WHAT ARE THE HEALTH BENEFITS OF PHYTONUTRIENTS?
Have you ever wondered what makes an orange – orange? Or what gives broccoli such a sharp odor and flavor? In addition to vitamins and minerals, fruits and veggies contain thousands of natural chemicals that give plant foods their unique colors, smells, and tastes. These chemicals are called phytonutrients, and they offer a variety of health benefits to people who eat those plants.
What Are Phytonutrients?
Phytonutrients, also called phytochemicals, are compounds produced by plants to keep them safe from threats in nature. It can be helpful to think of phytonutrients as a plant’s immune system. Humans have white blood cells that seek out and destroy disease-causing organisms; plants have phytonutrients to help them do the same.
In addition to protection, phytonutrients are responsible for giving plants their pigment, like the beautiful red of a pomegranate or the vibrant orange of a carrot. Many foods rich in phytonutrients are deep hued, while others don’t have much color at all. For example, onions and garlic are bursting with allylsulfides, which can help prevent cancer. Phytonutrients are also found in whole grains, nuts and seeds, legumes, and tea.
Why Do We Need Phytonutrients?
Phytonutrients aren’t responsible for keeping us alive, but eating even trace amounts may help keep our bodies working properly and promote longevity. After all, humans are exposed to the same environmental dangers as plants – pollution, toxins, predator pests, and ultraviolet radiation from the sun. It makes sense that we also need phytonutrients to protect us.
Health Benefits of Phytonutrients
There are so many health benefits to eating plants rich in phytonutrients. Research suggests that consuming foods with polyphenols, including cacao and green tea, may reduce the risk of cardiovascular disease. Polyphenols have been studied extensively and are also associated with lowering blood pressure, reducing inflammation, and increasing HDL (good) cholesterol. Meanwhile, isothiocyanate, a phytonutrient found in cruciferous vegetables like broccoli, cabbage, and cauliflower, has been linked to a decreased risk of prostate, lung, breast, and colon cancers.
Carotenoids are another important phytonutrient. These compounds, which give foods like peppers and carrots their yellow, orange, and red pigments, are powerful antioxidants, combating harmful free radicals that cause tissue damage in the body. Hesperidin, another antioxidant found in citrus fruits like oranges and lemons, reduces inflammation in the body to help prevent chronic disease. Exciting research suggests that ellagic acid, a phytonutrient found in berries and nuts, .may slow the growth of cancer cells
How to Add More Phytonutrients to Your Diet?
A simple way to consume more phytonutrients is to focus on getting as many colors on your plate as possible. Berries, kale, pomegranate, and watermelon are brimming with phytonutrients and make great smoothie add-ins. For lunch, scoop a serving of whole grains into your salad, like wild rice or quinoa.
Another easy way to get more phytonutrients is to drink tea instead of coffee. Green tea is full of flavonoids that protect our cells from oxidative damage by eliminating free radicals. You can also add a pinch of turmeric to your morning cup of hot lemon water. It’s rich in curcumin, an anti inflammatory item that helps the body rid itself of toxins.
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