Is there more than vitamins and minerals to think about?
When we think about the nutrients in food, we most often think about vitamins like vitamin C in oranges or minerals like calcium and magnesium to keep our bones healthy. Very rarely have I heard a mother say, “Eat those veggies because they are full of phytonutrients!” So, what are these phytochemicals and how do they contribute to our health?
Phytochemicals are bioactive chemicals found in plants that the plants produce themselves. They are thought to work synergistically with vitamins and nutrients to help you attain greater health benefits than supplements can provide alone. Phytonutrients are specific types of phytochemicals that have nutritional value. Science is still on the fence about these nutrients being essential to our health, but it is agreed that they can have long term health benefits when consumed regularly.
There are 5 main types of phytochemicals that have been shown to improve and contribute to our health.
Terpenes – These chemicals are found in the peels of citrus fruits, cherries, hops and green herbs like mint, rosemary and sage. They may have antiseptic, antibacterial, anti-inflammatory and even anticancer properties although more studies are needed to confirm all of these. Some examples are menthol, limonene and pinene.
Organosulfides – Green leafy vegetables, garlic, onions and horseradish have these powerful chemicals. They have many antioxidant and antimicrobial properties but what makes these phytonutrients special is the sulfur compounds that play a key part in making proteins and enzyme reactions. Sulfur compounds assist the liver in detoxification process and support the immune system. Allicin specifically from the garlic and onions, sulforaphane, and glutathione are some specific examples.
Saponins – These beauties are found in yams, quinoa, ginseng, soybeans and peas. Saponins can mimic human steroids and hormones which may help to lower cholesterol and boost immune function. There is also some discussion about these chemicals having antimicrobial and antifungal properties, but more studies need to be completed to confirm this.
Carotenoids – These chemicals are probably the best known. They are the chemicals that produce the red, orange, yellow and green color in fruits and vegetables. They may inhibit the growth of cancer cells, they may enhance the immune response and may have antioxidant properties. These chemicals are the reason your grandparents or parents used to tell you to eat your carrots to be able to see better! Carotenoids concentrate in the macula of the eye and protect eye health!
Polyphenols – These are the big news right now, but we’ve known about them for quite some time. Current research is showing that polyphenols may inhibit inflammation which is big news for all those dealing with chronic inflammation. They may help reduce the risk of asthma and heart issues as some have antioxidant properties. For women going through menopause these chemicals may reduce menopausal symptoms! Polyphenols are found in a huge variety of plants including apples, grapes, beets, berries, whole grains, some beans, walnuts, coffee and tea. Specifically, the chemicals you are trying to include are phenolic acids, stilbenes, flavonoids and tannins.
Another thing that is important to remember is that when you cook your plant foods some if not all these phytonutrients can be destroyed. Be sure to consume some raw plant food daily to gain the benefits of these powerhouse phytochemicals. Whole foods, once again, found in their natural form from a good source and as fresh as possible is always your best choice to gain the most nutrition from the food that you are consuming.
Want to get even healthier? If you’re looking to introduce phytochemical-rich, micronutrient-rich foods into your diet – in a way that’ll help you improve your health, appearance, and performance, let’s talk! Schedule an initial complimentary consultation with me today—or pass this offer on to someone you care about! Visit www.noshoesnutrition.com and sign up for a FREE consultation. I work with people from all over the world individually or in groups so don’t let anything hold you back!