Spend enough time reading health blogs and you’ll probably come across the word, ‘phytonutrients’. It’s a term that’s often used in conjunction with physical fitness and nutritional health. But what are phytonutrients? How do they work? And why should you care?
Phytonutrients are actually a little difficult to pin down. Google defines them as ‘a substance found in certain plants which is believed to be beneficial to human health and help prevent various diseases.’ Other websites describe them merely as nutrients that have been scientifically proven to provide health benefits. What is known about phytonutrients is that they are not related to fats, carbohydrates, proteins, vitamins, or minerals, and they provide huge health benefits.
Plant foods can contain more than 25,000 phytonutrients. Carotenoids, ellagic acid, flavonoids, resveratrol, glucosinolates, and phytoestrogens are just a few of the better known ones. Some act as antioxidants, some aid in immunity and eye health, some protect against cancer, some reduce risk of asthma and heart disease, and some have anti-inflammatory and neuro-protective properties.
Nearly all plant foods contain phytonutrients, but some contain more than others. Fruits and veggies that have a deep, rich color—blueberries, blackberries, red cabbage, collards, and spinach—are good sources. But so too are certain off-white vegetables: garlic, onions, and leeks have loads of phytonutrients. As do red and pink fruits and veggies—tomatoes, guava, and watermelon.
To increase your uptake of these important nutrients, add extra fruits and vegetables to your salads, stews, pot roasts, and chili. Drinking a green smoothie with kale, cherries, spinach and almond milk also helps. As does the regular consumption of plant-based protein shakes mixed with blueberries.
The bottom line is this: the more phytonutrients you consume, the healthier you’ll be and feel!