinogenic Properties of Anthocyanin-Rich Berry Extract Formula.”

Journal of Nutritional Biochemistry: “Anthocyanin-Enriched Bilberry and Blackcurrant Extracts Modulate Amyloid Precursor Protein Processing and Alleviate Behavioral Abnormalities in the APP/PS1 Mouse Model of Alzheimer’s Disease.”

How to add phenolic acids to your diet

Winnie the Pooh might have been on to something. While honey is known as a natural way to sweeten foods, it may have benefits for your body, too, says registered dietitian Mira Ilic, MS, RDN, LD.

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How honey is made

Honey is a liquid sweetener that bees make. After they collect nectar from flowers, they take it back to the hive and regurgitate it. Then, the other bees chew it until it becomes honey. The bees deposit the honey into tiny, waxy storage units called honeycombs. They fan it with their wings to dry it out. This process makes it stickier.

“Honey gets its sweetness from its chemical makeup,” Ilic says. “It’s made up of two simple sugars called glucose and fructose, along with some minerals.”

Types of honey

The U.S. boasts more than 300 different types of honey. You can buy it:

  • Raw: Raw honey comes straight from the hive. “Raw honey is the least processed and probably has the most antioxidants,” Ilic says. Despite its raw status, it’s considered safe to eat except for children younger than 1, who should avoid all honey.
  • Pasteurized: Pasteurized honey has been processed to remove imperfections and improve its shelf life. “It can also be spiked with added corn syrup or other sweeteners,” Ilic notes. “Not all honey sold in the stores is the same even though it all starts naturally in the hive.”

Why is some honey light and others dark?

Whether honey is light or dark in color depends on which kind of plant the bees who made it took the nectar from. “For instance, dark buckwheat yields dark honey,” says Ilic. “But nutritionally, there’s evidence that darker honey has less water and more antioxidants than light-colored honey.”

Honey has so many different tastes you can enjoy compared to plain sugar, she adds. “It can be sweeter or more bitter, depending on the flower source.”

Light honey varieties

Light-colored honey tends to be mild in flavor. Varieties include:

  • Acacia honey: It has floral scents and sweetness but doesn’t change the taste of what you put it in, such as tea and oatmeal, Ilic says.
  • Clover honey: This honey is common in the U.S. “It has a floral, sweet taste and a bit of a sour aftertaste,” says Ilic. “It’s good for baking, sauces and dressings.”

Dark honey varieties

Dark honeys are known for their stronger flavors. Examples include:

  • Buckwheat honey: “This full-flavored honey can be used in marinades,” says Ilic.
  • Manuka honey: Manuka honey comes from the nectar and pollen of the Manuka bush in New Zealand. “Studies have shown it contains antioxidants, along with antibacterial and antifungal properties. It’s also expensive,” adds Ilic. It’s traditionally used topically to treat burns, cuts and sores.

Is crystallized honey bad?

Store honey in a cool location away from sunlight. But sometimes, even in the perfect spot, honey can crystallize and solidify. “Honey with a higher ratio of glucose versus fructose crystallizes sooner,” Ilic explains. “Glucose may also attach to the little particles of honeycomb and pollen in raw honey and is more likely to crystallize as a result.”

But crystallized honey is still safe to eat: Ilic recommends using it as a spread, like butter. You can also re-liquefy it by putting the container in a warm water bath.

Honey’s health benefits

Honey contains antioxidants, minerals, enzymes that have many potential health benefits. There’s also evidence that honey can:

  • Soothe coughs: The World Health Organization (WHO) and the American Academy of Pediatrics both endorse honey as a natural cough remedy.
  • Treat wounds and burns: Pharmaceutical-grade manuka honey dressings have been used in clinical settings to treat burns and pressure ulcers.

“Many other claims have been made about the health benefits of honey – some based on very small studies, others overstated and based on mixed study results,” Ilic says. “Additional studies are needed.”

How to add honey to your diet

While honey has health qualities that other sugars only dream of, Ilic says it’s still an added sugar — and eating too much of it can wreak havoc on your health. The American Heart Association recommends:

  • Women: Consume no more than 6 teaspoons daily of added sugars (100 calories).
  • Men: Consume no more than 9 teaspoons daily of added sugars (150 calories).

