Today we’ll be talking about phytonutrients. It’s a word you may or may not have heard. But we’re sure it’ll be popping up everywhere in no time. Essentially, phytonutrients are the natural chemicals that occur in plants. In fact, the word “phyto” means plant in Greek. These nutrients are the chemicals that protect the plant from external threats. All plant-based foods contain phytonutrients, including fruits, vegetables, whole grains, and even tea! Unlike vitamins and minerals, phytonutrients aren’t necessary to keep you alive. However, when you consume them, they could prevent disease. But how do phytonutrients work?
There is still some research being done on this discovery of phytonutrients. But so far, it looks like there are 6 different types of phytonutrients. Typically, the phytonutrients are what give the plant it’s color(s). And they may work similar to how antioxidants work in the body. Also, some plants have more phytonutrients than others. In fact, there are phytonutrients that protect the plant from UV radiation. I mean, think of the scientific research that could be done on those. It would revolutionize how we view sun damage. But the question still remains – do phytonutrients work? This is a question we will do our best to answer in this article.
Different Types Of Phytonutrients
A lot more research needs to be done on this front, however we do have some promising information already. So far, researchers have found at least 6 different types of phytonutrients. Let’s take a look at the different types and their benefits:
This word may remind you of the word “carrot” and that’s not a coincidence. Carotenoids are responsible for giving fruits and vegetables their yellow, orange, and red colors. They’re also known to combat free radicals in the body, similar to how antioxidants act. And there are even different types of carotenoids includomg alpha-carotene, beta-carotene, and beta-cryptoxanthin. Your body typically converts these into vitamin A, which supports healthy immune system functioning. Good sources of carotenoids include pumpkins, bell peppers, and carrots, of course!
This is another phytonutrient that gives off a red or pink color. It’s found in high concentrations in foods like tomatoes, watermelon, and pink grapefruit. More research needs to be done on lycopene, but there’s some speculation that it can it can fight disease and improve heart health.
Lutein and zeaxanthin
Found in spinach, kale, and collards, these phytonutrients give some plants their green color. They are the best option for those that have macular degeneration in their family, and other eye-related diseases like cataracts.
This phytonutrient may protect your body against cancer. In fact, studies show that ellagic acid may slow the growth of cancer cells. And it could even benefit your liver in neutralize cancer-causing chemicals in your body. Ellagic acid is mainly found in berries like strawberries, raspberries, and even pomegranates.
Flavonoids encompasses a larger territory than other phytonutrients. There are a couple different types of flavonoids, each with different benefits. These include:
- Catechins – found in green tea, this flavonoid may protect against certain cancers.
- Hesperidin – found in citrus fruits, it may reduce inflammation and prevent chronic disease.
- Flavonols – one of the most popular is called quercetin, and it could reduce the risk of asthma, cancer, and heart disease. It’s found in apples, onions, kale, and berries.
- Resveratrol – this flavonoid is found in grapes, grape juice, and red wine. It works like an antioxidant and fights inflammation.
Found in cruciferous vegetables, this phytonutrient could prevent the growth of certain cancers. It’s also the chemical responsible for giving Brussel sprouts, cabbage, broccoli, and kale their sharp odor/flavor.
Phytoestrogens aren’t for everyone. As they can mess up your natural supply of estrogen. However, certain people can benefit from this phytonutrient. For example, it could lower the risk of certain cancers like endometrial. And it could even lessen bone loss for women. Of course, more research needs to be done on the benefits and side effects of this phytonutrient. It’s found mainly in soy products.
Do Phytonutrients Work?
In short, yes phytonutrients work. However, how they work is still being studied by scientists. There’s a limit of available information. But it looks like phytonutrients are a great discovery. In order to reap the benefits of these amazing compounds, we suggest eating a diet rich in plant-based foods. Choose fruits and vegetables of all colors for the most well-rounded benefits. The more color, the more phytonutrients generally. Although, just reading up on the benefits will help you figure out what you need most.