According to leading scientists, James A. Joseph, Ph.D., “one of the biggest discoveries is that colorful fruits and vegetables contain many disease-fighting compounds known as phytochemicals and that we need the protective benefits of the full spectrum of their bright colors.”
What are Phytonutrients?
Phytonutrients are a range of naturally occurring active chemicals in plants that give them their sensory characteristics such as flavor, odor, color and texture. In fact, the more intense the color, flavor or scent, the more concentrated the phytochemical content. These health-providing plant substances are currently not considered “essential” nutrients, although they have proven to be highly beneficial when consumed.
Phytonutrients are manufactured by plants in order to provide them with natural protection from the environmental challenges they face. In this way, they defend them against excess UV radiation, dangerous microbes (bacteria, fungi, viruses, and parasites), pollution, toxins or predator pests and insects. When we consume plants rich in phytonutrients, they appear to provide humans with protection as well.
What are the Benefits of Phytonutrients?
Phytochemicals have a wide range of benefits due mainly to their antioxidant properties. Antioxidants help reduce and/or prevent oxidative damage. This is due to free radicals that occur on a cellular level when the body is exposed to toxins, dietary imbalances, inflammation, stress, etc. Antioxidants help protect joints, blood vessels, eyes and the brain, in addition to helping slow the aging process, both internally and externally.
Phytochemicals are also known for their anti-inflammatory strengths and their ability to boost the body’s natural detoxification systems. Some have also been recognized to exert anti-bacterial, anti-viral, anti-cardiovascular disease (help support healthy blood pressure and cholesterol levels), and anti-cancer activity as well as analgesic, anti-allergic, liver protective, estrogenic and anti-estrogenic effects! In addition, foods rich in phytochemicals (especially green foods) can help improve the pH balance in the body. A poor diet can lead to a body that is too acidic, which can have a number of damaging effects such osteoporosis, decreased immunity and arthritis, among others.
Common Types of Phytonutrients
Phytonutrients are classified by their chemical structure. Here are some common ones you might hear about.
- Chlorophyll -> Helps to reduce inflammation, eliminate bad breathe, assist detoxification and support the immune system. It also plays a role in improving cholesterol and blood pressure. This is the chemical that gives green foods their color and can be found in ingredients like spirulina, wheat grass and kale.
- Phytosterols -> These ingredients are common in prostate support, immune modulating and cholesterol lowering supplements. Examples include beta-sitosterol.
- Carotenoids -> Sourced from foods like tomatoes and carrots. They are powerful antioxidants that are critical in protecting eye health. This group includes lycopene, zeaxanthin, astaxanthin and lutein, as well as alpha and beta-carotene, which are precursors to vitamins A. Lycopene also plays a role in preventing heart disease and promoting hair, skin and nail health.
- Glucosinolates -> These are found in cruciferous vegetables (broccoli, Brussels sprouts, cabbage, kale, and bok choy) and have the ability to modulate liver detoxification enzymes. For example, Indole-3-carbinol supports healthy estrogen metabolism and promotes beneficial conversions in the liver, breaking down dangerous estrogens into non-toxic forms. Sulforophane is also a powerful antioxidant that has been shown to stimulate the body’s production of detoxification enzymes that eliminate environmental estrogens.
- Curcumin -> Found in turmeric spice. It is a potent antioxidant and anti-inflammatory used for both joint and brain health.
- Resveratrol -> An antioxidant found in peanuts, berries, grapes and red wine. It has anti-inflammatory effects and can help prevent heart disease.
- Ellagic Acid -> Found in berries and protects the body from oxidative stress.
- Ferulic Acid -> Found in the germ and bran of whole grains, in addition to certain vegetables such as spinach, parsley, grapes and rhubarb. It defends and provides antioxidant benefits to skin.
- Flavonoids (Bioflavonoids) -> They are primarily antioxidants that help protect the liver, heart, joint and brain health. These include anthocyanins which provide the purple-dark blue pigments in blueberries, black currants, red and purple grapes. Other members of the flavonoid category include catechins, hesperidin, rutin, quercetin and kaempferol.
Where Do I Get Phytonutrients From?
We experience the benefits of phytonutrients by eating plants (and plant-based foods) such as fruits, vegetables, whole grains and legumes, cereal grasses, algae, green tea, cacao, herbs, nuts and seeds, etc. Many of these phytonutrients act synergistically; that is, they help each other and provide more benefit when taken with other phytonutrients than alone.
The official recommendation is 7-10 servings of fruits and vegetables per day. However, more may be needed based on the quality of ingredients. According to co-author of “The Color Code”, Dr. Joseph, “eating 9 to 10 servings of vibrantly colored produce each day is optimal for degenerative disease protection. A serving equals either 1/2-cup chopped vegetables or fruits or 1 cup berries or chopped greens.”
It is best to source plants from organic farms to avoid pesticides. Note that microwaving, irradiating, and overheating can also lower nutrient values of food. Plus, poor digestive health, stress and the use of certain drugs further inhibits us from absorbing nutrients.
-This article is sponsored by Good N Natural in Steinbach -