Phytonutrients are not so commonly known as vitamins are, but they can provide you with a lot of health benefits.
“Phyto” in Greek means plants, and phytonutrients should be considered in a separate category, as they are not related to fats, carbohydrates, proteins, vitamins or minerals.
As you might have already guessed fruits and vegetables are the best sources of phytonutrients, but you can also find them in other plant foods, such as whole grains, nuts and seeds, legumes, herbs and spices.
What is the role of phytonutrients?
Phytonutrients have various functions in the plant, such as protection from UV radiation, insect attacks, fungi and other threats. They protect the vitality of the plant.
Many phytonutrients serve as the pigment that gives foods their beautiful colours so you can identify phytonutrient-rich foods by looking at their colour. It is the stylish secret weapon of plans, that protects them and makes them colourful and beautiful.
Why are they good for your health?
Phytonutrients can be very beneficial to those who eat the plant foods too. Just like plants, we are also exposed to UV radiation and toxins, but unlike plants we cannot produce phytonutrients and should get them from our food. They are not essential for keeping you alive, like the vitamins and minerals are, but they might help you prevent disease and keep your body working properly. This is because they have health-promoting properties including anti-oxidant, anti-inflammatory, and liver–health-promotion activities.
Phytonutrients allow for optimal cellular function and communication that can create healthier tissues and organ systems and a strong immune system.
Below you can find a little guide with foods, rich in phytonutrients – you can spot them easily by their colour!
- Blue / Purple: blueberries, blackberries, red cabbage, grapes – they are rich in flavonoids
- Yellow/ Orange: carrots, winter squash, papaya, melon – are rich in beta-carotene (the precursor of vitamin A)
- Red / Pink: tomatoes, guava, watermelon – are rich in lycopene
- Green: kale, spinach, and collard greens – are rich in chlorophyll
Not all phytonutrients give a colorful hue to the plants, so don’t overlook onions, garlic and leeks as they contain phytonutrients as well.
So what can you do to get more phytonutrients in your diet?
- Add extra fruits and vegetables to your salads
- Drink green smoothies
- Use more vegetables when you cook
- Juice your veggies and fruits