Phytonutrients, or phytochemicals, or phytofactors are naturally occurring substances found in plants. Phytonutrients are considered to be beneficial to our health.
Have you ever wondered why natural and raw foods are more nutritional than processed foods? Or why artificial vitamin supplements do not give the same benefits as eating fresh fruits and vegetables? It is due of the presence of phytonutrients in natural plant based foods. Phytonutrients cannot be manufactured in the lab.
Fruits, vegetables, legumes, nuts, grains and teas are some of the sources of phytonutrients.
Phytonutrients are different from vitamins, minerals, proteins, carbohydrates and fats, which are considered to be essential for our body. Phytonutrients are considered to be non-essential, but they promote better health.
Why plants manufacture phytonutrients?
Phytonutrients are produced by the plant as a natural defense against environmental hazards like pollution, harmful sunrays, pests etc. There are thousands of different phytonutrients present in different plants. They are responsible for giving the plant color, smell, flavor, texture etc
Benefits of consuming phytonutrients
Scientists are now slowly discovering how different phytonutrients can benefit our health. Here are some examples
- Flavonoids and isoflavones are good antioxidants, and also help prevent arteriosclerosis & heart disease. Isoflavones help in easing symptoms of menopause.
- Monoterpenes help treat gallstones.
- Organosulfur compounds lower cholesterol and boost the immune system.
- Saponins are antioxidant and anti-inflammatory and help reduce cholesterol and blood sugar.
- Capsaicinoids relieve pain.
- Isoflavones, Monoterpenes, Organosulfur compounds, Saponins, Capsaicinoids all help prevent cancer.
Much research needs to be done to know about all the benefits of consuming phytonutrients. So, apart from the above benefits, you can expect many other positives.
Sources of phytonutrients
All plant foods are sources of phytonutrients. Different colored plant foods have different phytonutrients, all of which are useful.
Phytonutrients get destroyed by cooking and processing. So, it is important to eat plant foods raw.
Here are some list of phytonutrients and their sources.
- Cartenoids – carrots, green leafy vegetables, oranges, peaches, tomato, water melon, guava, eggs etc.
- Polyphenols – strawberries, blueberries, raspberries, tea, wine, soybeans, citrus etc.
- Organosulfur compounds – chives, garlic, onions etc.
- Monoterpenes – citrus peels, essential oils, herbs, spices, green plants etc.
- Saponins – beans, cereals, herbs etc.
- Capsaicinoids – capsicum
To improve your health, you can start eating fresh fruits, vegetables, and other plant based foods. Look to include atleast 5 different colors in your diet.