* This is part of a year-long series called “52 Weeks to Eating better than Ever”. Click on the side bar for more information and to read the previous essays.
You may have never heard of phytonutrients, but you should know about them. And once you learn how healthy they are for you, you’ll be telling everyone. Plant foods contain many naturally occurring chemicals, and that’s what phytonutrients are, natural chemicals which protect plants against threats like bugs, fungus, and other germs.
The amazing thing is that even though phytonutrients are there to protect plants, they can also protect you!
Vegetables, fruits, and other plant foods like whole grains, beans, tea, and nuts also have phytonutrients. Unlike vitamins, minerals, and food nourishment sources like protein, fat, and carbohydrates, phytonutrients won’t keep you alive, or provide vitamins, energy, or protein, but they do help prevent disease, act as antioxidants, boost immunity, and keep the body running well.
Probably the most famous phytonutrients are carotenoids. Eat plenty of orange, red, and yellow fruits and vegetables to get plenty of them. Pumpkins and carrots are two great sources. Lycopene is also a well-known carotenoid. It is found in large quantities in tomatoes and tomato products, watermelons, and pink grapefruit. If you have a pizza, on a cheat day, always order extra sauce!
Other phytonutrients are ellagic acid, flavonoids, catechins, resveratrol, glucosinates, and phytoestrogens.
Ellagic Acidis found in various berries and is linked to cancer prevention.
Flavonoidsare found in a variety of plant foods, particularly green tea, which contains a flavonoid called catechin, and is a strong anti-carcinogen. Apples, berries, onions, and kale are good sources of catechins too.
Resveratrol is a phytonutrient found in grapes, grape juice, and red wine and has become quite popular in supplement form, due to it’s association with long life. Be easy on the wine though.
Cruciferous vegetables like cabbage, brussel sprouts, kale, and broccoli are all excellent sources of phytonutrients called glucosinolates, giving them a strong odor and flavor. It is believed that the cooking process of glucosinolates enhances their cancer – fighting ability.
Phytoestrogensfound in soy might also play a role as a cancer prevention, though I would moderate soy intake if your testosterone level is a concern, since phytoestrogens might depress the male sex hormones.
It’s so easy to jump on the latest fad, but eating healthy is one of the simplest things you will ever do, once you master a few basic concepts.
Bottom Line: Eat plant foods to take in phytonutrients, and to live longer and better.
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