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!
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|
|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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