Phytochemicals, or commonly known as phytonutrients, are plant-based chemicals or compounds that may have beneficial effects on the body and may play an important role in the treatment and prevention of diseases. The properties of phytonutrients may also provide immune support, neuroprotective, regulate hormones, and so on.
While it’s thought that there are plenty of phytonutrients, only a few of them have been tested and isolated, such as flavonoids, carotenoids, isothiocyanates, and more. Such nutrients may have effects that range from anti-inflammatory to antioxidants, like the hemp oil from Synchronicity.
Phytonutrients are different from macronutrients, vitamins, and minerals. They’re only found in fruits and vegetables, but they’re also present in many edible flowers and spices. Most of these phytonutrients also provide the foods their smell or color. Foods rich in phytonutrients are colorful, but white foods, such as garlic and onions or even olive oil, contain high amounts of phytonutrients.
Classes Of Phytonutrients
The classes of phytonutrients may vary in structure, but each works for the same goal, which is to protect your health and reduce oxidative damage. Below are some of them:
These are photosynthetic algae, plants, and bacteria that generate more than 750 pigments. Basically, carotenoids help protect the plants from any harmful light wavelengths, so plants may use the sun for energy. Such pigments also protect the plant cell’s photosynthetic portions.
This phytonutrient is also the source of the yellow, orange, and bright red colors of fruits and vegetables. Carotenoids are also powerful antioxidants and crucial for protecting your eye’s health and help promote smooth cellular communication.
Some examples of carotenoids include beta-carotene, lutein, lycopene, and zeaxanthin. Beta-carotene is the most known phytonutrient and carotenoid.
They’re known for their distinctive shape. Basically, polyphenols are 2 types of atom patterns, which include alcohol groups and benzene rings. Alcohol groups often consist of hydrogen and oxygen attached to another atom, while benzene rings are cyclical chemical rings that are made of hydrogen and carbon with alternating double bonds.
Polyphenols are the most abundant antioxidants in your diet, which are known to promote better cardiovascular health. Examples of polyphenols are curcumin and resveratrol, which are crucial in a healthy diet and key ingredients in dietary supplements.
These are the compounds found in cruciferous vegetables. Glucosinolates are renowned to help regulate metabolic function, inflammation, and stress response. They’re also associated with cancer prevention.
The common foods that are rich in glucosinolates are mustard, cabbage, brussel sprouts, cauliflower, bok choy, and broccoli.
These are the compounds associated with reducing the risk of various health issues such as osteoporosis, heart disease, and cancer.
Phytoestrogen mimics the body’s estrogen, which may be advantageous for those who want to experience relief from discomfort caused by hot flashes and some menopausal symptoms.
The foods rich in phytoestrogens are legumes, coffee, carrots, oranges, broccoli, and soy.
Phytonutrients And Their Effects To The Body
Like the necessary macronutrients to build strong bodies and the minerals and vitamins required for optimal functioning, phytonutrients play an important role to prevent diseases and maintain health.
The other roles played by phytonutrients include:
Several phytonutrients work as scavengers or antioxidants in the body. Take note that free radicals are reactive and unstable molecules, which toxins produce in the environment. They may also damage one’s DNA and some cell components.
Oxidative damage to subsequent mutations and DNA are a precursor to some conditions like cancer. Antioxidants neutralize such free radicals, preventing the damage they might cause.
- Immunity Enhancement
Other phytonutrients can have certain effects and may support how the immune system functions. For instance, some phytonutrients serve as anti-microbial agents, lessening the chance that bad viruses or bacteria would grow and divide in the body.
They can also help modulate your immune system, which helps maintain the delicate balance between an underactive immune system and an overactive immune system. An underactive immune system may predispose to cancer or infections, while an overactive immune system may result in autoimmune diseases.
A lot of phytonutrients may help lessen inflammation in the body. Although inflammation is the natural response of the body to damage, chronic inflammation is associated with some medical conditions, ranging from connective tissue illnesses to cancer.
In a research, it shows that various phytonutrients may have some neuroprotective effects in people who have conditions such as Parkinson’s disease and Alzheimer’s disease.
- Disease Treatment
Phytonutrients may have a role in treating diseases for the reason that these compounds could give a much less expensive adjunct to treatments with lesser side effects compared to the traditional therapies.
- Regulates Hormone
Another effect of phytonutrients in the body is regulating your hormones. Some of the hormones that phytonutrients can regulate include insulin and estrogen.
Phytonutrients may also show some possible anti-aging effects through various mechanisms. The phytonutrients that may have anti-aging effects are allicin, curcumin, quercetin, epicatechin, and resveratrol.
Ways To Include More Phytonutrients In Your Diet
The best and probably the only way to incorporate more phytonutrients in your diet is by eating more plant foods. So, if you want to ensure healthy grocery shopping, make sure to keep the following in mind to make the most of phytonutrients:
- Use ketchup on your burger rather than opting for mayonnaise. Ketchup isn’t just fat-free, but it’s also lower in calories and rich in lycopene, which is a phytonutrient.
- Make an effort to eat at least 5 portions of vegetables and fruits daily.
- Instead of candies, choose apples, pineapples, dried apricots, or any tropical mix you prefer.
- Rather than drinking fruit juices, try eating whole fruits.
- Make your favorite spaghetti by using less meat. Instead, opt for more vegetables. You may use carrots, zucchini, squash, peppers, and onions in your spaghetti sauce.
- Drink a lot of tea. Both green and ordinary teas contain beneficial phytonutrients.
- Add spinach, sliced tomatoes, onions, and artichokes to your pizza.
- Know how to cook with whole grains, such as quinoa, buckwheat, barley, amaranth, whole wheat, brown rice, and whole oats.
- Be wiser when you’re using spices for your recipes. You can consider ginger, garlic, turmeric, thyme, sage, parsley, oregano, and basil because they all contain phytonutrients.
Phytonutrients definitely play a vital role in preventing disease and maintaining your health. Instead of focusing on particular phytonutrients, the best health benefits would likely come from eating a variety of such nutrients. Besides, most of the benefits you get from eating different vegetables and fruits may come from phytonutrients, which are yet to be discovered.