Do you ever wonder what makes fruits and vegetables have such distinct color, taste and smell? That distinction is known as phytonutrients.
Phytonutrients are chemical compounds found in plantbased foods such as whole grains, nuts, beans and even tea! “Phyto” refers to the Greek word for plant. There are over 25,000 different phytonutrients that exist in plant foods. These all help protect plants from fungus, germs and harmful bugs. They also play an important role in how our plants grow and nourish into something we enjoy eating.
Researchers found phytonutrients have the potential to stimulate the immune system, prevent toxic substances in the diet from becoming carcinogenic, reduce inflammation, and prevent DNA damage and aid DNA repair. They have the ability to help ward our bodies of diseases such as cancer, heart disease, diabetes and stroke.
Phytonutrients have been shown to help:
- Reduce risk for developing heart disease, increasing HDL (“good cholesterol"), while decreasing LDL (“bad cholesterol”), lowering blood pressure and reducing inflammation.
- Decrease the risk of several types of cancer.
- Reduce the risk of developing type II diabetes by decreasing inflammation and improving insulin sensitivity.
- Provide protection against neurodegenerative diseases such as Alzheimers and Parkinson’s. Examples of specific phytonutrients mentioned in some studies related to these diseases are capsaicin (found in red peppers) and curcumin (found in spice turmeric).
Now that you know all the wonderful health benefits of phytonutrients, here are ways to apply this to your daily life.
1. Consume 3-5 servings of fruits and vegetables a day (a serving is one cup of cooked or half cup of raw vegetables and one medium size fruits).
2. Eat at least three servings of whole grains, daily (a serving is one slice of toast or half cup of rice or pasta).
3. Make sure to include legumes and beans (a serving size is half a cup), nuts or seeds (a serving is half an ounce) as protein choices.
4. There are no guidelines for coffee, tea or cocoa, but moderate consumption of all three may offer additional health benefits.
With these tips in mind, your memory may trigger the oncefamiliar food pyramid. However in 2011, the United States Department of Agriculture has transformed the pyramid concept into the current standard known as MyPlate. Providing basic nutritional guidelines and daily servings, MyPlate is one of the many tools you can use to live a healthier life.
Another way to eat healthy is to shop seasonally. With spring upon us, pick out any of these flavorful fruits and veggies when visiting your local store or farmers market: fennel, green beans, mango, mustard greens, purple asparagus, red leaf lettuce, spinach and strawberries.
Remember, food is the best source to obtain adequate amounts of phytonutrients. It may be difficult to get excessive amounts of antioxidant phytonutrients from your diet; however, large doses in form of supplements may be harmful.
To learn more about how you can eat healthier, visit TMH.ORG/EatHealthy.