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How do phytonutrients promote health?

Published:Wednesday | December 6, 2023 | 12:05 AM

PHYTONUTRIENTS ARE natural compounds found in plant foods such as vegetables, fruit, wholegrain products and legumes. These plant compounds have beneficial effects working with other essential nutrients to promote good health.

Phytonutient literally means plant nutrient. There are hundreds of phytonutrients that are often referred to as phytochemicals also. Common phytonutrients include arotenoids such as lutein, flavonoids, coumarins, indoles, isoflavones, lignans, organosulfures and plant sterols.

Phytonutrients are powerful antioxidants and have properties that help prevent damage to cells throughout the body. A number of phytonutrients have been shown to reduce the risk of cancer, heart disease, stroke, Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s disease.

According to Patricia Hudson Buck, wellness coach, experts believe that eating plenty of phytonutrient-rich foods promotes healthy ageing. Other biological roles of phytonutrients may have other bioactive functions for promoting health. Some may have positive effects on the immune system and hormones. Phytonutrients may also act as antibacterial or antiviral agents.

“Phytonutrient rich foods include red, orange and yellow vegetables and fruit such as tomatoes, carrots, peppers, squash, sweet potatoes, peaches, mangoes, melons, citrus fruits, and berries; dark green leafy vegetables such as spinach, kale, bok choy, broccoli, and romaine lettuce; garlic, onions, chives and leeks,” Buck said.

“Wholegrain products such as brown rice, wild rice, quinoa, barley, wheat berries, and wholewheat, wholegrain breads and wholegrain cereals; nuts and seeds such as walnuts, almonds, sunflower, sesame and flax seeds; legumes such as dried beans, peas, lentils, soy beans and soy products; tea and coffee such as green tea, black tea and other herbal teas and dark chocolate,” she added.

Enjoy the rainbow of fruit and vegetables as phytonutrients are responsible for the vibrant colours found in vegetables and fruit. For example, the phytonutrient lycopene helps give tomatoes and watermelon their red colour.

By enjoying a rainbow of vegetables and fruit every day, you can make the most of many of the phytonutrients nature has to offer. No supplement can substitute for all of the benefits of healthy eating.

The combination of phytonutrients, vitamins, minerals, essential fatty acids and fibre in food is complex. It is likely the interaction of these compounds found in whole foods that is responsible for their many health benefits.

So, eating a healthy variety of foods every day including plenty of phytonutrient-rich plant foods is best for your health. Experts agree that the phytonutrients in plant-based foods may help prevent disease and promote health.

The objective, Buck said is to include a variety of plant-based foods such as vegetables and fruit, whole grains, nuts, seeds and legumes in your meals and snacks every day.

New experimental studies are emerging that demonstrate multiple effects of fruits and vegetables and their phytonutrients, suggesting that they may have an even greater role to play in human health than the already positive results seen to date.

Phytonutrients are available in supplement form. However, they are best consumed as nutrient-rich foods. Supplements do not provide all the necessary nutrients to sustain the body and, in rare cases of high dosage, can be toxic.

Some people assume that because phytonutrient supplements come from natural sources, they must be safe and free from side effects, but this is not always true. Check with your doctor and pharmacists before consuming any phytonutrient supplement.