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What Are Phytonutrients and What Can They Do For You?

Updated on January 23, 2011
A great example of carotenoids.
A great example of carotenoids.

It seems every day there is new information about the foods we eat and their benefits. One thing that has been discovered in the past few years is phytonutrients. Have you ever heard of phytonutrients? I hadn’t until recently, but I love what I have found. It turns out there is more to our food than just how much Vitamin C there is in an apple or how lean a piece of meat is.

The foods we eat are made up of many different things. I am sure you have heard of vitamins and minerals – the most common way we determine a food’s benefits. Phytonutrients are just as important and just as good for you as vitamins and minerals, but they are different. You can measure how good a food is for you by looking at the vitamins and minerals it provides our bodies AND the types of phytonutrients it provides our bodies.

There are thousands of phytonutrients in the plants we eat. Phytonutrients are not absolutely essential to life, so they aren't measured quite the same as vitamins and minerals. But research has shown that these nutrients are extremely beneficial to our bodies. Phytonutrients are particularly valuable to our cells. They help our cells communicate with each other, help prevent mutations in the cells and act as an anti-inflammatory in our bodies.  Essentially, phytonutrients help undo the damage we do to our bodies each day.

There are three types of phytonutrients worth mentioning: polyphenols, carotenoids, and phytoestrogens.. Each one does something different for our bodies. Polyphenols act as antioxidants, anti-inflammatories and anti-allergenics. (tea, nuts, berries) Carotenoids are pigments that act as antioxidants, such as lycopene, lutein, and beta-carotein.  Carotenoids are found in red and yellow foods such as carrots, tomatoes and pumpkin and help protect us from cancer as well as have anti-aging properties. Phytoestrogens are found in plants such as soy, wheat and grains and help prevent hormone based cancers, boost our immune systems and repair damage done to our DNA from smoking or other toxic behaviors.

So how can you make sure that you get enough phytonutrients?  Make sure you eat enough fruits, vegetables, grains, nuts and seeds.  All of these foods come from plants and plants are full of phytonutrients.  Nutritionists have been telling us for years to eat more fruits and vegetables and I am finally starting to believe them.  Our bodies will be so much healthier and last so much longer if we feed it the right foods - foods full of vitamins, minerals AND phytonutrients.


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    • Hello, hello, profile image

      Hello, hello, 7 years ago from London, UK

      That was interesting to read and an eye opener. Thank you for putting together all these information.

    • BlissfulWriter profile image

      BlissfulWriter 7 years ago

      That's right. And make sure you eat a variety of different colors of fruits and vegetables. Some refer to this as the "rainbow diet". Different colors is an indication of the different types of phytonutrients in the fruits and vegetables.

      The phytonutrients in the fruits and vegetables are even better than man-made supplements because our bodies through evolution has evolved to be able to more readily absorb the form that comes from the foods that produced them.

    • medor profile image

      medor 7 years ago from Michigan, USA

      Very nicely explained... thanks.. I have taught Nutrition for decades and this is a new concept that actually was incorporated into the Vitamin and Mineral catagories but now can be seperated out... bravo... good clean way to explain this ofte complicated information