Phytonutrients in Your Diet
Plant foods contain thousands of natural chemicals called phytonutrients or phytochemicals. Phytonutrients not only help plants stay healthy (for example, protecting them from insect attacks and against radiation from UV rays) but can also provide significant benefits for humans who eat plant foods. They are not considered to be nutrients that are essential for life – like carbohydrates, protein, fats, vitamins and minerals – but they may help prevent disease and keep your body working properly.
There may be as many as 4,000 different phytonutrients but some common ones are: carotenoids such as lutein, flavonoids, coumarins, indoles, isoflavones, lignans, organosulfures, and plant sterols. Although these are not established as vital nutrients, they have been known to have a positive impact on health in terms of reduction of the risk of occurrence of cancer, heart diseases, stroke, Alzheimer’s disease, Parkinson’s disease, etc. Phytonutrients have antioxidant and antiinflammatory properties that help in prevention of damage to cells, and thus consumption of phytonutrient-rich foods promotes healthy living and healthy ageing. Some of them are known to have antibacterial properties and some others boost the immune system. They have also been correlated to maintain and strengthen the functioning of hormones. Phytonutrients may also enhance intercellular communication and repair DNA damage from exposure to toxins.
Many phytonutrients give plants their pigments, so a good way to tell if a fruit or a vegetable is rich in phytonutrients can be by its colour. Here are some common phytonutrients-rich food sources: