The latest research on Phytonutrients in food has become “all the rage” in nutrition and health.
Beverly Clevidence, PhD, research leader for the USDA-funded Food Components and Health Laboratory says: “I don’t think there’s been this much excitement since vitamins and minerals were discovered more than 100 years ago”!
But what are they, where can we find them, and how do they benefit our well-being?
These are all excellent questions, and in this article I will go over the basics about phytochemicals, explain how they inhibit disease from forming, and provide a bunch of foods that are plentiful in them!
A Relatively New Discovery
Phytochemicals are quasi-nutrients found in plant foods that convey pertinent information to the body. Recent studies have found that they interact with us at the most basic levels and bind themselves to receptor sites of our cells triggering our genes to express specific patterns.
OK, that was a mouthful– but the important thing to understand is that Phytochemicals are being shown to inhibit the growth if certain chronic diseases such as cancer, diabetes, heart disease and stroke.
For example: sulforaphane, a phytonutrient found in veggies like broccoli, cauliflower and bok choy helps boost our bodies’ detoxification enzymes, which aids in clearing out potentially carcinogenic substances.
This is certainly remarkable, and worth implementing in your life. Here are a few more shining examples of phytonutrients and the foods you can find them:
• Lycopene, found in tomatoes, that helps fight heart disease and a variety of cancers.
• The phenols in strawberries protect against cancer and autoimmune diseases and help reverse nerve-cell aging!
• Carrots, kale and peanuts are not just plant tissues embedded with vitamins and minerals but are also comprised of tens of thousands of phytochemicals.
• The phenols in black and red berries, grapes and eggplant discourage the development of cancer by blocking the conversion of pre-cancerous cells into carcinogens.
• Saponins, found in foods like alfalfa and legumes inhibit the growth of cancer by interfering with their DNA.
• Flavanoids, found in citrus fruits, red wine and dark chocolate inhibit a chemical that can lead to breast and uterine cancer.
The main point: plant foods are even BETTER for our health than we already thought! So how do you get more of these essential nutrients in our diet? Here’s a simple guide:
FOOD is the Best Source, and COLORFUL Ones Even Better!
Eating a diet steeped in fruits, vegetables and legumes is the best way to ensure your body is getting a healthy supply of phytonutrients. Many manufacturers are producing supplements that promise adequate amounts of these incredible nutrients, but most researchers agree that whole foods provide the best source.
“There seems to be a synergistic effect between the chemicals in food” says Mark Farnham PhD of the USDA in Charleston, SC.
Additionally, Phytochemicals often give food its distinguishing color and eating fruits and vegetables with a broad spectrum of tints has never been more important!
“If on a daily basis you incorporate at least seven different colors, you are much more likely to get a wide variety of these nutrients that are healing, that prevent degenerative disease, and that will go to work on every tissue, organ and cell of the body” says nutritionist Ann Louise Gittleman, PhD and co-author of The Fat Flush Plan.
So don’t be afraid to go exotic with your color choices– unusually hued foods add intrigue and health to your plate!
Here are some additional information about the most beneficial Phytonutrients, and where to
Phyto Found in Beneficial for
Capsaican Cayenne and red peppers Reducing inflammation
Catechins Green and Black Tea Inhibiting carcinogens
Genistein Tofu, soymilk, soybeans Inhibits tumor growth
Lignans Seeds (flaxseed), grains Inhibiting breast/ovarian cancer
Polyphenols Buckwheat, wheat germ Restores lagging immune system
Zeaxanthin Kale, Collard Greens Enhance immune function
So start looking at the colors of the food you eat, and educate yourself on how to get more phytonutrients in your diet. This might very well be one of the most astounding discoveries to happen in nutrition theory in a long time, and it’s best to be ahead of the curve!
I hope this article was helpful, and please feel free to email me with any questions.
Top photo by Marco Braun
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