Phytonutrients are the unsung heroes of health.
To date, most of the nutritional fan fair has gone to macronutrients (proteins, carbohydrates, fats) and micronutrients (vitamins, minerals) because not having them in our diet actually causes us harm. This makes sense because macronutrients form the building blocks of our bodies and provide us with the calories we need; micronutrients are needed for growth, metabolism and other functions. But there’s a very important group of – non-essential – nutrients that we’ve overlooked until recently. They’re called phytonutrients.
What are phytonutrients? As the name implies, they’re nutrients in plants (phyto=plant). They’re concentrated in the skin of many fruits and vegetables, and are responsible for their colour, hue, scent and flavour. They are basically a plant’s immune system, protecting them from environmental threats. As it turns out, phytonutrients can help protect humans, too!
5 reasons you need more Phytonutrients in your diet:
1. They protect us from inflammation
Inflammation is the common link between chronic diseases such as Alzheimer’s, heart disease, cancer, arthritis, and many more. Inflammation is your body’s response to stress, and our modern lifestyle is a breeding ground for bringing forth chronic, low-grade inflammation in our bodies.
Reducing inflammation can not on only help you look and feel younger, but it could help prevent chronic diseases, improve digestion, and improve energy.
2. They shield us from aging and free radical damage
Colourful fruits and vegetables are rich in protective antioxidants. Free radicals are reactive molecules that can bind and damage proteins, cell membranes and genetic material. Like plants, we are also susceptible to the damaging effects of our environment.
When you have too many free radicals in your body, this leads to oxidative stress, which can severely damage molecules and lead to cell death and chronic disease. Antioxidants counteract free radical damage, helping to restore health.
By eating a variety of fruits and vegetables, you ensure that your body has enough antioxidants to keep free radicals in check and prevent damage to your tissues. Foods high in antioxidants include: blueberries, dark leafy greens (like kale, spinach, or collard), beets, and sweet potatoes.
3.They help prevent cancer
Phytonutrients show promising anti-cancer properties. Here are some great whole foods sources of cancer-fighting phytonutrients:
- Green Tea
Catechins are a phytonutrient found in cocoa and teas. EGCG, a type of catechin found in green tea, can protect against DNA damage, and has been shown to reverse cancer.
- Citrus Fruits
Herperedin and Tangeretin are phytonutrients found in citrus that slows the spread of cancer cells.
Curcumin, found in turmeric sprice, can prevent cancer and promote cancer cell death.
- Cherries & Spearmint
Limonene, found in cherries and spearmint, detoxifies carcinogens and can also promote cancer cell death by increasing the body’s ability to use a key antioxidant called glutathione. Limonene is 45 times more anti carcinogenic than herperedin.
- Broccoli, Cabbage, Cauliflower & Brussels Sprout
Sulforaphanes found in broccoli, cabbage, cauliflower and brussels sprouts cause cell cycle arrest and death in cancer cells. It also increases the production of D-glucarolactone, which is significant inhibitor of breast cancer.
4.They lower bad cholesterol
High blood cholesterol is a factor in many cardiovascular diseases. Saponins, a phytonutrient found in legumes (like beans, lentils, and peas), have the potential to reduce blood cholesterol. Genistein, a component of soybeans, parsley and grains, not only lowers bad (LDL) cholesterol levels, it can also improve good (HDL) cholesterol levels.
5.The defend us from infections
Phytonutrients are great for protecting against infections caused by parasites, fungi and bacteria: organisms both plants and humans are constantly battling.
Cinnamic acid, found in cinnamon oil, gives cinnamon its characteristic odour and flavour. It also has anti-bacterial, anti-fungal, anti-parasitic properties. Allylic sulfides, which contribute to the strong odour of garlic, onions and leeks, protect against pests and bacteria. In addition, the allicin found in these same foods can protect against ulcers by inhibiting the infection of the Helicobacter pylori bacteria, which is commonly found in the stomachs of those suffering from ulcers.
Although they are currently considered – non-essential – , phytonutrients seem to truly be essential for sustaining healthy life. Today, the accepted nutritional paradigm focuses on preventing outright deficiencies. When it shifts to one that emphasizes disease prevention through diet, the true importance of phytonutrients will be recognized.
Eating a plant-based diet gives us more than just vitamins and minerals. It is these – non-essential – phytonutrients found in plants that are true powerhouses in protecting us from disease. So, have you had your phytonutrients today?
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