Those limits include all sources of added sugar in your diet, so use honey in moderation to avoid exceeding the limits, says Ilic. “Try sweetening plain yogurt with a light drizzle of honey and add your own fruit, instead of eating flavored yogurt with too much added sugar.” You could also use honey in sauces and marinades or as a skin mask.

If you want to use honey medicinally, Ilic says talk with your health care professional first.

How to choose honey

Ilic’s first tip? The best honey doesn’t come in a cute little plastic teddy bear. That kind of honey is processed and less beneficial than its counterparts.

“The clearer the honey, the more processed it is. Raw honey seems to be the better choice,” she says.” It’s likely to have some pollen and more enzymes because it’s not treated with heat. Pollen may have beneficial properties. But pollen does make honey look foggier.”

If you’re buying honey from a local source, she also recommends asking:

  • Where did the honey come from?
  • Did the seller produce it?
  • What can they tell you about it?

Ilic adds that an “organic” label doesn’t automatically mean the honey is healthier or better quality. “Bees sometimes fly a few miles past their pesticide- and herbicide-free property to ones with flowers that aren’t. And even organic honey may be ultra-pasteurized.”

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Although there is no universal standard definition of a super seed or superfruit, they are often described as providing a number of nutrients and health benefits all in one package. In the March issue of Food Technology published by the Institute of Food Technologists (IFT), contributing editor Linda Milo Ohr writes about nine seeds and superfruits that fit the bill for consumers’ desire for natural, minimally processed foods.

1. Chia Seeds: Chia seeds are often used in yogurt, homemade trail mixes, baked goods, commercial nutrition bars, beverages and snacks. They are high in omega-3 fatty acids, calcium, phytonutrients, vitamins, minerals and antioxidants.

2. Flaxseeds: Flaxseeds are a good source of protein, fiber, antioxidants, and phytoestrogens in the form of lignans and omega-3 fatty acids. A study has also linked eating ground whole flaxseed to lowering blood cholesterol (Health Canada, 2014).

3. Sunflower Seeds: Often considered a traditional ballpark snack, sunflower seeds provide monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fats, protein, fiber, vitamin E, and phytochemicals like choline, lignan, phenolic acids and betaine (Phillips, 2005).

4. Pumpkin Seeds: Pumpkin seeds are packed with protein, fiber, manganese, magnesium, and phosphorus.

5. Blueberries: Daily blueberry consumption may reduce blood pressure and arterial stiffness (Johnson, 2015) and are packed with fiber, vitamins, minerals, fructose, and antioxidants. Antioxidants in blueberries are linked to the prevention/delaying of diseases such as cancer, heart disease, and the aging process.

6. Acai Berries: Acai berries are a rich source of anthocyanin and have a fatty acid ratio similar to olive oil. They have been shown to have anti-inflammatory properties.

7. Tart Cherries: Tart cherries are high in anthocyanin and have high antioxidant activity. Reported benefits include enhanced sleep, anti-inflammation in arthritis and gout, and sports recovery.

8. Avocados: More than just the main ingredient in guacamole, avocados have beneficial effects on cardio-metabolic risk factors that extend beyond their heart-healthy fatty acid profile (Wang, 2015). In a study of 45 overweight or obese subjects who ate a moderate-fat diet including an avocado daily had lower bad cholesterol than those on a similar diet without the avocado or those on a lower-fat diet (American Heart Association, 2015).

9. Cranberries: Cranberries have long been associated with benefiting urinary tract health but have also shown to benefit heart health, cancer prevention, oral health, and glycemic response (Cranberry Institute, 2014).

In the first days of a new year, many of us resolve to make changes to our daily habits in order to be healthier. But let’s be real, we really love cooking and eating delicious food. The good news? The two don’t have to be mutually exclusive! And the great news? There’s one superfood you probably already have in your pantry and are likely using every day! You guessed it, extra virgin olive has been proven time and time again to have significant health benefits. Let’s breakdown what makes extra virgin olive oil a superfood:


The term ‘superfood’ is one of those label callouts that can be pretty confusing. It seems that in order to be a superfood, an ingredient should fit certain clear specifications. But, ‘superfood’ doesn’t really have an exact definition. While marketing and media hype can make the whole category of superfoods seem fuzzy, the term has some validity too.

