If you’re on a diet, you might fixate on how many calories something contains. If you’re trying to have a well-rounded diet, you can find yourself fixated on the quantity of carbs, fats, and protein in an item. But to be really, truly healthy, you must look at more than calories or carbs. Considering the vitamins and nutrients, as well as phytonutrients in an item is an integral part of eating healthy. Want to know what phytonutrients are and where you can find them? Read on!
Introduction to Phytonutrients
Phytonutrients, or literally “plant” nutrients, are plant-produced compounds that protect plants from bugs, germs, and other natural predators. These nutrients can help protect plants, but they also are great for protecting your body as well. However, unlike your more traditional vitamins and minerals, they’re not an essential part of your body’s functioning. But, if you want to fight off illnesses easier, lower your risk of disease, or reduce swelling, these already healthy foods make a great addition to your diet.
Most of the time, you can get these valuable, healthy nutrients from fruits and vegetables, but there are phytonutrients in other plants, too! Beans, nuts, teas, and even whole grains all have trace amounts of phytonutrients. While there are over 25,000 different phytonutrients in food, here are a few of the more common types, along with what they can help with and where you can find them.
This broad category of phytonutrients includes all the compounds that give fruits and vegetables their red, orange, or yellow colors. You can find more than 600 types of carotenoids in fruits and vegetables that have red, orange, or yellow hues to them. Additionally, they’re quite plentiful in dark, leafy greens, making that spinach salad a healthy addition to your diet.
Some examples of carotenoids are beta-carotene, lycopene, and lutein. Your body can convert beta-carotene, the compound that gives carrots their bright orange hue, into Vitamin A, making it essential for eye health. Scientists associate lycopene, found in red and pink produce like watermelon, tomatoes, and grapefruit, with a lower risk of prostate cancer. Lutein, found in spinach, kale, and other dark leafy greens, is excellent for protecting yourself from eye degeneration.
Ellagic acid, which you can find in berries, apples, and pomegranates, may protect you against cancer. Ellagic acid’s cancer-fighting properties include slowing the growth of cancer cells and aiding your liver in neutralizing the cancer cells. However, scientists conducted most of the studies linking ellagic acid to cancer-fighting in laboratory settings, so take that with caution.
Another broad category of phytonutrients, flavonoids, have anti-inflammatory properties. You can find flavonoids in green tea, grapes and wine, berries, and apples. There are a few main types of flavonoids to keep in mind–catechins, hesperidin, and flavanols.
Scientists have shown that catechins, found primarily in green tea, may aid in preventing certain types of cancer. Hesperidin, which you can find in citrus fruits, works to reduce inflammation with its anti-inflammatory properties.
Wine, grapes, and grape juice all contain resveratrol, a phytonutrient which also has anti-inflammatory and antioxidant properties. Some studies have even linked resveratrol to a lower risk of heart disease and a longer life! However, prominent scientists are calling for more studies linking the two before anyone jumps to conclusions.
Have you ever wondered what gave kale, broccoli, and cabbage their crunch and distinct flavor? That would be the glucosinolates in them! Glucosinolates turn into other chemicals and compounds when you digest and cook them and have been scientifically proven to keep cancer in check (at least in a lab setting.)
Want to know more about any of these phytonutrients? Comment below!