What on earth are Phytonutrients?
Phytonutrients are types of organic components of plants. The term actually originates from the Greek word “phyto”, meaning plant. The particular organic components in question are thought to promote human health, and are found in fruit and vegetables, legumes, grains, nuts and teas. They differ from the regular nutrients of protein, carbohydrate, fats, vitamins and minerals because they are not essential, only beneficial, for human life. For this reason, some people use the term “phytochemical” interchangeably with “phytonutrient”.
The common classes of phytonutrients are:
. Carotenoids: these are the red, yellow and orange pigments that we find in fruits and vegetables. The carrot, as you can guess, is rich in carotenoids. These nutrients have shown to have many health benefits in the body.
. Polyphenols: these are found in a diverse group of plants and are sometimes known as secondary plant metabolites. Food sources containing good concentrations of polyphenol phytonutrients include onion, apple, tea, red wine, red grapes, grape juice, various berries and nuts.
. Inositol Phosphates;
. Isothiocyanates and Indoles;
. Phenols and Cyclic Compounds;
. Sulfides and Thiols; and
Although the benefits of phytonutrients is yet to be conclusively studied in reputable scientific journals, some say that they may act to promote human health by:
. providing antioxidant benefits;
. boosting immune system functioning and response to foreign organisms and objects;
. improving inter-cellular communications;
. altering oestrogen metabolism;
. impact positively on apoptosis rates also known as programmed cell death (PCD)
. repair DNA that has suffered damage from smoking and other carcinogens.
Some phytonutrients, however, are known to definitely have a role in human health. These are vitamins C and E, folate, and beta-carotene. While the effects, both positive and negative, of phytonutrients have not yet been carefully studied, your best sources of them are the fruits and vegetables that you eat. There is good evidence of the value of fruit and vegetables on human health, obtained from large-scale epidemiological studies, human feeding studies, and cell culture studies.
Studies have shown that people in some Western countries, such as Australia and the United States do not eat enough eat enough vegetables and fruits per day. Increasing consumption of these foods is a great way to obtain health benefits, including benefits that may come from phytonutrients.