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What are Phytonutrients?

Phytonutrients represent organic compounds that can be found in plants. These nutrients have been found to be extremely beneficial to human health. The most common and highest sources of phytonutrients can be found in a host of fruits, veggies, legumes, nuts, and teas. While phytonutrients are essential to the body’s functioning, they provide a host of health and wellness benefits to both adults and children that cannot be overlooked.

Why Should I Eat Them?

Phytonutrients provide numerous benefits to the human body. Not just for adults, but also for children. Research supports the concept that individuals consuming diets higher in plant foods encounter fewer incidences of chronic illnesses including but not limited to diabetes, cancer and heart disease. Further, phytonutrients are known for their ability to aid the body in eliminating toxins, stimulating the immune system, supporting heart and lung health, and promoting the healthy metabolism of hormones and the death of cancer cells. Phytonutrients are extremely beneficial to the human body, and they can be found in countless delicious sources.

The Colors of the Rainbow, And More!

Color can be a really profound indicator of a food’s nutrition content. Phytonutrients can be found in foods of all different colors. All of the colors of the rainbow, in fact: red, orange, yellow, green, blue, purple and white. All of these different colored foods contain vitamins and minerals relative to their color. Because of this, it’s important to consume an adequate amount of each color. Ideally, one to two servings of each color each day is a great goal.

Typically, more brightly and deeper-colored fruits and vegetables also reflect a higher phytonutrient load. However, those from the “white” category certainly can’t be overlooked. Ensuring each meal and snack is colorful is a great step towards better health and great nutrition.

Red foods are known for their ability to reduce the risk of specific cancers as well as improve the health of the brain, liver, immune system and heart. Some red fruits high in phytonutrients include cherries, apples, cranberries, grapes, plums, raspberries, strawberries, pomegranate, rhubarb and watermelon. Some red veggies to consider are beets, red onion, radishes, red bell and sweet peppers, tomatoes, and red potatoes. Kidney beans, a legume, are also part of this category. While each of these foods contains its own special vitamins and compounds, they all promote better health and a more nutritious diet.

Orange foods are often recognized for their ability to aid the immune system, protect the eyes and skin as well as their ability to reduce risks of cancer and heart disease. Orange fruits with phytonutrients include cantaloupe, mango, apricots, nectarine, papaya, oranges, tangerines, and persimmon. Many of these come dried. However they are often preserved with sugar, which can dilute the nutritional value. When consuming dried fruits, always read the label. Some orange veggies to incorporate in your diet include acorn and butternut squash, carrots, sweet potatoes, pumpkin and orange peppers.

Yellow foods contain components that are known for their anti-inflammatory effects and anti-cancer properties. Yellow foods also support the health of the brain, vascular system, heart, eyes, and skin. Yellow fruits with phytonutrients include Asian pears, Golden Delicious apples, lemons, star fruit and pineapple. Yellow veggies to consider include corn, yellow bell peppers, and yellow potatoes. The veggies high in starch (potatoes and corn) should be eaten in moderation for their ability to spike blood sugar.

Green foods have long been known for their abilities to aid the health of the heart, brain, vasculature, liver and skin. They contain anti-inflammatory and anti-cancer compounds. Green fruits high in phytonutrients include avocados, limes, olives, and pears (olives and pears have pits and are considered fruits). The long list of green veggies high in phytonutrients include bean sprouts, artichokes, bamboo sprouts, broccoli, Brussels sprouts, celery, cabbage, soy beans, cucumber, green beans, peas, lettuce, kale, spinach and beet, chard, collards, and turnip greens.

Blue, purple, and black foods contain the same healthful properties of other foods containing phytonutrients; anti-inflammatory, anti-cancer as well as healthful properties in protecting the heart, brain and vascular system. Fruits in this group include blackberries, blueberries, grapes, boysenberries, marionberries and huckleberries. The blue/purple/black veggies include purple cabbage, eggplant, black olives, purple potatoes, purple cauliflower, kale, and purple potatoes. Black and purple rice are also included.

