Phytonutrients: Your Key to Optimal Health

Whether you are trying to shed winter weight or kick-start your training regimen, phytonutrients are essential in your health plan. I’m sure you’ve heard of them in various forms like carotenoids in carrots, lycopene in tomatoes, or isoflavones in soybeans. Not only are these nutrients packed with powerful antioxidants, but they have amazing disease fighting properties as well. There are still thousands of phytonutrients that have not even been studied or discovered to their full extent. In past research, the thought was that vitamins and minerals were the “cancer protective” component of food. But, as the studies unfolded, people receiving beta-carotene did not produce a lower risk of cancer at all. It was then, that scientists realized that there is more to food than just vitamins and minerals…there are phytonutrients. To get the full benefit of each nutrient it’s a good idea to go organic; eliminating herbicides and pesticides. The table below shows a small glimpse of the most prominent known phytonutrients.

  • Phytonutrient Superstars: how they support our well-being.
  • Phytonutrient: Found In: Great For:
  • Allicin Garlic, onions, jicama Eliminating toxins from body
  • Capsaicin Cayenne peppers, red peppers Preventing toxic molecules, inflammation
  • Carotenoids Carrots, tomatoes, cantaloupe Removing free radicals, prevent cataracts
  • Catechins Green and black tea Inhibiting activation of carcinogens
  • Ellagic Acid Grapes, strawberries, walnuts Preventing cancer
  • Genistein Tofu, soymilk, soybeans Inhibiting blood vessels that increase tumors
  • Indoles Collard greens, kale, broccoli Blocks carcinogens
  • Isoflavones Kudzu, soybeans, peanuts, peas Modulates estrogen levels, cancer prevention
  • Lignans Seeds and grains, especially flax Inhibits excessive estrogen action
  • Limoniods Citrus fruit peels Clearing congestive mucus and detoxification
  • Lycopene Tomatoes Fighting heart disease, reducing risk for cancer
  • Phenols Black/red berries, cabbage, peach Preventing cancer, helping autoimmune disease
  • Phytosterols Pumpkin, rice, green/yellow vegs Reducing inflammation and “bad” cholesterol
  • Polyphenols Buckwheat, wheat germ Restoring a lagging immune system
  • Saponins Alfalfa, legumes Lowering cholesterol, inhibiting cancer growth
  • Zeaxanthin Kale, arugula, collard greens Enhancing immune function, cancer prevention

If you are thinking about how to grasp a lifelong health regimen that will have you feeling great and achieving a healthy weight, think fruits and vegetables. Think about it this way…if your body needs certain nutrients to support your lifestyle, activity, and stress; don’t you think it will crave those nutrients if they aren’t fulfilled? When you feed the body what it needs, chances are you won’t crave other foods as much, you will have nourished your body fully so that it is satisfied. This can help with weight loss, blood sugar levels, mood, and greater energy throughout each day. If vegetables don’t appeal to you try picking up a magazine like Eating Well or Cooking Light to gather some ideas that might get your taste buds going.

Certain diets may suggest eating high servings of protein, specific fats, or certain types of carbohydrates. Understanding your metabolic type and experimenting with macronutrient ratios is one thing, but without the proper plant-based foods your body will still suffer. It is one thing to feel good outside of your body, but it’s another to feel it inside your body.

So whether you are taking mega doses of vitamins, choosing supplements over food, or eliminating certain food groups to reach your nutritional goal, consider what you’re missing: a vast array of beneficial phytonutrients found in wonderful, whole, plant-based foods. Nothing has proven to nourish our bodies quite so well.

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