What are phytonutrients and why are they good for your health?
Phytonutrients are natural chemicals & compounds found in plant based foods such as fruit, vegetables, wholegrains & cereals, beans & pulses, nuts & seeds and even black, green & rooibos tea. These chemicals are made by the plants to protect them from things such as insect attacks, germs, fungi and UV rays from the sun. When we eat these types of plant based foods they provide us with many health benefits due to this phytonutrient content.
Shown to be anti-inflammatory which helps to reduce inflammation in the body (inflammation has been shown to be a pre-cursor to disease).
Contains antioxidant properties which help to defend our cells from damage caused by toxins and free radicals (free radicals can cause damage to our cells and cause illness and ageing).
Improves our immune system and help us fight off infections.
Detoxifies carcinogens (cancer causing agents).
Common types of phytonutrients
These are powerful antioxidants and have been shown to help us fight off virus’, protect us from cancer, reduce our chances of developing allergies and reduce inflammation. They can be found in all fruit and vegetables and green tea.
Carotenoids are also known to be a powerful antioxidant. They give the yellow, orange and red pigment to fruits and vegetables, so you’ll find it in things like carrots, sweet potatoes, cantaloupe melons, tomatoes, red/orange/yellow peppers etc. It is also found in dark green leafy vegetables. A carotenoid found in tomatoes, red chillis and red peppers, called lycopene, has been shown to prevent heart disease, some cancers and boost the immune system. Lutein, another type of carotenoid which is found in carrots, is known to be good for eye health.
Phytoestrogens are like the hormone oestrogen. Soya products contain a type of phytoestrogen called isoflavones. In the east where soya is widely consumed they experience low levels of breast cancer, osteoporosis and other health conditions and it is thought that this is due to the phytoestrogen content. Another type of phytoestrogen called lignans can be found in flaxseeds and sesame seeds; these have been shown to lead to a lowered risk of heart disease, menopausal symptoms, osteoporosis and breast cancer.
This phytonutrient has been shown to be an effective antioxidant and anti-inflammatory. Research suggests that it may play a role in improving heart health, reducing the occurrence of some cancers and contain anti-ageing properties. Resveratol can be found in grapes, red wine, cranberries, blueberries, cocoa powder and dark chocolate.
Ellagic acid is a polyphenol which has been shown to have antioxidant, anti-inflammatory and anti-cancer properties as well as other health benefits. It can be found in pomegranates, grapes, currants, walnuts, pecans, strawberries, raspberries, cranberries and guava.
These compounds are thought to have anti-cancer, anti-inflammatory, anti-viral and anti-bacterial properties. They can be found in brassicas such as, cabbage, bok choy, broccoli, brussels sprouts, cauliflower, turnips, swede, kale, pak choi, watercress, radish, mustard, and horseradish.
It is well-documented that phytosterols can lower cholesterol levels and prevent plaque build-up in the arteries, so they are good for your circulation and heart health. They also have antioxidant and anti-cancer properties. They can be found in foods such as nuts, seeds, fruits, vegetables, olive oil, wholegrains, legumes (beans and peas), red onions, carrots, berries and legumes.
There are more than 25,000 phytonutrients found in plant based foods and as many as 100 in one serving of fruit or vegetables. By making sure your diet contains a good range of different coloured fruits and vegetables and other plant based foods you can be sure that you will be getting a good range of them all, which can only be good for your health and wellbeing.