Phytonutrients, a natural defense with plants

2 min read

Phytonutrients are natural compounds found in plant foods such as vegetables, fruits, whole grain products and legumes.

These plant compounds have beneficial effects by working with other essential nutrients to promote good health.

A phytonutrient is literally a plant nutrient, or even a micronutrient. There are hundreds of phytonutrients which are also often referred to as phytochemicals.

Common phytonutrients include carotenoids such as lutein, flavonoids, coumarins, indoles, isoflavones, lignans, organosulfur compounds, and plant sterols.

Phytonutrients are powerful antioxidants

  • Many phytonutrients have antioxidant properties that help prevent cell damage throughout the body.
  • A number of phytonutrients have been shown to reduce the risk of cancer, heart disease, stroke, Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s disease.
  • Experts believe that eating plenty of phytonutrient-rich foods promotes healthy aging.

Other Biological Roles of Phytonutrients

  • Phytonutrients may have other bioactive functions to promote health.
  • Some may have positive effects on the immune system and hormones.
  • Phytonutrients can also act as antibacterial or antiviral agents.

Foods Rich in Phytonutrients

  • Red, orange and yellow vegetables and fruits (such as tomatoes, carrots, peppers, squash, sweet potatoes, peaches, mangoes, melons, citrus fruits and berries).
  • Dark green leafy vegetables (like spinach, kale, bok choy, broccoli, Swiss chard, and romaine lettuce).
  • Garlic, onions, chives and leeks.
  • Whole-grain products (such as brown rice, wild rice, quinoa, barley, wheat berries, and whole-grain breads and whole-grain cereals).
  • Nuts and seeds (such as walnuts, almonds, sunflower, sesame and flax seeds)
  • Legumes (such as dried beans, peas, lentils, soy beans and soy products).
  • Tea and coffee (such as green tea, black tea and other herbal teas).
  • Dark chocolate.

Enjoy the rainbow of fruits and vegetables

Phytonutrients are responsible for the vibrant colors found in vegetables and fruits.

For example, the phytonutrient lycopene helps give tomatoes and watermelon their red color.

By enjoying a rainbow of vegetables and fruits every day, you can make the most of the many phytonutrients nature has to offer.

Here are some ways to achieve this:

  • Servings aren’t that big: 1/2 cup of chopped raw vegetables or fruit makes one serving. Leafy greens take up more space, so 1 chopped cup counts as one serving. 1/2 cup of dried fruit equals one serving.
  • Think of two: try to eat two servings in the morning, two in the afternoon and two in the evening.
  • Snacks matter too: Are you hungry between meals? Snack on a piece of fruit or grab some sliced raw vegetables to take home.
  • When shopping in-store, look at your cart: If you find most of your choices are the same with one or two colors, swap out a few to increase the colors — and phytonutrients — in your cart.
  • Have a colorful dinner: start with a small bowl of vegetable soup. Choose an arugula or spinach salad and see if you can add additional vegetables. Complete your meal with fresh fruit for dessert and a soothing cup of green tea.
  • Look local: Farmers’ markets, co-ops, buying clubs, and community-supported farms are usually great sources of fresh produce. Ask a farmer for new ideas on how to prepare fruits and vegetables that are new to you.

Also, do not neglect frozen vegetables, they also count and are almost as nutritious as fresh. However, give priority above all to short and fresh circuits.

Natural food first

No supplement can substitute for all the benefits of a healthy diet. The combination of phytonutrients, vitamins, minerals, essential fatty acids and fiber in foods is complex. It is likely the interaction of these compounds found in whole foods that is responsible for their many health benefits.

So eating a variety of healthy foods every day, including plenty of phytonutrient-rich plant foods, is best for your health.

Try These Phytonutrient-Rich Meal and Snack Ideas

  • Breakfast : muesli-type oat cereal with dried fruit, nuts and seeds.
  • Lunch : a spinach salad with tangerines and almonds.
  • Dinner : Vegetarian bean chili with a crispy whole grain bun.
  • Snack : A cold tall glass of smoothie or orange, berry and banana juice.

Experts agree that the phytonutrients in plant-based foods can help prevent disease and promote health. Try to include a variety of plant-based foods such as vegetables and fruits, whole grains, nuts, seeds, and legumes in your daily meals and snacks.

You can enjoy many phytonutrient-rich foods by eating well with the “Eat 5 Fruits and Vegetables a Day” diet.

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