Sep 05 2021

Understanding Phytonutrients

Published by at 11:38 am under Antioxidants,Immune System,Superfoods

Understanding Phytonutrients

There’s a reason vegetables are so good for us due to this important component.*

What is it about vegetables, fruits, nuts, and other whole foods that make them so beneficial for our health? Of course, they are full of fiber, vitamins, and minerals but there is another key component called Phytonutrients, (also called phytochemicals). These are the chemicals that plants produce to stay healthy. Some phytonutrients protect plants against radiation from UV rays, while others protect them from insect attacks. In addition to providing health benefits to the plants, they provide us antioxidant and anti-inflammatory benefits when we consume them. 1*

Phytonutrient-rich foods include colorful vegetables and fruits, legumes, nuts, tea, whole grains, and many spices. They are different from other nutrients as they positively affect human health but are not nutrients that are essential for life, such as vitamins, minerals, carbohydrates, fats, and proteins. “…Phytonutrients aren’t essential for keeping you alive, unlike the vitamins and minerals that plant foods contain. But when you eat or drink phytonutrients, they may help prevent disease and keep your body working properly…” So what exactly do they do and why are they so vital for good health? (1,2)*

First and foremost, Phytonutrients provide antioxidant and anti-inflammatory benefits. They also enhance intercellular communication, repair damage to DNA caused by exposure to toxins, detoxify carcinogens and alter estrogen metabolism. All of this helps to enhance immunity. According to The U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA), “…consuming a phytonutrient-rich diet seems to be an “effective strategy” for reducing cancer and heart disease risks…”1*

The best way to tell if a fruit or vegetable is rich in phytonutrients is by its color. Phytonutrients give plants their pigments so bright, colorful vegetables and fruits are packed full of them. When selecting your fruits and veggies, think of deep-colored foods like dark leafy greens (kale and spinach), colorful berries (blueberries, raspberries, and strawberries) and bright-colored melons (watermelon, cantaloupe), and a variety of spices. Foods, which are rich in flavor and aroma make them more palatable. But don’t overlook those phytonutrient-rich foods with little colors such as onions and garlic. (1,3)*

Scientists are continuing to explore and understand the specific ways in which phytonutrients work to provide health benefits. One way is by studying various populations around the world. For centuries, many populations have believed that “…healthy food garnished with exotic spices and condiments provides vital ingredients that help ward off diseases and promote longevity…” When examining groups of people in various regions around the world, those groups who consume whole fresh foods, are the people who demonstrate the most health benefits when using longevity as the measuring stick.1*  

An example of this is “…Seventh-day Adventists, with their pure vegetarian diet, have a lower incidence of heart disease, diabetes, and certain types of cancers; Kuna Indians in Panama, who consume large quantities of unprocessed cocoa-containing beverages, show lower incidence of heart disease…” Additionally, “…More recently, the Mediterranean diet, which consists of olive oil, fresh produce, fish, and wine, has been shown to reduce the incidence of grave diseases…”1* 

Studying populations is one way to understand the benefits of eating a diet full of phytonutrient-rich foods, but there are limited results when it comes to randomized, large-scale clinical trials. Many trials have been done on phytonutrient or antioxidant supplements, but they have returned less than stellar results when it comes to disease prevention. According to the National Institutes of Health(NIH), this is most likely due to the fact that supplements interact with the body differently than whole foods, which further reinforces the fact that eating a whole foods diet is our first line of defense in disease prevention and strong immunity.1*

Scientists are also busy at work trying to link health benefits to specific phytonutrients. While all plants contain a complicated mixture of bioactive compounds it can be tricky to quantify certain effects such as antioxidant activity. Additionally, individual plants possess a unique biochemical makeup and the levels of active ingredients can vary depending upon where the plant was grown and how it was grown, whether it is being consumed raw, or how is it cooked. Phytonutrients act differently in individual bodies as well.  “…Phytonutrients are diverse in nature and affect multiple areas of the body, which sometimes makes it challenging to know precisely which phytonutrient is acting on which part of the body, and if the phytonutrients are helping temporary symptoms or systemic problems…”1*  

Regardless, nutritionists, government agencies such as the NIH, USDA, and other health organizations, seem to concur that the health benefits from phytonutrients are plentiful and you can get that from a diet high in color-rich fruits and vegetables consumed on a daily basis in order to take advantage of their potential benefits.(1,2,3)* 

Taking care of your health is a long-term commitment. Our goal is to prevent or delay the development of disease in the long term by sticking to a diet and exercise regimen that promotes health, not breaks it down. As we know, this starts with a healthy gut.  Fortifying your gut with Body Biotics™ Bio-Identical SBO Probiotics Consortia™ is part of this long-term plan.

Next time we will look at the types of phytonutrients, their groups, and which foods contain these specific components.   

Until then, healthiest wishes!




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