There has been a lot of talk lately about Phytonutrients, hopefully this will explain simply what a phytonutrient is, why it is so important in our bodies and what foods contain them.
Firstly what is a Phytonutrient? "Phyto" is a greek word for plant and "Nutrient" is a life enabling substance. So we are talking about compounds found in plants that enable life. Phytonutrients are found naturally in the fruits and vegetables that we eat.
It is still a recommendation to consume 5 servings of fruit and vegetables daily to ensure our body is getting enough disease fighting compounds to perform optimally. Phytonutrients are not essential for keeping you alive, unlike vitamins and minerals, but they help prevent diseases and rid our body of toxins. In todays fast paced lifestyle it is estimated that the average American eats 0.68 servings per day of fruit and 1.13 servings of vegetables according to the 2010 Fruit and Vegetable Alliance Report. This is a far cry from the recommended 5 servings. This is why a good, organically farmed phytonutrient supplement such a Nutrilte Double X is recommended to be eaten daily to account for the nutrient gap in our diets. Many experts agree that even if you are consuming close to your 5 servings per day, that the soil where our plants are being grown is not as nutrient rich as it once was, therefore creating a bigger gap in our body's daily requirements.
There are over 25,000 phytonutrients found in plant foods, but these 6 are the main phytonutrient groups and their benefits:
These carotenoids consist of the red, orange or yellow coloured fruits and vegetables and are responsible for the antioxidant properties that kill harmful free radicals that damage tissues in our body. Alpha-carotene, beta-carotene, and beta-cryptoxanthin play a role in eye health, immune system and the prevention of prostate cancer. These phytonutrients can be found in plants such as tomatoes, carrots, watermelon, grapefruit, pumpkin and sweet red peppers.
2. Ellagic Acid
Ellagic Acid is found in a number of blue fruits and vegetables such as blue berries, strawberries, pomegranate and raspberries. Ellagic Acid has been known to prevent and fight cancer by slowing the growth of cancer cells and by aiding the liver in illuminating harmful chemicals in your body.
Flavanoids have been know to reduce asthma, heart disease and some types of cancer. There are many types of flavonoids, so here are the 3 main ones:
Catechins. Green tea is an especially good source of catechins. The drink may help prevent certain types of cancer.
Hesperidin. Found in citrus fruits, this flavonoid works as an antioxidant reducing inflammation in the body to help prevent chronic disease.
Flavonols. Quercetin is a well-studied type of flavonol. It is found in apples, berries, kale and onions.
Resveratrol is another anti oxidant and anti-inflammatory plant based chemical. It has also been known to reduce heart disease and certain types of brain cancers however more research is required. Some examples of plants containing resveratrol are grapes, purple grape juice and red wine.
Glucosinolates are found in vegetables with a sharp odour and flavour. The glucosinolates turn into other chemicals during the cooking process and during digestion. These chemicals may assist to halt the further development and growth of cancer. Foods containing Glucosinolates are Brussel sprouts, cabbage, kale and broccoli.
Soy foods contain isoflavones, a type of phytoestrogen. Some evidence suggests that soy foods may be linked to lower bone loss and endometrial cancer in women because this food exerts estrogen like effects in the body.
Phytonutrients are a critical requirement for our bodies to function. There is still a lot of research required to know what each plant contains however I think it is safe to say that even if you are following a balanced diet it is not always realistic to assume that we are getting an appropriate nutrient intake for the day.