When it comes to nutrition, I bet what you hear most often are carbs, proteins and fats. These are the macronutrients, but…are they all we need?
You might also have heard of micronutrients, such as vitamins and minerals. For many people, Micronutrients are not a big deal considering how easily accessible multi-vitamin supplements are nowadays.
So…If you are getting all you macros, plus taking those all-in-one vitamin supplementations, you have everything you need, right?
Well. Technically that’s what you need to live. Nutrients include carbohydrates, protein, fat, vitamins and minerals, all of which are essential to life. These are the basic requirements.
But… to live a healthy, disease-free life? Not quite enough.
Today’s topic is all about the powerful, under-appreciated phytonutrients.
- What are they?
- What can they do?
- Where to get them?
There are also some important pointers and gifts at the end, make sure you go there and check them out!
What are phytonutrients?
“Phyto” comes from the Greek word for “plant”. Natural phytonutrients give plant foods their rich colour, tastes and smells.
Phytonutrients are technically not “nutrients”, but there is strong evidence that they play a crucial role in maintaining health and preventing diseases, including cancers. Discovering and utilising phytonutrients are part of a growing area of health and nutrition.
In my opinion (and perhaps some other health professionals), phytonutrients should be added to the definition of essential nutrients for healthy living.
More than 900 phytonutrient compounds have been discovered and scientists are still uncovering more from the powerful plant kingdom. Some well-known phytonutrients are isoflavones in soy, lignans in flaxseed, beta-carotene in carrots, flavonoids in berries.
Benefits of phytonutrients
Long before phytonutrients were discovered, people began to notice that those who eat mostly plant foods are less likely to experience chronic diseases than those who consumed meat and processed foods.
In addition to the well-known benefits of plant foods including high fibre, low saturated fat, low sugar and salt, what else could be preventing diseases?
Phytonutrients – That’s right!
Phytonutrients can protect against diseases in a number of ways such as
- Improving immune function
- Stimulating enzymes that protect against toxins and carcinogens
- Neutralising the free radicals that could damage DNA
- Decreasing blood cholesterol level
- Regulating blood glucose level
Some phytonutrients are extremely powerful because of their anti-oxidant and anti-diabetic properties. Flavonoids are one such example. Berries are rich in flavonoids and are highly recommended for healthy aging, diabetes control, fighting cancer and fat burning.
We encourage you to check out Dr. Michael Greger‘s videos on flavonoids!
- How to slow brain aging by two years
- Cancer, Interrupted: Garlic & Flavonoids
- Which fruit fights cancer better?
- Fat burning via flavonoids
How do you get lots of phytonutrients?
It’s so simple – The different colours reflect phytonutrients present in different plant foods. To ensure you get more phytonutrients, you simply need to eat a colourful plate of fruits, veggies and whole grains.
Is it really that simple? Yes, it is all about diversity and real plant foods. Nature has loaded so many health-promoting compounds into plant foods, we just need to appreciate them in the original form and minimise processing that may damage the structures of these compounds.
If you don’t believe me, here is a table released by Harvard Medical School.
Source: Harvard Medical School
Is there a magic phytonutrient pill?
Phytonutrients are great, and you have to get them the RIGHT way – eating a variety of plant foods. A pill just simply can’t do what real foods can.
A plant food may contain in itself more than 100 types of phytonutrients and they only provide the optimal benefits when consumed all together – a phenomenon known as synergy. When you are consuming a variety of plant foods, complex synergistic interactions are going in your body.
Attempting to take out particular elements is just not going to work. In fact, research has shown that for some people, taking beta-carotene supplementation can actually be harmful!
Remember – “The whole is greater than the sum of its parts“. This always holds true in the debate between supplementation or real foods.
A few more pointers
- Eat at least 6 servings of fruits and vegetables a day!
- Variety does not just apply to fruits and vegetables. Don’t just stick to one type of grain and miss out on the phytonutrients in different whole grains! Alternate between whole wheat, rice, oatmeal, whole-wheat couscous, triticale, spelt, buckwheat etc.
- Eat phytonutrient-rich foods throughout the day to keep blood levels of these components constant. This way you get the most benefits.
- It is so important to keep track of your lifestyle habits, you can download my lifestyle checklist and Food, symptom & mood diary on my Comprehensive Resources Page.
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Have you checked out our comprehensive Vegan Health & Nutrition Resources page? I’ve compiled my gifts, knowledge and tips regarding thriving on a vegan lifestyle in this page, including a dietitian guidebook, grocery shopping list, lifestyle checklists, and the best vegan websites I recommend, all for you for FREE.