What are Phytonutrients?
Phytonutrients are naturally occurring chemicals found in plants. These complex compounds help plants by protecting them against the harsh sun, and by repelling insects. Phytonutrients are beneficial to humans too because they offer antioxidant and anti-inflammatory healing properties. You can find phytonutrients in fruits, vegetables, whole grains, nuts, beans, tea leaves, and some spices.
Different types of plants have different kinds of phytonutrients. Some phytonutrients are very similar from one plant to the next. However, other phytonutrients are vastly different. Because of this, you should always eat a variety of fruits and vegetables so you get a whole range of properties. Common phytonutrients which you may have heard of include:
There are thousands of phytonutrients found in plants and related foods. Some of the most common phytonutrients are:
• ellagic acid
Phytonutrients have not been extensively studied thus it is difficult to quantitate their effectiveness. In general, most phytonutrients have anti-oxidant activity. This means the compounds can neutralize oxidants such as free-radicals and other unstable chemicals in your body which may cause damage. Phytonutrients also have anti-inflammatory properties. This means it decreases inflammation or swelling and this usually relieves pain. Phytonutrients have also been shown to have anti-cancer properties and a host of other benefits:
• Carotenoids are beneficial for eye health and immune health.
• Flavonoids can protect against cancer and cardiovascular disease.
• Glucosinolates are similar in helping to prevent cancer.
With so many benefits, everyone is rushing to get phytonutrient supplements. However, consuming phytonutrients in their original form in fruits and vegetables is better than supplements. In addition to the phytonutrients, eating fruits and vegetables gives you other benefits such as dietary fiber, vitamins, and minerals.
Know your Phytonutrients
Carotenoids: There are over 600 types of carotenoids and they are found in brightly colored fruits and vegetables that are yellow, orange, or red. Carotenoids must be eaten through foods. Some forms of carotenoids can be converted to Vitamin A and carotenoids have antioxidants characteristics. Foods rich in carotenoids include pumpkins, carrots, spinach, kale, tomatoes, oranges, and yams.
Ellagic acid: This phytonutrient has been shown to reduce cholesterol and reduce the risk of cancer. Raspberries have the highest levels of ellagic acid are present in raspberries. However, ellagic acid is also found in strawberries, blackberries, grapes, pomegranates, walnuts, and pecans.
Resveratrol can be found in the skins of red grapes, and thus, also in red wine. People who take resveratrol feel that the compound provides better cardiovascular health and brain function. Resveratrol can be found in some of your favorite foods such as dark chocolate, peanuts, pistachios, strawberries, and blueberries.
Flavonoids This is the largest family of phytonutrients with 6000 different compounds. Some flavonoids are found to have anticancer activities and antioxidant properties. Foods with flavonoids include green tea, apples, onions, coffee, grapefruits, legumes, and ginger.
Glucosinolates are common in cruciferous vegetables such as mustard, cabbage, and horseradish. Glucosinolates may help with decreasing inflammation and moderating responses to stress..
Although scientists are not entirely sure the exact effects of phytonutrients, there is sufficient evidence to suggest that increasing the among of phytonutrients in your diet is good for you. It helps your immune system and it has anti-oxidant properties. Most nutritionists agree that eating foods rich in phytonutrients (fruits and vegetables) is better than taking supplements.
Be sure to discuss the risks and benefits of altering your diet with your doctor to ensure that you will be safe.