Kathy Maister's Start Cooking

Phytonutrients

posted in Lists and Leftovers by Elizabeth Somer

I would like to welcome nutritionist Elizabeth Somer to startcooking.com. You may have heard me mention phytonutrients in my Apple Snack Attack and Super-foods Salads videos, both sponsored by Fresh Express. Elizabeth is here today to explain a little bit about what phytonutrients are, why we need them and what foods are rich in phytonutrients. Thanks Elizabeth!

Cheers!

Kathy


Phyto What?

Phytonutrients: They’re possibly the most important ingredients in your diet, since they help explain why colorful vegetables, fruits, and other unprocessed foods help boost immunity, promote eye health and provide antioxidant protection.

Phytonutrients are naturally-occurring compounds found in real foods – from fruits and vegetables to legumes and nuts. They are lost when foods are processed. Every vegetable and fruit contains thousands of these chemicals that protect plants from harmful effects of the environment, such as heat, bugs and disease. They may also help human cells stay healthy by blocking one or more stages of cancer development, stimulating the immune system, protecting the heart against disease and helping to prevent cataracts … possibly even slowing the aging process.

While scientists have long known that vitamins, minerals, and fiber in fruits and vegetables are beneficial, more recent evidence shows that certain phytonutrients in these unprocessed foods are particularly health-enhancing and disease-preventing.

A common class of phytonutrients is carotenoids. Lutein is a well known phytonutrient within this class and is found in spinach and other richly-colored lettuce and produce. This phytonutrient is an antioxidant and also helps slow the progression of macular degeneration of the eyes, a leading cause of blindness. A mixture of carotenoids, such as lutein, lycopene, and beta carotene, also protect the skin (along with sunscreen!) from sun damage caused by ultra-violet light.

Are you getting enough phytonutrients? Increase your consumption of fruits and vegetables to be sure. The USDA recommends a minimum of 3 servings of veggies and 2 servings of fruit each day.

Below is a sample of phytonutrients and where you can find them:

Carotenoids Food Source Flavonoids & Polyphenols Food Source
alpha-carotene

carrots

Anthocyanins

Fruits

beta-carotene

leafy green and yellow vegetables (e.g. broccoli, sweet potato, pumpkin, carrots)

Flavones

Fruits & Vegetables

lutein

leafy greens such as kale, spinach, turnip greens

Flavonols

Fruits, vegetables, tea and wine

lycopene

tomato products, pink grapefruit, watermelon, guava

Isoflavones

Soybean

*Sourced from the United States Department of Agriculture


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3 Comments

Michael Edson said:

Research has shown that macular degeneration can be very responsive to specific nutritional supplementation. A large research study from Harvard showed that even supplementing with 6 mg of lutein per day could reduce your likelihood of getting macular degeneration by 57% (Seddon, J.M., U.A. Ajani, et al. (1994). “Dietary carotenoid, vitamins A, C, E, and advanced age-related macular degeneration. Eye Disease Case-Control Study Group Jama 272(18):1413-20). That same study showed that the specific carotenoids, lutein and zeaxanthin, which are primarily obtained from dark green leafy vegetables, were most strongly associated with a reduced risk for AMD. Individuals consuming the highest levels of carotenoids had a statistically significant 43% lower risk for AMD. The AREDS study showed that supplementing with a combination of betacarotene, vitamins C and E, zinc and copper could significantly reduce the chances of dry macular degeneration turning to wet macular degeneration.

Kathy Maister said:

Thanks for sharing Michael!

Yes, dark leafy greens should be part of everyone’s daily diet for all sorts of health benefits!

ololoa said:

The AREDS study showed that supplementing with a combination of beta carotene, vitamins C and E, zinc and copper could significantly reduce the chances of dry macular degeneration turning to wet macular degeneration.i agree with you.