Posted By: CustomVite Nutrition Team Date: July 31, 2017 Comments: 0
Phytonutrients, also known as phytochemicals, are chemicals produced and used by plants to protect them from any external forces such as germs or bugs. Food sources including colorful fruits and vegetables, nuts, legumes, tea, whole grains, and various spices are rich sources of phytonutrients. Even though these provide us with significant nutrients, they are not necessarily essential for life. However, that doesn’t mean that you shouldn’t look into supplements or other sources of these nutrients, because they can provide significant health benefits. Benefits of phytonutrients include enhanced immunity, increased antioxidant and anti-inflammatory activity, and improved DNA damage repair. According to the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA), consuming a diet rich in phytonutrients is effective for reducing heart disease and cancer risks. So, don’t overlook these natural substances and how they can possibly benefit your body.
One phytonutrient, kelp, is a great source of iodine, is rich in minerals, and may help in weight loss and energy enhancement. Chlorella is another phytonutrient that helps to enhance the immune system, detoxifies chemicals and heavy metals, and stimulates the growth of beneficial bacteria. For the most part, you can tell if a fruit or vegetable is rich in phytonutrients by its color hue. Most deep-hued foods like spinach, kale, berries, melons, and spices are rich in phytonutrients. However, there are some exceptions to this rule. Some foods with little to no color, like onions, cauliflower, and garlic, are also rich in phytonutrients.
Phytonutrients are separated into different classes based on their chemical structures and even further subdivided within the classes. There are over 25,000 types of phytonutrients, but scientists put particular emphasis on these groups:
- Lignans: These are associated with prevention of hormone-related cancers because of their estrogen-like activity. Also called phytoestrogens, these nutrients are commonly found in kale, broccoli, apricots, and strawberries.
- Resveratrol: Remember the “French Paradox,” in which the French people who drink a significant amount of red wine still enjoy healthy lives even though other components of their diet contain high amounts of saturated fats? Well grapes and red wine contribute to this fact as they contain resveratrol, the phytonutrient found mostly in grape skins. Other sources include cocoa, blueberry, cranberries, peanuts, and grape juice.
- Carotenoids: These are the red, orange, and yellow pigments that give some fruits and vegetables their color. Some forms of carotenoids can be converted into vitamin A (retinol). They should be consumed with fats in order to be absorbed optimally. Found in carrots, yams, sweet potatoes, papaya, watermelon, cantaloupe, mangoes, spinach, kale, tomatoes, bell peppers, and oranges; they are known for their antioxidant, immune-enhancing activity.
- Curcumin: Primarily found in turmeric, and part of the ginger family. Curcumin is what gives turmeric its exotic yellow color. It has been known to be effective for reducing inflammation and detoxifying the body.
- Ellagic Acid: Plants can produce ellagic acid from the breakdown of tannins. Ellagic acid can be found in raspberries, strawberries, blackberries, cranberries, grapes, pomegranates, and walnuts; it is associated with anti-cancer and anti-inflammatory activity as well as enhanced glucose metabolism.
- Flavonoids: These are a fairly diverse, large group associated with reduced risk of cardiovascular disease and cancer. They can be found in a wide range of foods from apples to coffee to parsley to ginger.
(1) Szalay, J. (2015, October 21). What Are Phytonutrients? Retrieved July 30, 2017, from https://www.livescience.com/52541-phytonutrients.html