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Tips To Improve Nutritive Value Of Plant Based Foods

Updated on February 12, 2016

The various nutrients and chemical compounds that are found in fresh fruits and vegetables are known as phytonutrients (the word "Phyto" means plant in the Greek language). These plant chemicals act as fertilizers and protect the plants from damage due to the vagaries of nature such as storms, frost, drought, excessive heat and ultraviolet rays of sun, diseases, insects, poisons, and air pollution.

Healthy Cooking Tips

Heat to release more lycopene from tomatoes.
Heat to release more lycopene from tomatoes. | Source

Health benefits of regular phytonutrient intake

  1. Strong immunity.
  2. Improved hormonal balance.
  3. Repair of damaged DNA (the genetic material present in our cells).
  4. Detoxification and removal of carcinogens, harmful cancer causing chemicals.
  5. Protection from chronic degenerative diseases, such as Alzheimer's disease.
  6. Lower blood cholesterol and triglyceride levels.
  7. Better blood pressure control, reduced platelet stickiness, and improved elasticity of blood vessels, thus a reduced risk of heart diseases.
  8. Protection from free radical damage.
  9. Reduced allergies.
  10. Improved blood antioxidant levels.
  11. Improvement in overall metabolism and functioning of enzymes.
  12. Reduced risk of bacterial, fungal and viral infections.

As per a study by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, women who eat at least five daily servings of fruits and vegetables are at a significantly lower risk of suffering from diabetes and cancer, than those who do not eat them. Eating more fruits and veggies is a more efficient method of losing weight, as compared to only eating less high fat, and high sugar food alone. The plant nutrients are present just beneath the peel, so avoid removing the skin whenever possible.

Phytonutrient chart

The major phytonutrients found in fruits and vegetables include the following:

  • Carotenoids: Found in Carrots, Pumpkin, Maize, Tangerines, Tomato, Watermelon, Grapefruit, Guava, Red peppers, and Dark green leafy vegetables such as Spinach.
  • Xanthophylls: The yellow pigments present in Paprika, Mango, Orange, Papaya, Maize, Red Pepper, and Squash.
  • Triterpenoids: Found in Soybeans, Alfalfa, Oregano and Thyme.
  • Lemonine: Present in oils of Citrus, Dill, Spearmint, Rosemary and Ginger.
  • Phytosterols: Found in Almonds, Sesame seeds, Cashew nuts, and Soybeans.
  • Polyphenols: Occur naturally in Grapes, Green tea, Onions, Apples and Berries.
  • Lignans: Present in Flax seeds, Poppy seeds, and Sesame seeds.
  • Isoflavones: Found in Soy, Chickpea, and Peanuts.
  • Curcumin: Present in Turmeric.
  • Capsaicin: Found in Chilli peppers.
  • Organosulphur compounds: Found in Garlic, Onions and Leek.

Utility of plant based food

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Add herbs and spices prior to grilling


Natural storehouses of phytonutrients

Some of the natural storehouses of phytonutrients include the following:

  1. Tomatoes: These are berry fruits that owe their bright red color to the phytochemical Lycopene, a phytonutrient that protects the plants from sun damage and free radical induced injury. Lycopene reduces digestive tract cancers. It is a powerful antioxidant that improves our body immunity and improves hormonal balance. It is better absorbed after being heated during processing. Eating tomatoes or tomato sauce more than twice a week, can reduce the risk of macular degeneration, a severe eye disorder in elderly, associated with age-related damage to the retina of the eye, and could cause blindness in old age. It also reduces chances of heart diseases and skin cancers.
  2. Cruciferous vegetables: Veggies such as Broccoli, Cabbage, Cauliflower, and Kale, are good sources of a sulphur containing chemical sulforaphane, that improves immunity and is a powerful detoxifying agent. It reduces the risk of acquiring various cancers, especially cancer breast.
  3. Blueberries: They are among the top few fruits with high levels of antioxidants. They reduce aging and short-term memory loss. They contain phytochemicals that prevent bacteria from attaching on to the bladder wall, and reduce the risk of urinary tract infections. They reduce cancer risk and prevent night blindness. One cup blueberries deliver antioxidants, as five serves of other mixed fruits and vegetables.
  4. Grapes: The skin and seeds of red grapes contain polyphenols. that are powerful antioxidants and also, reduce inflammation. They decrease free radical damage, and oxidation of "bad" or LDL (Low-Density Lipoprotein) Cholesterol, that could make it more dangerous. They also reduce the clotting tendency of blood and control blood pressure. Resveratrol found in red grapes blocks the major steps of cancer formation, that is, initiation, promotion, and progression.

