Plant based nutrients, known as phytonutrients, are the future of nutritional science. So far, these are unclassified as essential for life but awareness is growing of their health promoting and disease preventing properties. Nearly one thousand have been identified to date and there are likely to be hundreds, if not thousands more. Phytonutrients are found in all classes of plant foods: fruits, vegetables, nuts, seeds, and legumes.
The primary classes of phytonutrients include carotenoids and polyphenols.
Carotenoids are Beta carotene, lutein, lycopene, and zeanthin. They are the red, orange, and yellow pigments in fruits and vegetables. They are also found in leafy greens such as kale, spinach, and beet greens. Fruits and vegetables that are high in carotenoids protect against certain cancers, cardiovascular disease, and age related deterioration.
Food sources: leafy greens, carrots, peppers, sweet potato, pumpkin, apricots, citrus fruits
Polyphenols are catechins, flavones, and isoflavons, and they occur in a wide variety of plant foods. The commonly known antioxidants found in green tea and grapes are included in this classification.
Food sources: berries, citrus fruits, green tea, vegetables, grains, nuts and legumes.
Another phytonutrient source that has picked up speed in research are essential oils. Pure essential oils are filled with polyphenols, phenolics, terpenes, and flavenoids. These chemicals make up the immune and defense system of the plant and studies are showing they benefit the human body as well.
Phytonutrients promote health and protect against disease in the following ways:
- Source of antioxidants
- Enhance immune response
- Enhance intercellular communication
- Support hormone levels and metabolism
- Detoxify carcinogens through activation of cellular enzyme systems
- Repair DNA damage caused by smoking and other toxins
- Stimulate apoptosis (programmed cell death) of cancer cells