Benefits of a phytonutrient diet
Phytonutrients are non-nutrient compounds found in plants. “Phyto” is a greek word meaning plant. Phytonutrients go way beyond vitamins and minerals.
All vegetables provide a variety of nutrients, but some vegetables are especially good sources of vitamins, minerals, and the phytonutrients which can improve our health.
Plant substances like polyphenols are part of what holds the plant’s cell walls together like glue, binding plant cellulose molecules together. They can have beneficial effects on our blood sugar, especially when consumed in raw or unprocessed form.
Plants use phytochemicals, which they produce internally, for coloration, as hormones, as chemical messengers, or as defense against harmful insects or organisms, or even as an attraction for pollinating insects.
And when we eat vegetables containing phytonutrients, they have many beneficial effects on our body.
As an example, carrots contain one of the first discovered phytonutrients, carotenoids, which give the carrot it’s red-orange color. Carotenoids help the plant absorb the sun’s energy before it damages the structures of its cells. And for us, consuming carotenoids can help protect our skin from sunburn, as well as many other positive effects on our health.
Carrots also have beta carotene, which is partially converted to vitamin A in the body. This helps prevent blindness, and strengthen our immune system.
One of the biggest benefits of a vegetarian or vegan diet is that it is rich in phytonutrients. You don’t have to completely give up animal products, but you can still increase the amount of vegetables and fruits in your diet.
A phytonutrient rich diet can also prevent diseases, including cancer, and help the body’s detoxification pathway.
Try to add one or two servings of vegetables and fruits to each meal. Choose organically grown as much as possible, because they are higher in phytonutrients and antioxidants.
In my next article I will talk about cruciferous vegetables, and how they can affect your health.
Ayda Ersoy is a nutrition and fitness director at The Diet Doc Hawaii. She can be reached at DietDocHawaii.com, Ayda@DietDocHawaii.com or (808) 276-6892