We’ll let you in on a little secret. Your body wants to be fed fresh, nutritious, wholesome food. Just being a little more intentional about incorporating seasonal produce and nutrient-dense ingredients into your routine can have huge health payoffs. But, for extra credit, there really are certain foods that are highly nutrient-dense and can have a positive effect on you health (as a part of a broader healthy lifestyle, of course!). While some superfoods have been coined as miracle cure-alls without real evidence to their case, wholesome foods are crucial in order to achieve the right levels of vitamins, minerals, antioxidants, and fatty acids. There is no such thing as a miracle food, but there is such thing as a lifestyle that features plenty of nutrient-dense foods and thus supports a long and healthy life.


Extra virgin olive oil is unique in that extensive research has been conducted on its purported health benefits. People across the globe have been eating extra virgin olive oil since long before it was coined a ‘superfood.’ The Mediterranean diet has been highly lauded, and for good reason. People in the Mediterranean live longer and are happier. This has been credited in part to the large portions of fruits and vegetables, fish, and healthy fats like nuts and olive oil in their diets.

Olive oil’s rich flavor and versatility are reasons enough to incorporate it into your daily diet. But, if you need a little more convincing, considerable research has been to done to uncover the extensive health benefits of extra virgin olive oil, especially when used to replace other fats like butter, margarine, and refined oils. Here’s what the studies tells us are the main benefits:

1. Antioxidants

High-quality extra virgin olive oil has high levels of phenolic compounds, an antioxidant that destroys free radicals, kill cancer cells, and can reduce the risk of heart disease and increase longevity.

2. Oleocanthal

This specific phenolic compound found in extra virgin olive oil is said to be responsible for the burning or tingling sensation that is experienced when tasting a high quality extra virgin olive oil. It has anti-inflammatory properties, and as such can have similar effects to pain-killers and fever reducers. The oleocanthal can also help clear beta-amyloid plaque from the brain.

3. Monounsaturated Fatty Acids (MUFAs)

Monounsaturated fats are the type of fatty acid commonly found in nuts and high fatty fruits, like olives and avocados. These types of fats are central to the Mediterranean lifestyle, and studies have shown that they can increase the fluidity and elasticity of the cell membranes, and at about 75% MUFA content, extra virgin olive oil is a great source. The MUFAs in 1-2 tablespoons of olive oil per day can reduce the risk of heart disease, diabetes, atherosclerosis, and color cancer.

4. Vitamin E

Each tablespoon of extra virgin olive oil has about 1.9 mg of Vitamin E, a fat-soluble anti-oxidant that can protect the body against eye and skin problems and in fact make hair and skin much healthier. It has also been shown to protect the body from diabetes, neurological diseases such as Alzheimer’s, and lung cancer.

5. Vitamin K

Vitamin K is another fat-soluble vitamin that has its greatest affect on the blood. It is necessary for healthy coagulation and the levels of calcium in the blood. 1 tablespoon of olive oil a day will fill 10% of the daily recommended intake of Vitamin K, and can help protect against insulin resistance and several types of cancer.


So, now what? How do you reap the highest benefits from extra virgin olive oil? Generally, the experts recommend that most of us would be best consuming about 2 tablespoons per day. While many of us have no problem finding ways to eat more extra virgin olive oil, here are some easy ideas to add it to your daily meals and snacks:

New research presented at this year’s European Congress on Obesity (ECO) in Glasgow, Scotland (28 April—1 May) shows that a high intake of phenolic acids—associated with a healthy diet—is associated with a decreased risk of postmenopausal breast cancer. The study is by Andrea Romanos Nanclares, University of Navarra, Pamplona, Spain, and colleagues.

A high intake of phenolic acids, including hydroxybenzoic and hydroxycinnamic acids is linked to a healthy diet, with the latter being found in fruits, vegetables, cereal grains and coffee. Biological and epidemiological evidence also supports an inverse relationship between phenolic acid intake and obesity-related chronic disease. Despite this, there have been no previous studies into the relationship between phenolic acid consumption and the risk of developing postmenopausal breast cancer, one of the most important and most common cancers that is linked with obesity.

