Are You Getting Enough Phytonutrients?

coloredfruitvegsBy Jacquie Eubanks BSN, RN

Vitamins and minerals, which play a vital role in many metabolic processes, are found in whole foods, especially fruits and vegetables.  Plant foods, including fruits, vegetables, grains, nuts and seeds, legumes, herbs, and spices, also contain thousands of beneficial compounds known as  phytochemicals or phytonutrients.  Phytonutrients protect a plant’s vitality and offer defenses against disease, blight, weather, ultraviolet rays, insects, pollution or anything that threatens a plant’s survival.  When we eat these foods, we not only receive the vitamins and minerals contained therein, we also receive the benefits that phytonutrients provide.  These naturally occurring chemical compounds are thought to aid in human disease prevention. As different plants contain different phytonutrients, many nutritionists, physicians, dieticians and healthcare providers recommend a variety of fruits and vegetables daily, as part of a well rounded and healthy diet. 

The highly colored fruits and vegetables are known to have the highest concentrations of these beneficial compounds.  Categorized by the colors of red, orange, purple, light green and dark green, phytonutrients are considered to contain potent antioxidants and to have anti-inflammatory, anti-cancer, anti-aging, antibacterial, antiviral, and immune enhancing properties.  Phytonutrients help repair DNA damage, aid detoxification, and support healthy insulin glucose balance.  Eating at least one and preferably two foods from each color group daily will provide the best range of health benefits.  The more varied the colors the better for promoting health, as many scientists believe that phytonutrients work synergistically to promote their antioxidant and immune boosting effects. 

Phytonutrient compounds include carotenoids, resveratrol, indoles, lignans, and  flavonoids such as, polyphenols, isoflavones,and proanthocyanidins.

Carotenoids are natural fat-soluble pigments that can be found in yellow, orange, and red fruits and vegetables.  Carotenoids, including alpha- and beta-carotene, lutein, lycopene and zeaxanthin, act as powerful antioxidants and are believed to reduce the risk of some types of cancer and protect against heart disease, cataracts, and macular degeneration.  Other health benefits of carotenoids include improved blood sugar regulation, immune system support and nerve cell protection.  

Flavonoids or bioflavonoids are water-soluble compounds that give plants their blue, purple and deep red hues and include quercetin, rutin and hesperidin  These powerful antioxidants protect against oxidative stress and free radical cell damage while moderating the body’s reaction to microbes, allergens, and viruses.  They are believed to actively support anti-inflammatory, antimicrobial and anti-cancer activity. 

Polyphenols, found in apples, onions, cacao, tea and red wine contain abundant antioxidant,  anti-inflammatory and cancer inhibiting properties and have beneficial effects on the cardiovascular and immune systems.

Isoflavones, mostly from soy, are thought to play a role in disease prevention and lowered risk of cardiovascular disease, prostate enlargement, and certain cancers.  Research shows isoflavones may help build bones, reduce the risk of osteoporosis, and ease menopausal symptoms. 

Proanthocyanidins benefit cardiovascular health by reducing blood pressure, promoting vessel flexibility, increasing blood circulation, and protecting the heart from damaging effects of high cholesterol levels.  Proanthocyandins help regulate blood sugar and aid in slowing glucose absorption into the bloodstream. 

Resveratrol, found largely cocoa, pomegranates and in the skins and seeds of grapes, contains potent antioxidants that help reduce inflammation, lower blood pressure, improve cardiovascular health and protect the brain and nervous system.  It has antiviral, anti-cancer, and anti-aging  properties.

Indoles,  found abundantly in cabbage, kale, Brussels sprouts, broccoli and other cruciferous vegetables, are believed to inhibit the development of cancer in organs by inactivating carcinogens and protecting cells from DNA damage.  Additionally, they have antiviral, antibacterial and anti-inflammatory effects. 

Lignans are consistently associated with reductions in cardiovascular disease and cancer risks, especially colon, prostate, ovarian and uterine cancers.  Hundreds of lignans have been discovered and are found in sources such as flax, pumpkin, and sesame seeds, berries, and whole grains.  Lignans contain phytoestrogens which are naturally occurring estrogen-like compounds that are beneficial for bone and heart health and menopausal symptoms.  Studies have shown that high levels of lignans can support healthy weight and glucose metabolism, reducing the risk of insulin sensitivity, metabolic syndrome and diabetes

UltraNutrient by Pure Encapsulations This advanced formula combines core vitamins and minerals with antioxidants and standardized phytonutrient extracts for exceptional broad-spectrum nutritional support. 

NitroGreens by Biotics Research –  This product offers a rich source of phytonutrients including isoflavones, polyphenols, natural carotenoids, glucosinates, betalains, and isothiocyantes as well as naturally occurring enzymes, vitamins and trace minerals. 

Phytoganix by Metagenics –  This highly nutritious red berry formula provides a daily supply of phytonutrients from certified organic sources to support overall good health.  Includes antioxidant rich berries, cruciferous vegetables, flaxseed and polyphenol-rich green tea. 

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