Phytonutrients-What Are They?
Phytonutrients, also called phytochemicals, are found in plants. They help to protect plants from UV rays, insects, viruses, bacteria, and parasites. They also determine a plants color and flavor by regulating nutrient intake and light. Phyto is the Greek word for plants. They are organic components of plants thought to be associated with positive health effects and were first known in 1994.
Eating fruits and vegetables is thought to help people get similar protection as the plants from phytonutrients. The National cancer Institute recommends adults eat 5-9 servings of fruits and vegetables every day. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, or CDC, cites that less than 15% of adults eat the right number of fruits and vegetables daily.
Phytonutrients are not provided by vitamin supplements they can only be had through fruits and vegetables. Although not considered essential by the FDA, like vitamins and minerals, many believe they are very helpful to the human body. To get the most from the fruits and vegetables you are eating, they should be eaten raw with the skins. It is also recommended that one eat a variety of colors per day because phytonutrients contribute to colors and provide different things per color. They basically deliver the pure necessities of the body without the excessive carbohydrates of other foods.
Although a relatively new field of study, it is thought that phytonutrients can act as antioxidants and antibacterial agents, they can help with detoxification of enzymes and stimulate the immune system. It has been shown that people who eat high quantities of fruits and vegetables have a reduced risk of cancer. They have anti-inflammatory properties unlike refined fast foods that promote pro-inflammatory responses in the body.
As mentioned above, phytonutrients contribute to the colors of plants and each color can be associated with different benefits. There are five color groups:
- Blue to purple in color
- Phytonutrients: resveratrol, anthocyanidins, phenolics, and flavonoids
- They help support the heart, brain, bone health and act as an antioxidant.
- Examples are: blueberry, blackberry, purple grapes, black beans, eggplant, etc.
- Red to pink in color
- Phytonutrients-lycopene, ellagic acid, quercetin, hesperidin, and anthocyanidins
- These support prostate, urinary tract and DNA
- Examples are: raspberries, strawberries, pomegranates, red bell peppers, tomatoes, and radishes
- Orange to yellow in color
- Phytonutrients: alpha-carotene, beta-carotene, beta cryptoxanthin, lutein/zeaxanthin, hesperidin
- These help to support eye health, immune function, skin hydration, overall growth and development
- Examples are: cantaloupe, peaches, carrots, corn, and sweet potatoes.
- Dark green in color
- Phytonutrients: lutein/zeaxanthin, isoflavones, EGCG, indoles, isothiocyanates, sulphoraphane
- These help support eye health, arterial function, lung health, and healthy liver function
- Examples are: leafy greens, kale, Brussels sprouts, and broccoli
- Brown to white in color
- Phytonutrients: EGCG, allicin, quercetin, indoles, and glucosinolateds
- These help to support healthy bones, circulatory health, and arterial function
- Examples are: cauliflower, mushrooms, turnips, pears, apples, and cocoa
In general the darker fruits and vegetables have higher concentrations of phytonutrients, however, cauliflower and onions (white) have potent concentrations. Remember that variety in colors is the key to get the most phytonutrients from your fruits and vegetables. On the Amino Diet we recommend two fruit servings and four vegetable servings per day.
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