The team based their research on studying Mediterranean women selected from the SUN (Seguimiento Universidad de Navarra) cohort (all university graduates). They chose a sample of 11,028 women who had completed a validated 136-item food frequency questionnaire at the beginning of the study, and during an average 11.8 years of follow-up, there were 101 cases of breast cancer among the selected group. The types and quantities of phenolic acids consumed were calculated using the reported food intake data as well as a database on the phenolic acid content of each food item.

The authors found that an inverse association existed between hydroxycinnamic acids intake and breast cancer risk, so a higher consumption of these phenolic acids was associated with lower rates of cancer. The sample group was broken down into three groups (tertiles) according to their intake of specific types of phenolic acids, which revealed that the tertile of women with the highest consumption of hydroxycinnamic acids had a breast cancer risk 62% lower than the tertile with the lowest intake.

Chlorogenic acids; a type of hydroxycinnamic acid found in coffee, fruits, and vegetables were discovered to have the strongest inverse association with breast cancer risk. Women in the highest consumption tertile were 65% less likely to develop postmenopausal breast cancer compared to those in the lowest tertile.

The researchers conclude: “A higher intake of hydroxycinnamic acids, especially from chlorogenic acids—present in coffee, fruits and vegetables—was associated with decreased postmenopausal BC risk, possibly through reductions in adipose tissue inflammation, oxidative stress or insulin resistance. “

They add: “These findings support current World Cancer Research Fund/American Institute for Cancer Research guidelines to adhere to a diet high in fruits and vegetables for cancer prevention.”

Correspondence Feng Zhou, China Agricultural University, P.O. Box 294, No. 17 Tsinghua East Road, Haidian District, Beijing 100083, People’s Republic of China. Email: [email protected] Search for more papers by this author

Beijing Key Laboratory of Functional Food from Plant Resources, College of Food Science and Nutritional Engineering, China Agricultural University, Beijing 100083, People’s Republic of China

National Institute for Nutrition and Health, Chinese Center for Disease Control and Prevention, Beijing 100050, People’s Republic of China

Academy of State Administration of Grain, Beijing 100037, People’s Republic of China

Institute of Apicultural Research, Chinese Academy of Agricultural Sciences, Beijing 100093, People’s Republic of China

Beijing Key Laboratory of Functional Food from Plant Resources, College of Food Science and Nutritional Engineering, China Agricultural University, Beijing 100083, People’s Republic of China

Beijing Key Laboratory of Functional Food from Plant Resources, College of Food Science and Nutritional Engineering, China Agricultural University, Beijing 100083, People’s Republic of China

Correspondence Feng Zhou, China Agricultural University, P.O. Box 294, No. 17 Tsinghua East Road, Haidian District, Beijing 100083, People’s Republic of China. Email: [email protected] Search for more papers by this author

Funding information: National Natural Science Foundation of China, Grant/Award Number: 31571831


Phenolic acids are naturally occurring compounds with meritorious physiological activities. The purpose of this study was to compare the ameliorative effects of six common phenolic acids on dietinduced metabolic syndrome (MS) in rats. SD rats were fed with highfat and highfructose diet supplemented with equimolar concentration of individual phenolic acids for 13 weeks. Results showed that different phenolic acids ameliorated MS through different ways. Compared with other phenolic acids, caffeic acid exerted more comprehensive effect in alleviating MS, with significant effects in attenuating hyperlipidemia, elevating glucose tolerance, improving antioxidant status, and normalizing hepatic functions. Ellagic acid exhibited good performance in hypolipidemia, anti-inflammation, and reducing visceral fat. Gallic acid and ρ-coumaric acid showed marked effects in regulating liver steatosis, while chlorogenic acid exhibited potential hepatic protective and anti-inflammatory abilities. These results will benefit the application of these phenolic acids in the development of functional food for MS population.

Practical applications

The high morbidity of metabolic syndrome (MS) has driven people to seek for natural and safe compounds to maintain optimal health. Different phenolic acids were shown to ameliorate MS through different ways, which provides experimental basis for developing combinations or formulas of phenolic acids with more comprehensive effects. Conversely, caffeic acid showed relatively better effects in attenuating features of metabolic disorders, and was suggested for the future development of functional foods for the population with MS.

