Category: Nutrition

Phytonutrients: What Are They & Why Should I Care?

During National Nutrition Month, one of the topics we wanted to touch on is the importance of Phytonutrient Diversity and consuming a variety of healthful foods from all of the food groups on a regular basis.

Everyone has heard that they should eat their vegetables, but has any one explained to you why?

Natural compounds called phytonutrients or phytochemicals, are components found in plants. Several thousands of different phytonutrient types exist that are all healthful, non-nutritive compounds in plants. But what does “non-nutritive” mean? In short, it means they do not have any calories, proteins, carbohydrates, or fats – instead, they have other benefits, such as changing the structure and function of cells.

For some time, it has been known that we should eat more fruits and vegetables. Indeed, people who eat these plant foods tend to have lower rates of cancer, cardiovascular disease, diabetes, dementia, and other chronic health conditions. Have you ever stopped to wonder why this is the case?

Fruits and vegetables are rich sources of phytonutrients, along with whole grains, legumes, herbs, spices, nuts, seeds, and teas. Phytonutrients in food come in all different colors—green, yellow-orange, red, blue-purple, and white.

In the human body, phytonutrients stimulate enzymes that help the body get rid of toxins, boost the immune system, improve cardiovascular health, promote healthy estrogen metabolism, and stimulate the death of cancer cells.

For these reasons, it is important to get a variety of phytonutrients in your diet daily!

Red Food Compounds:

Have many benefits including:

  • Anti-Cancer Properties
  • Anti-Inflammatory
  • Cell Protection
  • DNA Health
  • Immune Health Prostate health
  • Vascular health

Strawberries, raspberries, red apples, radishes, and beets are rich in Red phytonutrients.

If you are eating a green salad, add fruit like strawberries, raspberries, and apples to add more variety and a delicious flavor and texture.      

Orange Food Compounds:

The Benefits of orange foods include:

  • Anti-Bacterial
  • Anti-Cancer Cell Protection
  • Immune Health
  • Reduced Mortality
  • Reproductive Health
  • Skin Health

Turmeric, Carrots, mangos, oranges, squash, pumpkin, and sweet potatoes are rich in orange phytonutrients.

Roasting carrots, squash, or sweet potatoes makes a great side dish to any entrée. Try flavoring it with turmeric!

Yellow Food Compounds:

Have many benefits as well including:

  • Anti-Cancer
  • Anti-Inflammatory Cell Protection
  • Cognition
  • Eye Health
  • Heart Health
  • Skin Health
  • Vascular Health

Golden deishious apple, banana, ginger, lemon, pineapple, and spaghetti squash are rich in yellow phytonutrients.

Spaghetti squash is one of my favorite vegetables. It tastes great as a side dish but if you cook it ahead of time and freeze it works great in a smoothie.

Green Food Compounds:

Have many Benefits:

  • Anti-Cancer
  • Anti-Inflammatory
  • Brain Health
  • Cell Protection
  • Skin Health
  • Hormone Balance
  • Heart Health
  • Liver Health

Asparagus, avocado, bok choy, broccoli, cucumbers, limes, zucchini, spinach, and kale are all rich in green phytonutrients.

Sautéed greens as a side dish is a great idea! Alternatively, add a handful of greens to your smoothie. You could also add avocado to your smoothie for extra creaminess – added bonus: healthy fats that will help keep you fuller longer.

Blue-Purple Food Compounds:

Have Benefits including:

  • Anti-Cancer
  • Anti-Inflammatory
  • Cell Protection
  • Cognitive Health
  • Heart health

Black berries, purple cabbage, figs, grapes, purple kale, purple carrots, and plums are all rich in purple phytonutrients.

Figs are great in salads, and grapes are a great healthy grab and go snack.

White-Tan Food Compounds:

Have Benefits including:

  • Anti-Cancer
  • Anti-Microbial
  • Cell Protection
  • Gastrointestinal Health
  • Heart Health
  • Hormone Balance
  • Liver Health

While darker-colored plants are generally higher in phytonutrients, fruits, and veggies from the white family do have many phytonutrients.

Cauliflower coconut, garlic, jicama, mushrooms, and onions are rich in white phytonutrients.

Jicama is a great snack! It is crunchy and fresh, it goes great with guacamole. Onions and mushrooms would be a great addition to any stir-fry or stew.

Final Thoughts:

Getting a variety of phytonutrients in your body is important for maintaining your health and helping your body to fight diseases.

It is important to have a variety of fruits and vegetables of varied color each day. Try aiming for one to two of each color per day.