Are you getting enough phytonutrients? The odds are high that you’re not, according to recent Amway research published in the British Journal of Nutrition and available on Amway’s website. More than six in 10 adults fall short of the World Health Organization’s recommended daily intake of fruits and vegetables, the primary source of phytonutrients. Most adults would have to double their daily fruit and vegetable intake just to reach the WHO’s minimum recommendation of five servings per day (400 grams per day). Adults who consume five or more servings of fruits and vegetables per day have phytonutrient levels two to six times higher than those who only consume fewer than five servings per day.
Why is it so important to make sure you get enough phytonutrients in your diet? And what can you eat to make sure you’re getting enough? Here’s some information to help you understand phytonutrients, why they’re so important for your body, and where you can find sources of them.
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What Are Phytonutrients?
Phytonutrients, also known as phytochemicals (both named from the Greek word for “plant”), are chemicals produced by plants that yield health benefits for plants and for animals and people who consume plants. In plants, they may perform functions such as promoting growth, blocking radiation, and repelling insects. In humans, phytonutrients may have benefits such as antioxidant, anti-inflammatory, and antimicrobial effects.
There are more than 25,000 known types of phytonutrients. Some of the major categories of phytonutrients include carotenoids, chlorophyll, curcuminoids, flavonoids, fiber, garlic, indole-3 carbinol, phytosterols, resveratrol, and soy isoflavones. Phytonurtients often provide plants with distinctive coloration, so they are also informally categorized by the colors they give food, such as the green in spinach, the orange in carrots, or the blue in blueberries; however, not all phytonutrients have distinctive colors. Phytonutrients are distinguished from essential nutrients, which are required for the body to function properly but can’t be produced by the body, and include proteins, carbohydrates, fats, vitamins, minerals, and water.
Why Are Phytonutrients Important?
While phytonutrients are not as crucial as essential nutrients for staying alive, they perform extremely important biological functions that can help you stay healthy and function at your optimal level. For example, carotenoids act as antioxidants, inhibiting oxidation reactions that can damage cells. In addition to these general antioxidant properties, some types of carotenoids provide other specialized benefits. For instance, alpha-carotene, beta-carotene, and beta-cryptoxanthin can be converted into Vitamin A, which promotes a healthy immune system and good vision.
In some cases, the benefits of phytonutrients are unproven, but research points in promising directions. For example, some cruciferous vegetables contain the glucosinolate glucobrassicin, which forms indole-3 carbinol. Preliminary research has indicated that indole-3 carbinol may inhibit some types of cancer, prompting ongoing research to determine if supplemental indole-3 carbinol can help fight cancer.
Where Do I Find Phytonutrients?
To increase the volume and variety of phytonutrients in your diet, Amway’s study recommends following three simple steps. First and most fundamentally, eat at least five servings of fruit and vegetables a day, or at least 400 grams. Fresh, frozen, and canned fruits and vegetables can all supply phytonutrients.
Second, it’s important to eat a variety of fruits and vegetables so that you enjoy the benefits of a range of phytonutrients. You can do this by eating a diet that includes different colors of fruits and vegetables, including leafy green vegetables such as kale and spinach, orange vegetables such as carrots and squash, and berries such as strawberries and blueberries. Salads, shakes, and smoothies can help you build these colorful combinations into your diet.
Third, you can supplement your diet with plant-based supplements to increase your intake of phytonutrients. This can be especially helpful if you have a hard time preparing meals with sufficient quantities and varieties of phytonutrients on a regular basis.
Reap the Rewards
Phytonutrients, found in fruits and vegetables, provide important known and potential health benefits. These include antioxidant protection against cell damage, a healthy immune system, healthier vision, and possibly improved resistance to certain forms of cancer, to name just a few of the verified and suspected benefits associated with the thousands of known phytonutrients. If you want a healthier body and more vibrant energy, it’s worth your while to make an effort to get more phytonutrients into your diet.
Roy Rasmussen, coauthor of Publishing for Publicity, is a freelance writer who helps select clients write quality content to reach business and technology audiences. His clients have included Fortune 500 companies and bestselling authors. His most recent projects include books on cloud computing, small business management, sales, business coaching, social media marketing, and career planning.