How to add phenolic acids to your diet

Phenols and salicylates are chemical compounds found in fruit, vegetables, nuts, and some medications. These compounds are excellent antioxidants, so we typically think of them as very healthy. However, high levels of phenols and salicylates in certain foods seem to negatively affect some children with autism and individuals with sensitive digestive and immune systems.

In this article, we will discuss phenols and salicylates, specifically:

  • What they are
  • Why some children are sensitive to them
  • Symptoms and testing
  • Treatment options for those who have trouble processing foods high in phenols and salicylates (including a FREE PDF Download with information about ways to support phenol metabolism)

What Are Phenols and Salicylates?

The term phenol refers to a large group of chemical compounds found in plants. Salicylates are a specific type of phenol. These beneficial compounds act as a preservative, protecting plants from bacterial/fungal infections, insects, and UV radiation damage.

Natural phenols are not only beneficial to plants but humans too. For example, phenols in fruits, vegetables, nuts, and seeds are excellent sources of antioxidants, which protect us from heart disease, promote healthy digestion, improve brain function, and reduce inflammation.

Also, processed and packaged foods contain phenols. However, many of these are synthetically produced phenols that manufacturers add to artificially flavor, color, and lengthen shelf life. Similarly, some medications, toothpaste, and lotion contain synthetically produced salicylates.

How to add phenolic acids to your diet

Why Are Kids Sensitive to Phenols and Salicylates?

Even though phenols and salicylates are beneficial for our bodies, some people have adverse reactions to them. For example, a child with a phenol sulfurtransferase (PST) deficiency will have trouble processing foods high in phenols. PST is an enzyme that breaks down phenols, allowing the body to use what it needs and excrete what it doesn’t need. Accordingly, people with a PST deficiency have trouble detoxifying and clearing away phenols and salicylates, causing them to accumulate. As a result of this accumulation, symptoms of phenol sensitivities develop.

Symptoms and Testing

Physical and Behavioral Symptoms

Symptoms of a phenol/salicylate sensitivity vary and mimic other conditions, making it difficult to diagnose. A person with a phenol/salicylate sensitivity may experience some of the following adverse side effects:

  • Physical:
    • Headaches
    • Hives, eczema, or changes in skin color
      • Specifically, red ears and/or cheeks
      • Runny and/or stuffy nose
      • Sinus infection
      • Nasal and sinus polyps
      • Asthma
      • Abdominal pain
      • Colitis
      • Diarrhea
      • Inflammation
      • Behavior:
        • Hyperactivity
        • Mood swings, irritability, or aggression
        • Stimming
        • Laughing at inappropriate times
        • Night waking


        There is no known lab test for phenol and salicylate sensitivity. So, if your child’s doctor suspects a phenol/salicylate sensitivity is causing issues, they may place them on a food elimination diet with provocations to see if symptoms improve or worsen.

        Additionally, your doctor may request a urine sample. This is because sometimes you will see high amounts of taurine in the urine if there is a problem converting sulfite (which is toxic) to sulfate, possibly indicating an issue with phenols.

        Treatment Options for Phenol and Salicylate Sensitivities

        Because almost all foods contain phenols, it is nearly impossible to avoid them altogether. Besides that, foods that contain phenols also contain essential vitamins and nutrients that kids need to grow up healthy and strong.

        Because of this, treatment typically involves making sure the body isn’t overwhelmed by excess phenols and salicylates. This is achieved by decreasing the number of phenols the body has to process and supporting phenol metabolism.

        For example, you can:

        • Eliminate foods with artificial preservatives, dyes, and additives.
          • Specifically, foods that contain natural or artificial flavorings, preservatives (BHA, BHT, and TBHQ), and dyes (red, orange, and green are the worst offenders).
          • You can see evidence of this in studies conducted by Dr. Ben Feingold, Dr. Stephen Lockey, and others, which demonstrate that food dyes and food additives were responsible for hyperactivity in many of the children they had seen in their practices.

          Download TACA’s FREE Tip Sheet for more information about:

          • High phenol foods and lower phenol foods to replace them with.
          • Supplements that help the body process phenols.

          How to add phenolic acids to your diet

          Also, visit the Feingold and FAILSAFE websites. Because both of these diets eliminate phenols and salicylates, they have great resources.


