Food is essential for our bodies to maintain function. Food provides us with a series of macro and micro nutrients that provide energy and support for our muscles and cells. Most people are aware of the benefits of particular nutrients such as calcium and vitamin D for bone health and Iron for muscle function, however, many are unaware of the benefits of certain chemicals found in plants known as phytonutrients.
What are Phytonutrients?
Phytonutrients are non-nutrient compounds that are bioactive in the body and are found exclusively in plants, such as fruit and vegetables (Whitney & Rolfes, 2011). Phyto’s are not essential in our diets to keep us alive and functioning like macronutrients, vitamin and mineral are. However, they can influence our health and wellbeing substantially when consumed regularly.
There are more than 25,000 phytonutrients found in plant foods, including the more common Carotenoids found in yellow, orange and red coloured plants and flavonoids (catechins, hesperidin and flavonols) found anywhere from common fruits to green tea (Verma et al, 2014).
The Health Benefits of Phytonutrients
There are many phytonutrients that have been identified as contributing to greater health and fighting or preventing a particular illness or condition. Below are a handful of more researched phyto’s and their current health properties.
Anthocyanidins : This particular chemical is known to strengthen collagen protein strands in connective tissues, tendons and ligaments increasing joint health (Verma et al, 2014). It also acts as an antioxidant in tissue fluids, preventing damaging free radicals. Cassidy et al, 2013 found that consuming high amounts of anthocyanidins showed a reduction in risk of myocardial infarctions.
Carotenoids: Found in bright yellow, orange and red pigmented fruits and vegetables, carotenoids have been shown to have a protective effect against tumors of the lung, colorectal, breast, uterine and prostate (Yoon et al, 2012).
Flavonoids: Found in citrus fruits and buckwheat, flavonoids are known for their benefits in reducing inflammation, liver disorders, cancer, ulcers and also acting as an antioxidant. Flavonoids work by blocking enzymes such as the Angiotensin- converting Enzyme (ACE) that raises blood pressure (Verma et al, 2014).
Isoflavones: Much like flavonoids, this phytonutrient acts as an enzyme inhibitor of those that promote tumor growths. Isoflavones are found in beans and legumes (Verma et al, 2014).
Phenols: Responsible for the dark blue pigment in many berry varieties and eggplants, phenols reduce inflammation by blocking the specific enzymes and promote anti-clumping of platelets (Verma et al, 2014).
Phytonutrients have major therapeutic importance and health benefits. Currently an average person’s intake of vegetables is 20 – 50% lower than what is recommended by the World Health Organisation (Verma et al, 2014) meaning the population could be significantly healthier if we increased our daily intake of fruit and veg.
Promoting the daily intake of a variety of plant sources can help protect your body against common illnesses, inflammation, and disease and protect against cancer. So, next time you’re shopping for groceries or planning your meals,just remember ‘eat the rainbow’. To make things a bit easier, we’ve provided a cheat sheet below.
Eating large amounts of plant foods necessary to contribute to better health can be hard and formulas have been made to help add extra plant sources to your meals or to be consumed in liquid form. Build My Body stocks a variety of green formulas that can help increase your plant food and phytonutrient intake. Ask your BMB Nutrition Specialist about the options available
Ellie, W. and Rady Rolfes, S., 2011. Understanding nutrition. 12th editionEdited by Wadsworth WP. California: Cengage Learning.
Cassidy, A, K. J. Mukamal, L. Liu, M. Franz, A.H. Eliassen and E.B Rimm, 2013. High Anthocyamin Intake is Associated with a Reduced Risk of Myocardial Infarction in Young and Middle-Aged Women. Circulation, 127, pp.188- 196
Verma, A et al (2014). Phytonutrients and Nutraceuticals in Vegetables and Their Multi-dimensional Medicinal and Health Benefits for Humans and Their Companion Animals: A Review. J. of Biological Sciences, 14(1), pp.1-19.
Yoon , G.A, K.J, Yeum, Y.S. Cho, C.Y. Chen and G. Tang et al, 2012. Carotenoids and Total Phenolic Contents in Plant Foods Commonly Consumed in Korea. Nutr. Res. Pract, 6, pp. 481 – 490.
Infographic Provided Via Natural Healthy Concepts