Unleash A Healthy Future With Colourful PhytonutrientsJul 23, 2023
This is the second in a series highlighting the Micronutrients – the “other” nutrients (other than Carbs, Fats and Proteins, that is). For last week's article on Antioxidants, see HERE. Note that Antioxidants are a particular kind of Phytonutrient, that focus on preventing damage from free radicals.
From a young age you’ve been told “eat your veggies” and that’s even more important as we age. Why is that?
Many of us are used to paying attention to the Macronutrients we eat – protein, fat and carbs (especially the starchy ones) – but did you know that the Micronutrients we get from fruits and veggies, as well as spices, nuts and tea, are just as critical for healthy bodies? These bioactive food components are known as "phytonutrients."
In fact there are hundreds of different phytonutrients that keep our bodies healthy and running efficiently.
The word "Phyto" comes from the Greek language and means plant.
Phytonutrients are natural compounds produced by plants that give them rich colours, distinctive tastes, and aromas.
They strengthen the plant's immune system and protect it from threats like insects and the sun. And then as we eat various plants, they pass on these protective properties to us!
Phytonutrients significantly impact the human body, providing health benefits that may help protect from chronic diseases.
It's not sure how many phytonutrients exist, but thousands appear in plants and related foods. So, there is a significant chance you already eat lots of them in your daily meals.
Luckily for us, you don't have to look any further than the produce section to find phytonutrient-rich foods.
The main food groups and some of the most well-known sources of phytonutrients are:
- Whole grains
How can we ever make sure we eat all the different ones? It’s easy! Eat the rainbow – as the colour of each food that you eat is a big clue about what nutrients it contains …
Red Foods help reduce cancer risk, boost your immune system, and enhance brain and heart health. This is because they contain compounds like anthocyanidins and lycopene. Red foods are rich in the carotenoid lycopene, a potent scavenger of gene-damaging free radicals that seems to protect against prostate cancer as well as diabetes and heart disease.
Found in: strawberries, cranberries, raspberries, tomatoes, cherries, apples, beets, watermelon, red grapes, red peppers, red onions
Orange Foods help boost your immune system and optimize eye and skin health. This is because they contain compounds like beta-carotene and curcuminoids. Orange and yellow foods provide beta cryptothanxin, which supports intracellular communication and may help prevent heart disease.
Found in: carrots, sweet potatoes, oranges, tangerines, mango, pumpkin, apricots, peaches, orange bell peppers, cantaloupe, turmeric
Yellow Foods are anti-inflammatory and promote eye, skin, brain and heart health. This is because they contain compounds like lutein and zeaxanthin. Orange and yellow foods provide beta cryptothanxin, which supports intracellular communication and may help prevent heart disease.
Found in: apples, pears, yellow bell peppers, bananas, pineapple, winter squash (butternut, acorn, delicata), corn, chickpeas, ginger, lemons, mustard, quinoa, yellow onions
Green foods are anti-inflammatory, support your liver, and are vital for brain and heart health. This is because they contain compounds like chlorophyll and isoflavones. These foods are rich in cancer-blocking chemicals like sulforaphane, isocyanate, and indoles. And they help detoxify the body, and restore energy and vitality.
Found in: spinach, avocados, asparagus, artichokes, broccoli, alfalfa sprouts, green bell peppers, kale, cabbage, Brussels sprouts, kiwi fruit, collard greens, green tea, green herbs (mint, rosemary, sage, thyme, and basil), cucumbers, edamame, leafy greens, limes, and zucchini
Blue and purple foods have powerful antioxidants called anthocyanins believed to delay cellular aging and help the heart by blocking the formation of blood clots. They are anti-inflammatory, anti-cancer, and are good for the brain! This is because they contain compounds like resveratrol.
Found in: blueberries, blackberries, elderberries, Concord grapes, raisins, eggplant, plums, figs, prunes, lavender, purple cabbage, purple cauliflower
When it comes to phytonutrients, the rule of thumb is the darker the plant food = the more nutrient dense. But white and tan foods are the exception! These plants are anti-inflammatory, keep bones strong, plus they support a healthy liver, and optimize hormone health. This is because they contain compounds like allicin and tannins.
Found in: apples, onions, cauliflower, garlic, ginger, leeks, parsnips, daikon radish, mushrooms, coconut, dates, flax seeds, hemps seeds, tahini, sesame seeds
Phytonutrients & Your Health
Colourful foods like fruits, vegetables, whole grains, and nuts are natural medicine for your body. The combination of fiber, vitamins, minerals, and phytonutrients benefits your body and health. It can help protect you from various chronic diseases.
Here are six of the greatest phytonutrients:
- Beta-carotene helps improve your immune system, skin, and even your vision.
- Lycopene helps prevent heart diseases and prostate cancer.
- Lutein helps your body improve your heart health and may prevent some types of cancer, and it's also proven to increase your eye health.
- Resveratrol can lower inflammation and improve your lung health.
