When it comes to listing out the components of healthy diets, superfoods tend to steal the limelight because of a multitude of benefits. These superfoods are loaded with vitamins and minerals that keep your body functioning at the optimum level. This includes phytonutrients which are mostly found in plant-based foods and work really well with other required nutrients to promote sound health. Phytonutrients may not be critical to keep you alive, but they may help you fight disease and keep your body working properly.
Phytonutrients are one of the healthy food trends that you might be following already. Still, you need to understand the bigger picture.
What are Phytonutrients?
Phytonutrients are natural compounds found in plants and are also known as phytochemicals. They help keep plants protected from the damaging environment including insects and the sun. (1) These may also provide color, odor, and flavor to plants (2). Phytonutrients have a tremendous impact on human health and may provide medical health benefits such as reducing the risk of numerous health diseases. (3)
Thus, they can help both plants and humans to stay free from foreign bodies that may harm them.
Now the question is, where do you get phytonutrients?
Phytonutrients are found in fruits and vegetables, whole grains, nuts, dry beans, and spices (4, 5, 6, 7, 8). You may also find them in legumes, herbs, and seeds (2).
So, there’s a chance that you are already eating them.
What are the types of Phytonutrients?
There are more than thousands of phytonutrients present in plants and foods. Some of the common phytonutrients are:
These serve as pigments and are responsible for the bright coloration of fruits and vegetables. These may have anti-inflammatory and antioxidant properties that can help support a healthy human body. These may also keep away several health issues, including eye-related problems. (9, 10)
So, it is vital to get an adequate amount of carotenoids. These can be found in a variety of leafy vegetables such as mustard greens, spinach, kale and collards, and colored fruits such as tomatoes and kiwi. (9)
It is one of the common phytonutrients and can be found in fruits and vegetables such as strawberries, black raspberry, raspberries, pomegranate, peaches, persimmons, plums, and nuts. These may also have antioxidant and anti-inflammatory properties that can lower the risk of various health problems. (11, 12)
This type of phytonutrients are predominantly found in grapes (especially in grape skin and seed) (13). Resveratrols are also present in a variety of berries, medicinal plants such as Japanese knotweed, and peanuts. These chemical compounds are known for having antioxidant, anti-tumorigenic, and anti-inflammatory properties, and are useful for reducing the chances of several chronic health issues. (14)
One of the largest groups of phytonutrients, flavonoids are high in antioxidants, anti-carcinogenic, anti-mutagenic, and anti-inflammatory properties. These attributes may play a key role in maintaining good health and overall well-being. (15, 16)
The major dietary sources of flavonols and flavones are onions and tea. Besides, tomatoes, grapes, kale, berries, apples, and lettuce are also rich in flavonoids. (16)
Phytoestrogens are estrogen-like compounds found in plants. Studies have shown that phytoestrogens have plenty of health benefits to offer, some of which are:
- healthy cholesterol level
- improved heart health
- healthy weight management
- bolstered reproductive health
- healthy immune system, and
- Healthier bones and skin (17)
Try to eat green vegetables (potatoes, sweet potatoes, carrots, garlic, celery) and fruits (pomegranates, apples, and chaste berries), seeds, nuts, grains (wheat, rice, soybean), and coffee to give your body a dose of phytoestrogens. (17)
This phytonutrient is helpful in optimising metabolic function, regulating inflammation, and responses to stress. It can be found in many plants such as cauliflower, cabbage, broccoli, and brussels sprouts. (18)
Health Benefits of Phytonutrients
Phytonutrients have an extensive range of health benefits. Some of these are:
- Carotenoids, in particular, are known to enhance immune health and reduce the risk of eye problems (19, 20). A study conducted by JAMA suggested that consumption of dark green, leafy vegetables that are rich in carotenoids may lower the risk of macular degeneration (deterioration of the central portion of the retina) among older people (21).
- The antioxidant and anti-inflammatory properties of phytonutrients may also trim down the risk of cardiovascular problems, as well as support a healthy body (22, 9).
- The skin is vulnerable to UV damage that may lead to numerous skin diseases that may happen due to oxidative damage and inflammation. In that case, a diet rich in phytonutrients may help your skin in different ways. Phytonutrients may contain flavonoids, α-tocopherol, lycopene, lutein, and β-carotene which can guard your body against such damages. (23)
- High cholesterol can lead to a host of health issues and it is advisable to lower cholesterol levels for a healthy body. Apple is a good source of phytochemicals and helps reduce cholesterol, lipid oxidation, asthma, and blood sugar level. (24)
- Improved bone health is another essential benefit that a person may get with the consumption of phytonutrients. However, there is a lack of evidence that shows a clear link between phytonutrients and bone health. (25)
Consumption of phytonutrients is not a one size fits all approach, since every human body type is distinct on its own. So, be mindful of your intake of phytonutrients as it may impact everyone’s body differently. Speaking with your dietitian or healthcare provider to determine if you lack in any of these nutrients would be good to determine specific needs and deficiencies.
In a nutshell, keeping your body healthy and fit isn’t a tough nut to crack. Consumption of nutritious food is good for obtaining various nutrients and embrace overall health. There are three main things to remember: incorporate nutritional foods in your diet, exercise and stay conducted with friends and family that will keep bucking you up! Sharing your problems and thoughts with others may also help you stay motivated and positive towards your goal. Join the MY FAT BELLY GOTTA GO PARTY, for any help, support or motivation and to make new friends who are also putting in efforts for a healthy and fit body.
Disclaimer: These statements have not been evaluated by the Food and Drug Administration. The statements and/or product(s) described in this article are not intended to diagnose, treat, cure, mitigate or prevent any disease, illness or health condition. It is advisable to consult your healthcare provider before making any changes to your lifestyle, diet or dietary supplement program.
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- Webb, Densie. “Phytochemicals’ Role in Good Health”. Today’s Dietitian. 15:9 (2013): 70. https://www.todaysdietitian.com/newarchives/090313p70.shtml
- Gupta, Charu, and Dhan Prakash. “Phytonutrients as therapeutic agents.” Journal of Complementary and Integrative Medicine. 11:3 (2014): 151-169. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/25051278
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