Written by Beth Putnam, Founder of Plant-Based Putnams
"To maximize the benefits of phytonutrients, choose a colorful, diverse, and plant-forward diet." - Beth Putnam
While exploring endless ideas for optimal nutrition, we often hear about macronutrients (protein, fat, and carbohydrates), and micronutrients (vitamins and minerals) as the primary components of the human diet.
However, there's a largely unknown class of chemicals found abundantly in plants that deserve our attention—phytonutrients!
These natural compounds offer multiple benefits, ranging from boosting our immune systems to reducing the risk of chronic diseases.
In this post, we'll introduce the super-powers of phytonutrients and explore their purpose, sources, and the compelling reasons to incorporate them into our diet.
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What are Phytonutrients?
Phytonutrients, also known as phytochemicals, are found in plants and provide multiple health benefits to the body.
There are thousands of phytonutrients, each with its own unique chemical structure and nutritional support.
Categories include flavonoids, carotenoids, isoflavones, glucosinolates, and fiber, to name just a few.
These compounds give fruits, vegetables, legumes, herbs, and spices their vibrant colors, flavors, and aromas, and promote the following health benefits:
Antioxidant activity: Many phytonutrients act as antioxidants, neutralizing harmful free radicals in our body and protecting our cells from oxidative damage. By combating oxidative stress, these compounds help reduce the risk of chronic conditions such as heart disease, certain cancers, and neurodegenerative disorders.
Anti-inflammatory properties: Chronic inflammation is a risk factor for numerous health issues, including arthritis, diabetes, and cardiovascular disease. Several phytonutrients, such as curcumin in turmeric or quercetin in onions, possess anti-inflammatory effects, which can help reduce inflammation and its associated risks.
Immune system support: Phytonutrients play a vital role in supporting our immune system by enhancing the production and activity of immune cells effectively and building a stronger defense against infection and disease.
Cardiovascular health: Certain phytonutrients, such as resveratrol in grapes and lycopene in tomatoes can reduce blood pressure, lower cholesterol levels, improve blood flow, and prevent the oxidation of LDL (bad) cholesterol to support a healthy heart.
Cancer prevention: Phytonutrients like sulforaphane in cruciferous vegetables and lutein in leafy greens have been linked to a reduced risk of certain cancers.
Long story short - Eat your greens!
Hear Beth and Paige discuss phytonutrients.
Sources of Phytonutrients
Phytonutrients are primarily found in plant-based foods, especially fruits, vegetables, whole grains, legumes, nuts, and seeds.
Here are some examples of phytonutrients and their common food sources:
Flavonoids: Citrus fruits, berries, onions, kale, and green tea
Carotenoids: Carrots, sweet potatoes, tomatoes, spinach, and papaya
Isoflavones: soy foods, lentils, beans, peas, nuts, currents, raisins, and coffee
Glucosinolates: broccoli, cabbage, cauliflower, and Brussels sprouts
Fiber: beans, broccoli, berries, avocados, whole grains, apples, dried fruits, potatoes, and nuts
Incorporating Phytonutrients into Your Diet
To maximize the benefits of phytonutrients, choose a colorful, diverse, and plant-forward diet.
Here are some simple tips to help incorporate more phytonutrients into your daily dietary routine:
Eat a Rainbow: Consume a variety of fruits and vegetables of different colors, as each color signifies a unique set of phytonutrients.
Eat Whole Foods: Choose whole, unprocessed foods rather than refined options, as processing can strip away valuable phytonutrients and leave us feeling depleted and exhausted. Have you heard that an apple a day keeps the doctor away? This is true because like all plant foods, apples contain fiber as well as hundreds of other natural chemicals that help our bodily systems run at full capacity. These whole-food compounds also support the absorption and bioavailability of vitamins and minerals that we need to live a happy, healthy life.
Embrace Flavor: Experiment with herbs and spices like turmeric, cinnamon, ginger, and garlic, as they often contain potent phytonutrients.
Enjoy Tea Time: Replace sugary beverages with herbal teas, such as green tea or chamomile tea, which are rich in beneficial phytonutrients.
Be Adventurous: Try new plant-based recipes and experiment with unfamiliar fruits, vegetables, and herbs to expand your phytonutrient intake.
In conclusion, phytonutrients found in plant-based foods contribute greatly to our overall health and well-being.
By eating a variety of plant-forward foods, we can unlock benefits ranging from antioxidant and anti-inflammatory effects to immune system support and disease prevention.
By making conscious choices to include more plants in our diet, we can live our healthiest life from the inside out.
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