Phytonutrients: Hidden Treasures Helping Our Health
It seems every year there is a new study, article or fad to pay attention to in the nutrition and diet world. True we are still learning quite a bit about how our bodies take in and use food, those same foods effect on our long term health, and wading through previous decades of recommendations that now may not be sage advice. It's a lot to take in. With that in mind though there is a certain buzz word making the rounds that you should pay attention to: Phytonutrients.
"Phyto" comes from the Greek word for plant, so it's not a shock that the nutrients here all plant derived. The sources make sense but may surprise you:
- Fruits and Vegetables
- Whole grains
Each of these sources though breaks out into complex but key components of these phytonutrients. While not solely as life sustaining as say your a-typical assortment of Vitamins and Minerals found in these same plants; this segment provides for a healthier you. Phytonutrients are linked to keeping us healthier by preventing disease and helping your body simply work better.
There are over 25,000 phytonutrients found in plant derived foods. While we can't go into every single one, we've outlined six very important varieties, and as well their potential benefits for your optimal health:
- Carotenoids - Antioxidants
- Ellagic Acid -
- Flovonoids -
- Reveratrol -
- Glucosinolates -
- Phytoestrogens -
These colorful phytos provide those bold reds, yellows and oranges in fruits and vegetables. They also are powerful antioxidants removing harmful free radicals that can damage tissues in your body.
The most commonly known variety of the carotenoids include Alpha-Carotene and Beta-Carotene as well as Beta-cryptoxanthin. Your body also has the unique power of converting all of these into Vitamin A, pretty handy!
Your Mom was right, eating carrots can help your vision. The Vitamin A and the unique phytonutrient in the carotenoids help your eye health.
Other sources rich in this resource include pumpkins or summer squash. These foods are also rich in beta-cryptocanthin along with other foods like sweet red peppers.
Lycopenes are also present in these colorful creations and give those red and pink hues to Tomatoes, Watermelons & Pink Grapefruit. Lycopene has been shown in studies to lessen risks associated to prostate cancer.
Next on the rundown: Lutein and Zeaxanthin. Studies have shown these help protect us from cataracts, or age-related macular degeneration, two types of eye problems that show up in the elderly.
Where do you get these two vision helpers? Look to your dark leafy greens like Spinach, Collards or Kale!
Most commonly found in berries like: Strawberries, Raspberries or Pomegranates, Ellagic Acid may help protect against cancer. Lab based studies have shown that this phytonutrient may help the liver neutralize cancer-causing chemicals in your system. The studies though have not been completed outside of lab control, so there are some unknowns.
Comprising a large percentage of phytonutrients, these are broken out into several categories including:
Catechins - Often found in green tea
Hesperidin - Citrus fruits favor this Flavonoid and it is credited with reducing inflammation in the body and has been shown to reduce chronic disease.
Flavonols - Often found in Apples, Berries, Kale or Onions. It may help reduce your chances of asthma, certain cancers or coronary heart disease.
You've probably heard of this one in recent years thanks to a large amount of studies done on this phytonutrient in particular. Most commonly found in Grapes, Purple grape juice, and Red Wine, Resveratrol acts as an antioxidant and anti-inflammatory. Recent studies have shown that resveratrol might prevent the risk of heart disease and certain cancers, it may also help extend your life span according to animal studies. But research continues into the benefits of this nutrient.
Found again in dark leafy greens like Brussel Sprouts, Cabbage, Kale or Broccoli, this nutrient you can thank for the sharp odor and flavor of these veggies! The glucosinolates actually turn into other chemicals when you cook them and when you digest. But those chemicals have shown possibilities of holding back the development and growth of certain cancers.
Okay, yes this one has the word Estrogen. But that's not necessarily a bad thing, or a hormonal one in this case. These phytonutrients can have an estrogen like effect, they can also help you by blocking the effects of your natural supply of estrogen. These are great especially for women with concerns of endometrial cancer, or bone loss. You can find Phyoestrogens in Soy based foods, flaxseeds, or sesame seeds.
Though please note the research on this phytonutrient is limited and further studies are needed to support their health benefits.
So there you have it! Your Mom may have been on to something when she told you to be sure to eat your fruits and vegetables, and they can have a long and lasting effect on your total health!