The Power of Phytonutrients

What are Phytonutrients?

Your diet should be viewed as a tool or weapon that able to fight off and prevent disease instead of just a means to satisfy a sweet tooth craving or consuming empty calories. Though tracking calories can provide a framework of servings of food groups needed per day it is not the best method for improving body composition nor fighting disease as it matters most where those calories come from rather than the quantity of calories. Tracking Macronutrients like Protein, Fat and Carbohydrate does give a greater picture of the quality of the diet especially in terms of body composition but still may not be the most efficient way to treat and prevent chronic disease either.

When looking to thrive over simply just survive, it is important to consider the phytonutrients found in foods that have the ability to promote vitality, resilience and immune function while protecting against inflammation and free radicals. Phytonutrients are natural chemical compounds found in fruits and veggies that promote positive health benefits such as cancer prevention and cardiovascular protection. Phytonutrients are different from vitamins or micronutrients in that they are an entirely different class or component of the foods we eat and contain added benefits such as; reduce risk of Diabetes and Heart disease, protection from environmental toxins, enzyme stimulation, hormone production and metabolism, cancer prevention and immune boosting. Fruits and vegetables are the richest source of phytonutrients but other sources are herbs, spices, beans and legumes, teas and nuts and seeds. Phytonutrients are classified by colors; green, yellow, orange, red, blue/purple and white/tan. These colors represent various groups of antioxidants and promote various different benefits as well.

Green Phytonutrient Compounds include; phenols, folates, catechins,  chlorophyll, phytosterols, isothiocynates. Green phyotonutrients are beneficial for; brain health, hormone balance, heart health, cell protection and detox support. Food sources of green phytonutrients include; broccoli, apples, artichoke, avocado, cabbage, okra, olives, bitter melon, green tea.

Red phytonutrient compounds include; anthocyanins, carotenoids, lycopene, quercetin, flavonols and ellagic acid, red phytonutrients are treatment for; cancer, inflammation, vascular health and prostate health. Best food sources of red phytonutrients include; red apples, cherries, beets, cranberries, pomegranate, red peppers, radishes, tomatoes and watermelon.

Orange phytonutrient compounds include;  alpha-carotene, beta-carotene, carotenoids, curcuminoids and bioflavanoids. Benefits of orange phytonutrients include; anti-bacterial, reproductive health, skin health and immune health. The best food sources of orange phytonutrients include; apricots, bell peppers, carrots, nectarines, oranges, papapya, turmeric, pumpkin and yams.

Yellow phytonutrient compounds include; lutein, rutin and zeaxanthin. Benefits of yellow phytonutrients include; cancer fighting, promotion of eye health, fighting of inflammation, skin health, vascular health. Best food sources of yellow phytonutrients include; apple, asian pear, banana, bell peppers, lemon, ginger root, summer squash, pineapple, yellow beets and yellow carrots.

Blue, purple and black  phytonutrient compounds include; anthocyanidins, resveratrol and  procyanidins. Benefits of these phytonutrients include; anti cancer, anti- inflammatory, cell protection, cognitive health and heart health. Best

food sources of these phytonutrients include; berries, cabbage, figs, eggplant, kale, grapes, plums and purple carrots.

White or tan phytonutrient compounds include; allicin, indoles, EGCG and quercetin.  White or tan phytonutrients are treatment for; tumor growth, cancer , GI health, hormone health and liver health. Best food source of white/tan phytonutrients ( not to be confused with white or tan foods like breads, crackers and cakes) include; coconut, pear, lyche, cauliflower, nuts and seeds, garlic, mushrooms, onion and dates.

Ensuring Adeqaute intake of phytonutrients in your diet 

1. Aim for 9+ servings of plant foods daily. 

  • One serving of vegetables is usually 1/2 cup cooked or 1 cup raw leafy greens
  • Ex:salad with 3 cups greens + ½ cup mushrooms + ½ cup bell peppers + ¼ cup onion =  about 6 servings!

2. Eat a variety of color and vary your food choices  

  • Ensure your plate has a variety of colors and avoid food ruts by switching out spinach for swiss chard or raspberries for blueberries if diet becomes to repetitive.

3. Maximize your combinations

  • Add turmeric to roasted cauliflower or add fresh lemon to sauteed green or use water infusions with fresh fruit and herbs for increased phytonutrient punch.

4. Get creative with substitutions

  • Use zucchini noodles or spaghetti squash in place of pasta, add avocado to a salad dressing, consider multicolored carrots in a stir fry or use a purple sweet potato in place of a typical orange variety.
Lindsay Reno