White, tan and brown foods often inspire thoughts of processed carbohydrates; cereal, pasta, bread, etc. When thinking about phytonutrients and plant foods, you’re going to think about foods like nuts, fruits, veggies, seeds, legumes and whole grains. There aren’t a whole lot of fruits in this category; really just certain types of apples, coconut, pears, and applesauce. Veggies in this category include garlic, cauliflower, mushrooms, shallots, and onion. Other foods in this category include legumes like garbanzo beans, lentils, peanuts, and dried bean. Nuts and nut butters are also included; cashews, Brazil nuts, almonds, hazelnuts, and walnuts particularly. Whole grains like wheat, oats, barley, rye, and spelt are also included, though many people may have dietary sensitivities to these grains.

Incorporating Phytonutrients Into Your Diet

Some of the foods containing the highest amounts of phytonutrients are some of the tastiest foods to be found! One of the first ways to begin implementing these foods into your diet is by paying attention to the colors on your plate. If most of your meals are heavy in white or tan colors, lacking in fresh fruits and veggies, you’re very likely not getting a high enough intake of phytonutrients. Paying attention to the colors on your plate can help ensure that you increase your intake of phytonutrients. Shooting for a colorful plate, including all of the colors of the rainbow can ensure that your diet is well-balanced and supportive of your body’s health and wellness.

Humans are creatures of habit, as such; we tend to get in the habit of eating the same foods over and over again. This can prevent us from consuming some of the most important vitamins, nutrients, and phytonutrients. If you find yourself eating meals of the same color that is your cue to start switching it up. Adding different colors, fruits, veggies and other food groups that contain healthy nutrients.

Processed foods are often those that are white, brown or yellow in color. This includes fried foods, prepared foods and fatty meats. A diet heavy in these colors is going to be lacking some of the most important nutrients for the body. Nix some of the processed foods in favor of colorful, fresh foods.

A Balanced Diet Contains How Many Plant Foods?

A healthy, balanced diet really should contain at least 9-13 servings of fruits and vegetables per day, this is the number indicated to prevent chronic disease. Each meal should include at least 3-4 servings of plant foods. Half of every plate should be filled with vegetables. Too much fruit can lead to a higher glycemic (sugar) load, which may be unhealthy. If you are doing this, you will be surprised at how quickly you attain your daily fruit and vegetable goal.

Eating Raw Versus Eating Cooked

It’s typically best to include both raw and cooked foods in the diet. People who struggle with digestion issues will often find cooked foods easier to digest. Red, orange, yellow and green foods can provide plenty of nutrients after being cooked. Steaming vegetables is the best way to preserve their nutrients. Vegetables should be cooked until tender, not soft.

Fresh Versus Frozen Versus Dried

Many foods can be frozen with success. For example, there is some evidence to suggest that blueberries contain the same amount of nutrients frozen as fresh. Broccoli, however, tends to wilt after freezing and loses nutrients when cooking. Dried foods should be eaten with caution. Always read labels. Dried fruits in vegetables containing preservatives or added sugars are not going to be favorable over fresh.

Adding Flavor

If you’re new to the concept of eating fresh fruits and vegetables, you may wonder about flavoring. Many people used to only eating their potatoes in the form of French fries often struggle with the flavoring of fresh vegetables. There are a lot of spices, herbs, and other components that can add great flavor to plant based foods. Basil, ginger, parsley, cilantro, chives, cinnamon and lemon are all healthy additives to create great flavor.

Wrap Up

Phytonutrients are organic plant compounds that have proven to be immensely beneficial to the human body. Important to both children and adults, they provide a host of health benefits including anti-cancer and anti-inflammatory properties as well as compounds that aid in the health of the heart, brain, vascular system as well as other vital organs. Phytonutrients are found in a host of plant-based foods of every color of the rainbow as well as white, tan, and brown. Consuming a colorful diet is one way to ensure that and individual or child has an adequate intake of these extremely beneficial foods. A healthy, balanced diet should contain 9-13 servings of fruits and vegetables daily, and each plate should be half filled with vegetables. Always remember to wash fresh fruits and vegetables before consuming. A colorful plate means a healthier you. Do your health and body a favor, make an effort to eat foods high in phytonutrients with every meal!

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