Herbal dressing for salads


Healthy Cooking Tips

  • Heat to release more lycopene from tomatoes. Cooking breaks down the walls of individual cells of tomatoes, making more red colored pigment lycopene available, and improves its absorption. Lycopene is an oil-soluble pigment. When tomatoes are cut into pieces, drizzled with olive oil, and then baked, a combination of heart-healthy lycopene with olive oil further improves its nutritional value. Adding tomato paste or puree to your recipes is another alternative, as tomatoes get heated and cell walls disintegrate during this process.
  • Herbal dressing for salads. Replace the mayonnaise or oil dressings of salads with herbs, such as thyme, oregano, rosemary and basil.
  • Crush garlic cloves before use. Garlic is one of the most popular herbs, that is available in fresh, dried and powdered form. It helps reduce blood cholesterol and triglycerides and prevents hardening of arteries. Allicin is the active ingredient in garlic, responsible for its medicinal benefits. It is responsible for the pungent odour and is highly unstable. When garlic cloves are added as such while preparing a recipe, high cooking temperatures and acid destroy the enzyme alliinase, which is necessary to produce allicin. After chopping, let the crushed garlic stand for about 10-15 minutes before adding it to a boiling pan. This allows it to generate compounds that blunt the damaging effects of heat. You can even make garlic paste, and store it in the refrigerator for a few days, to use it on an as and when required basis. In addition to the well-known breath and body odor associated with garlic, it can also cause flatulence, stomach ache, eczema, running nose, asthma and an increased risk of bleeding, when taken in very large amounts for a long time.
  • Add herbs and spices to your stuff before Barbecuing. It is well known that excessive grilling and barbecuing produces toxic heterocyclic amines, that can lead to cancer. But when the stuff to be grilled is marinated with herbs, production of these toxic chemical compounds reduces by around 99% even after standing for 20 minutes on the grill. The marinade could include rosemary, garlic, mustard, lemon juice, brown sugar, olive oil, honey, black pepper, vinegar or yogurt, in varying proportions. The chunks of fruits, vegetables or non-vegetarian stuff that has to be grilled, should be kept in the refrigerator for a few hours after marination. This allows the herbs and spices to cling on the chunks, and they would not run off while grilling.
  • Add fat to improve nutrition. Vitamins-A, D, E, and K are fat-soluble, that is, they dissolve readily in fats. Adding nuts, olive oil, or any other healthy fat to the red, orange and yellow fruits and vegetables, such as carrots and peppers, improves the absorption of vitamins contained in them. These vitamins are essential for strong bones, improve immunity and vision.
  • Cut fruits and vegetables in large pieces. Chopping or making thin slices of fruits and veggies exposes more of their surface to air and light, that denatures the essential nutrients. Cutting them into large pieces or quarters allows more of the vitamins and phytonutrients to be retained.
  • Eat fruits in their skin. The peel of fruits and vitamins is a natural covering to reduce nutrient loss. Most of the vitamins and minerals are found just beneath the outer skin. Avoid peeling eggplant, apples, and zucchini, and have them as such. Most of the cancer-fighting antioxidant quercetin is found in apple skin. Peels of zucchini are loaded with lutein, a carotenoid that prevents age-related macular degeneration.


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    • Larry Rankin profile image

      Larry Rankin 

      3 years ago from Oklahoma

      Very good tips for getting the most out of fruits and veggies.


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