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Phytonutrients: What They Are and Their Importance?

Blog > Nutrition

When we hear the recommendation to eat a minimum of 5 servings of fruits and vegetables daily, we always think about the importance of these foods to include vitamins and minerals in the diet, but beyond that, it is also essential to consume vegetables and of various colors, to guarantee the presence of phytonutrients in our diet. All products of plant origin, from fruits and vegetables, through cereals, legumes, nuts, and even some teas, have phytonutrients, defined as plant compounds present in plants that act as protectors of our body. The colors present in vegetables are attributed to these compounds’ presence, so if we are eating foods of all colors, we will be following a healthy diet offered directly by nature. Some phytonutrients have antioxidant capacity, which helps us fight against aging and countless chronic diseases, and they are also good for the cardiovascular and immune systems. As for the plants, they help them obtain color, flavor, and texture. It protects them from bacteria, UV radiation, viruses, and fungi. But let’s learn more about the benefits in our body.

Properties of Phytonutrients

Low cholesterol high fibre food, fruit, vegetables, grains, cereals, legumes & nuts, high in phytonutrients: anthocyanins, antioxidants, omega 3, protein, & vitamins.

Antioxidant properties: Antioxidants are responsible for protecting the cells that make up the body’s tissues against free radicals that are generated during the metabolic process. You can also find them in vitamin E, vitamin C, and some forms of vitamin A.

Reduces high cholesterol level: Although your body needs cholesterol for the production of hormones and substances that digest food when it is high, it can cause cardiovascular diseases: arteriosclerosis, heart attack, or coronary artery disease.

Anti-inflammatory quality: There are different types of inflammation throughout the body, which, if they reach an advanced level, can lead to severe problems, such as Crohn’s disease or neuritis.

Strengthens the immune system: Keeping your immune system at a stable level will help you fight diseases or prevent their development. Aside from phytonutrients, eating foods rich in vitamins and minerals can also help.

Regulates blood pressure: Lowering blood pressure will help you avoid various diseases: aneurysm, heart attack, stroke (in its most extreme case), or heart failure. Therefore, phytonutrients play an important role here, especially in reducing hypertension. 

Since you know the importance and benefits of phytonutrients, involve them in your daily meals through these foods: grapes, cauliflower, olive oil, carrots, onions, tomatoes, pumpkin, cucumber, among others.

Different Types

Magnifying lens over background with text Flavonoid, with the blurred lights visible in the background.

Of the up to 10,000 different types of phytonutrients out there, consider prioritizing the following in your daily diet: 

Flavonoids: They are found in a wide variety of foods. Its consumption is related to longevity because it contains antioxidants, and they are also usually associated with a reduction in the risk of heart disease. You can find these phytonutrients in green tea, coffee, chocolate, and citrus fruits like grapefruit and oranges.

Phenolic acids: Similar to flavonoids, phenolic acid works as an antioxidant. They are found in eggplant, broccoli, cabbage, whole grains, parsley, carrot, etc. The fruits with the highest concentration of these phytonutrients are apples, blueberries, raspberries, and cherries. 

Lignans: It is an estrogen-like chemical that can regulate hormones in the body; it also contains soluble and insoluble fiber, as well as supporting the immune system. You can find them in seeds, whole grains, peanuts, cashews, and legumes. 

Carotenoids: These phytonutrients act as antioxidants, protecting against certain types of cancer, heart disease, and age-related macular degeneration. They are responsible for the reds, yellows, and oranges in most fruits and vegetables. Among the carotenoids are phytochemicals such as beta-carotene that provides vitamin A, excellent for the eyes, the immune system, and the skin.

Lack of Phytonutrients in The Diet

Five portions of fruit and veg a day are needed to ensure the correct intake of phytonutrients.

The majority of the world’s population, up to 87 percent, has a deficit in the consumption of fruits and vegetables, and their intake does not have variety, nor the best quality, according to a study in which more than 200 thousand people of 52 countries participated. The result was that between 60 and 87 percent of the population does not meet the World Health Organization (WHO) recommended intake to consume 400 grams or five servings of fruits and vegetables a day.

Those most consumed are tropical fruits and citrus fruits (orange) that contain the phytonutrient called hesperidin, which is an antioxidant; and those with the lowest consumption are purple fruits and vegetables (blackberries, blueberries, beets). Derived from the study, it was concluded that: it is necessary to promote the recommended intake of 400 grams a day, increase the variety by identifying five key colors of the phytonutrients (white, orange, green, red, and purple) that provide balance, and take a nutritional supplement.

To ensure that these beneficial substances are not missing in your dishes, you can take into account the following tips:

 

  • Choose fruits and vegetables of the season and intense color, which are the ones that concentrate the most beneficial substances and those that have the greatest nutritional contribution.
  • Use more fresh herbs to flavor your recipes, as these can also add phytonutrients to your diet.
  • Include different colors in your dishes, which, as we have said, the more colors, the greater the diversity of nutrients and phytonutrients.
  • Use more fresh and less processed foods, as industrial treatment can not only modify the taste and color of food but can also reduce the content of these beneficial substances for the body.
  • Guarantee the presence of 5 daily servings of fruits and vegetables at least in your menu to favor the sufficient consumption of phytonutrients.
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