          In conclusion, foods and food additives that contain phenols/salicylates are problematic for a subset of children and people with autism. These otherwise healthy foods can cause a range of symptoms from mild to severe. Being aware of the problem and working with your doctor to find ways to address the underlying issue can make your child more comfortable and happier.

          Additional Resources:

          All content in this article is for informational purposes only, including links to products and/or websites mentioned. To clarify, TACA does not receive any compensation or commission for providing them.

          Furthermore, the information on this page is not a substitute for professional advice, diagnosis, or treatment. For this reason, always seek the advice of your physician, therapist, or other qualified health provider with any questions or concerns you may have.

          These compounds are considered to be a rich source of antioxidants. Antioxidants are vital to your health because they protect your cells from free radicals.

          These antioxidants scavenge these harmful invaders and potentially reverse the damage the free radicals caused.

          Polyphenols are split up into four general groups: flavonoids, lignans, phenolic acids, and stilbenes. These four different kinds of polyphenols can be found in several different food sources:


          Flavonoids are beneficial to your health because they are rich in antioxidants contain anti-inflammatory agents. Flavonoids can be found in red wine, green tea, vegetables, legumes, and fruits.


          Lignans are beneficial because the help to regulate hormone levels help reduce levels of cortisol, and may be a possible anti-carcinogenic. Lignans can be found with vegetables, legumes, fruits, grains, cereals, and algae.

          Phenolic Acids

          Getting enough phenolic acid is an anti-inflammatory agent that may help decrease your chances of developing cancer, heart disease, and strokes. Phenolic acid can be found in cherries, apples, plums, blueberries, kiwis, and coffee.


          The jury is still out on the effectiveness of stilbenes however some experts believe that stilbenes is an anti-inflammatory agent that may lower your risk of developing heart disease.

          Stilbenes can be found in peanuts and red wine.

          The Benefits of Polyphenols

          Polyphenols can often be found in a balanced diet containing fruits and veggies. While a diet consisting of fruits and vegetables produce many benefits, polyphenols themselves have their own unique set of benefits worth considering.

          1) Heart Health

          Getting a significant amount of polyphenols in your diet may improve your cardiovascular health. Some polyphenols have shown to decrease LDL cholesterol, helping to protect you from heart disease.

          Polyphenols also increase the health of blood vessels and encourages healthy blood circulation. By maintaining healthy blood circulation, you may also help regulate your blood pressure.

          Polyphenols helps to maintain the health flow of blood in the veins, capillaries, and arteries by preventing the clumping of platelets in the blood. The clumping of platelets is associated with angina and heart attacks.

          2) Blood Sugar

          Polyphenols, specifically flavonoids, may help stabilize blood sugar levels. This active compound works on your blood sugar levels by increasing insulin secretion, enhancing insulin sensitivity, stabilizing glucose metabolism, and preventing cell death.

          This may be of interest to those trying to regulate their Type 2 diabetes. Consult your physician to see how adding polyphenols to your diet can help you to maintain your blood sugar levels and diabetes.

          3) Neurological Health

          Polyphenols may help to protect your brain from aging and degenerative diseases such as Alzheimer’s and may also fight early signs of dementia.

          Research has suggested that regularly including polyphenols in your diet may also help protect you from stroke, Parkinson’s disease, multiple sclerosis, and Huntington’s disease.

          4) Osteoporosis

          Some research indicates that the high antioxidant quality of polyphenols may protect your bones from losing density. Bones that are at a high risk for losing density are more vulnerable to fractures and developing diseases like osteoporosis.

          5) Healthy Skin

          A diet rich in antioxidants help to promote healthy, radiant skin. Antioxidants also help to prevent skin from the dangers of UV damage. UV damage causes premature aging, dull skin, and even cancer.

          6) Cancer Prevention

          Antioxidants are linked to cancer prevention. They help to round up free radicals and help to reverse the damage done to cells.

          Free radicals are often found in the environment and food and are sometimes unavoidable no matter how careful you are. By scavenging free radicals and helping to repair the damage done to your cells, antioxidants inhibit the growth of tumors.

          September 23, 2016 By Angela Deckard Filed Under: Wellness

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