- Anthocyanidins may increase your chances of better blood vessel health.
- Isoflavones have many benefits like lower cholesterol and joint inflammation and lower breast cancer risk. It may also ease some of the symptoms of menopause.
Studies have shown that people eating a plant-rich diet may have significantly lower rates of cardiovascular diseases, heart problems, and even cancer.
Although there is no evidence that phytonutrients guarantee to reduce the risk of or eliminate cancer, there is promising evidence indicating positive results in helping:
- Aid the function of the immune system
- Protect cells and DNA from damage that may lead to cancer
- Slow the growth rate of many cancer cells
How To Eat More Phytonutrients
To get started, try to add as many plant-based colours to your meals as possible. Remember, each colour provides your body with different health benefits. Therefore, a balance of colours is best.
Try making plant foods the main focus of your meals, and let animal foods take a back seat. (That said, it’s still important to get lots of protein, so don’t avoid this important macronutrient.)
Here are some helpful and straightforward tips to include more phytonutrients:
- To optimize your health, it’s also important to eat fresh foods of various colours every day. Aim for 1-2 servings of each different colour every day, the darker the better.
- Remember that servings are not that big: Aim for 6 or more servings of fruit and vegetables per day. To make it easier for yourself, think that your fist makes up one serving of vegetables or fruit.
- Snacks count, too: If you feel hungry in between meals, use the opportunity to munch on a piece of your favourite fruit or some sliced raw vegetables to go. You can even make some garlic roasted chickpeas as a snack. Don't forget to add a bit or protein or fat to make it more satisfying.
- When shopping, look at your cart: Do you find that you have mostly the same one or two colours in your cart? Try swapping out a few to increase the different kinds of phytonutrients.
- Look local: Visit your local farmer's market or the nearest farm. Here you will usually find a wide selection of fresh foods packed with phytonutrients. You can, for example, search for new fruits and vegetables and ask the farmer for fresh ideas on how to prepare them.
- Try frozen: While fresh fruits and vegetables might taste slightly better, they are not always in season. So, remember that frozen count too and are just as nutritious as fresh fruits.
- Getting the most phytonutrients also means eating the colourful skins, the richest sources of the phytonutrients, as well as the paler flesh. So try to avoid peeling foods like apples, peaches and eggplant, or you will lose their most concentrated source of beneficial chemicals. But make sure you wash them first!
Paint your plate with the colours of the rainbow! Choose something red, a little yellow, or a piece of green, and add a bit of brown or white.
By increasing the number of colours and, thereby, the phytonutrients, you can boost your health and help decrease the chances of various diseases.
Recipe ~ Make Ahead Salads Jars
- 1/4 cup Extra Virgin Olive Oil
- 3 tbsps Lemon Juice
- 2 tsp Dijon Mustard
- 1 tsp Garlic Powder
- 1/3 tsp Sea Salt
- 2/3 cup Radishes (sliced)
- 2 medium Carrots (shredded)
- 1 cup Corn Kernels
- 1 cup Bell Pepper (chopped)
- 1 cup Purple Cabbage (sliced)
- 4 - 6 cups Spring Lettuce Mix
- 1 cup Sprouts
- Whisk together the extra virgin olive oil, lemon juice, mustard, garlic powder and sea salt. Divide into the bottom of mason jars.
- Divide all of the vegetables, layering into the mason jars, greens and sprouts on top. Seal with a lid.
- When ready to eat, shake well and dump into a bowl.
- Serve & enjoy!
- Add the protein of your choice to make it a full meal, layer on top of the dressing.
- Swap out any veggie or grain for other choices to add variety
- Refrigerate in the mason jar for up to three days.
Resources & Further Reading
Phytonutrients as therapeutic agents. Charu Gupta, Dhan Prakash
Role of Phytonutrients in Nutrigenetics and Nutrigenomics Perspective in Curing Breast Cancer. Tanima Bhattacharya, Soumam Dutta, Rokeya Akter, Md Habibur Rahman, Chenmala Karthika, Hechanur Puttappa Nagaswarupa, Hanabe Chowdappa Ananda Murthy, Ovidiu Fratila, Roxana Brata, Simona Bungau
Vegetables. Sawsan G Mohammed, M Walid Qoronfleh
Characteristics and Health Benefits of Phytochemicals. Claus Leitzmann
The role of antioxidant phytonutrients in the prevention of diseases. Andrea Lugasi
Clinical Evidence of the Benefits of Phytonutrients in Human Healthcare. Nicolas Monjotin, Marie Josèphe Amiot, Jacques Fleurentin, Jean Michel Morel, and Sylvie Raynal
Phytochemicals in Gynecological Cancer Prevention. Marta Woźniak, Rafał Krajewski, Sebastian Makuch, Siddarth Agrawal
Introduction of Phytonutrients. Lutfun Nahar, Jianbo Xiao, Satyajit D. Sarke
Phytochemicals: Carotenoids and Flavonoids. By Stephen T. Sinatra
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