What Are Phytonutrients?

What Are Phytonutrients?

Phytonutrients are chemicals found in plants that are necessary for the health and defense of the plant. And, some of them can also be useful to the human body. They’re found in all fruits and vegetables and many phytonutrient-rich foods have deep or bright colors — such as blueberries, red cabbage, tomatoes, and kale. However, not all foods that contain phytonutrients are jewel-toned! Whole grains, beans, nuts, seeds, herbs, and spices are also sources of these chemical compounds.

Generally speaking, phytonutrients have antioxidant and anti-inflammatory properties, and they may reduce cancer risks and promote liver health. There are upwards of 25,000 of these chemicals, but some in particular have been studied extensively and are known for their health benefits. Here are a few:

Carotenoids, including beta-carotene, lycopene, and lutein, are responsible for the yellow, orange, and red colors in fruits and vegetables. They have antioxidant benefits in the body and promote healthy eyes and vision.

Ellagic acid, found in fruits including strawberries and raspberries, is thought to help protect the body against cancer.

Flavonoids, which are divided into several categories including catechins, hesperidin, and flavonols, may lower the risk of asthma and certain types of cancer, and act as antioxidants and anti-inflammatories.

Resveratrol, found in grapes and red wine, acts as an anti-inflammatory, possibly reducing the risk of heart disease and cancer.

Sulfides, found in onions and garlic, are antioxidants, and support immunity and cardiovascular health. They also stimulate the body to get rid of harmful chemicals.

One great way to get the benefits of many different phytonutrients is by eating foods that cover the full spectrum of the rainbow! Here’s a list of just some of the ones that you can try.

About

Kim Kash is the author of the Jamie August mystery series and Ocean City: A Guide to Maryland's Seaside Resort (2009, Channel Lake). A few years ago, Kim and her husband sold everything and moved to the Middle East. She caught the travel bug, and has now seen over a dozen new countries. Kim writes for American and Middle Eastern audiences about health, travel, business, wellness, food, and strategies for living an exquisite life.