Phytonutrients

In other corners, I have talked about macro/micro-nutrients.  Macronutrients being big nutrients our bodies need in grams, (carbohydrates, proteins and fats).  Micronutrients being small nutrients our bodies need in milligrams (vitamins and minerals).  Then there are other branches as such as phytonutrients.  Phytonutrients or phytochemicals, are produced by plants to keep healthy.   For example, some phytonutrients protect plants from insects and others protect from UV radiation.   Phytonutrients have significant benefits to our health and are in many of the macro/micro-nutrients that we eat. Some of these benefits are their antioxidant and anti-inflammatory affects along with enhancing immunity, intercellular communication, reparation of DNA damage, detoxification of carcinogens and alteration of estrogen metabolism. 

Phytonutrient-rich foods are colourful, like in fruits and vegetables, legumes, nuts, tea, whole grains and many spices.  Another is in wine made from grapes, particularly red.   Grape bioflavonoids have been shown to be free radical scavengers, that are even more powerful than Vitamins C and E.  Free radicals are unstable atoms that can damage cells, causing illness and aging.  This chemical reaction that occurs is called oxidation.  Think of it as when you cut an apple if you leave it, it starts to turn brown.  To stop this oxidizing effect just simply squeeze some lemon or lime juice over top and the vitamin C from that juice stops that aging or browning of the apple. 

There are more than 25,000 phytonutrients found in plant foods. Below are the prominent 6 that have potential health effects for humans: 

1. Carotenoids

Act as antioxidants in the body taking care of free radicals as well as converting alpha/beta carotene’s and beta -cryptoxanthin to Vitamin A.  Vit A helps the immune system work properly and is needed for eye health.   Yellow and orange foods like pumpkins and carrots are sources of alpha- and beta-carotene.  These along with sweet red peppers contain beta-cryptoxanthin. 

Lycopene – has been linked to a lower risk of prostate cancer.  It is found in tomatoes, watermelon and pink grapefruit giving them their red or pink colour.

Lutein and zeaxanthin help with 2 types of eye conditions by helping protect from cataracts and macular degeneration that may come with age.  

2. Ellagic Acid

Studies done in laboratories have shown that ellagic acid, may help protect against cancer by slowing the growth of cancer cells.  It may also help your liver neutralize cancer-causing chemicals in your system. It is found in berries and other plant foods, but especially in strawberries, raspberries and pomegranates.

3. Flavonoids

Are found in a variety of plant foods and are broken out as follows:

Catechins may help prevent certain types of cancer and especially found in green tea.

Hesperidin work as an antioxidant reducing inflammation, helping prevent chronic disease and found in citrus fruits.

Flavanols may help reduce risk of asthma, certain cancers and coronary heart disease.   Quercetin a well-studied type of flavanol, is found in applies, berries, kale and onions.

4. Resveratrol

Acts as an antioxidant and anti-inflammatory, which may play a role in reducing risk of heart disease, certain cancers.  It is found in grapes, purple grape juice and red wine.

5. Glucosinolates

Give, brussels sprouts, cabbage, kale and broccoli, their sharp odor and flavor. Glucosinolates turn into other chemicals during the cooking process, that may help hold in check the development and growth of cancer. 

6. Phytoestrogens

Can exert estrogen-like effects and even block the effects of your natural supply of estrogen.  One type is isoflavones found in soy foods, which may be linked to lowering the risk of endometrial cancer and bone loss in women.

Mikkie Nettles, Certified Personal Trainer/Holistic & Sports Nutritionist
Follow DEEM Health on Facebook, or contact info@deemhealth.ca

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