Have you ever heard of phytonutrients? We’ve all become familiar with micronutrients: vitamins and minerals. But what you may not have heard of are phytonutrients.
Phytonutrients are natural chemicals found in plants. In order to stay healthy, plants use phytonutrients, similar to an immune system. Each plant or variation of a specific plant has a different combination and makeup of phytonutrients and each of these individual phytonutrients have different benefits on the human body when consumed.
Take beautiful “rainbow carrots” as an example. Although in theory they are all just carrots, the different colours provide a different set of phytonutrients. Purple carrots provide a different family of phytonutrients than the orange or yellow carrots and this is excellent for your health. Getting in a variety of phytonutrient families in your diet helps keep you strong and healthy, fuels your body with incredible properties and helps maintain and buildup good gut health!
Phytonutrients carry a plethora of benefits, including:
- high antioxidant properties
- cancer fighting
- reduces blood pressure
- helps manage cholesterol
- improve immune system
- improve vision
- help prevent cell damage
And here is a super fun fact about phytonutrients: You can tell whether a specific plant food (i.e. fruit or vegetable) has a strong, good quality phytonutrient makeup based on its smell and flavor. The more fragrant the plant, the more phytonutrient content it has. Same for taste. The more flavour/sweetness it has, the better phytonutrient quality. This is most evident when we eat foods that are in season and locally grown. Ideally then, it should follow that eating foods in season and grown locally provide the greatest benefit for our nutritional needs and health.
Today, as I prepared my salad for lunch, I came across a few little bugs, hiding away in the crevices of individual lettuce leaves. And I’ll admit, it took me a LONG TIME to get over seeing bugs in my produce when we switched to buying organic foods. In fact, I was so grossed out by those little bugs that the last item to finally make it to our organic list was lettuce. I just couldn’t stomach finding bugs in between the lettuce leaves. Eventually though, through my studies and research, I got over it, preferring the occasional bug to pesticide-sprayed lettuce.
If you resisting the change to organic let me share 2 fun facts for you:
- The more bugs you see in your produce, the more confidence you can have in the quality of the organic certification it received. If its sprayed, bugs don’t come near it. It bugs are present, then you can be certain that it’s pretty darn organic!
- From the most important perspective of nutrition, the more a plant is attacked by bugs, the greater the phytonutrient content of the plant, the more nutritious it is for you. This is because, when a plant is attacked by bugs, it has to defend itself from those bugs. In doing so, it’s building up its phytonutrient content, similar to building up an immune system. The stronger the plant, the greater the phytonutrient content, the greater the benefits to the human body when consumed.
For centuries, plants have been cultivated for their phytonutrient properties for use in treatments of a wide range of diseases. Even today, phytonutrients make up over 40% of medications prescribed. It follows then, that ensuring a diet high in plant-based foods may help keep you healthier longer and looking and feeling your best.
This infographic from Dr. Axe is a wonderful synopsis of the benefits of phytonutrients and which foods are rich in them.
Stay healthy and happy,