Most of us are familiar with macronutrients – protein, carbs and fat – the building blocks of a nutritious diet. But do you know that phytonutrients (chemical substances that give plants their vibrant colors) play an important role in your diet because of the ways they support good health and help prevent illness?
Plants produce phytonutrients (aka phytochemicals) to protect themselves from bacteria, viruses, and even from UV radiation from the sun. When consumed in our diet and assimilated by the human body, these substances work just as hard to protect our health. They’re especially important in the diets of athletes, weekend warriors, and those who have physically demanding jobs.
Phytonutrients have a role in:
- enhancing the health of the immune system
- counteracting inflammation in the body
- supporting communication between cells in the body
- detoxifying cells after exposure to environmental toxins
- supporting muscle activity while you are exercising, engaging in physically demanding work and during recovery.
Here are some phytonutrients and the foods they can be found in:
Polyphenols: found in berries, tart cherries, and pomegranates, which have a powerful anti-inflammatory action in the body.
Quercetin: found in apples, onions, and potato skins; works to support your immune system.
Carotenoids: found in orange and yellow produce like carrots, bell peppers, and sweet potatoes. Supports the health of eyes, skin and lungs.
Lutein and Zeaxanthin: found in green leafy vegetables including kale, spinach, unpeeled cucumber, and kiwi. Supports eye health and may protect against cardiovascular disease and certain cancers.
Many phytonutrients have more than one effect in the body. Because they help reduce inflammation and protect against disease processes, be sure to include more plant-based foods in your diet. If you have specific health concerns and want to know which phytonutrients should be a focus of your diet or supplement regimen, consult with a holistic health physician or licensed naturopathic doctor.