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What Are Phytonutrients And Why Are They Important?

Jun 15, 2021
What Are Phytonutrients And Why Are They Important?
Phytonutrients are chemicals produced by plants to protect them from the damaging effects of the environment. They are what give plants their rich, beautiful colors, as well as their distinct tastes and aromas.

by Brianna Santos, C.H.N.

Phytonutrients are chemicals produced by plants to protect them from the damaging effects of the environment. They are what give plants their rich, beautiful colors, as well as their distinct tastes and aromas. When plant foods are consumed, these nutrients are thought to help us protect ourselves from harmful environmental factors and chronic diseases.

There are thousands of different phytonutrients, but the most common ones are beta-carotene, lycopene, flavonoids, carotenoids, resveratrol, lutein, anthocyanins, and isoflavones.


How Do You Get Phytonutrients? 

  • Eating some vegetables raw or lightly steamed can help you get more antioxidants from your food, so be careful not to overcook your veggies.

  • Aim to eat two servings of vegetables with each meal and two servings of fruit as a dessert or between meals.

  • When possible, opt for eating whole foods over taking supplements. Phytonutrients are most effective when combined with others, so eating them as whole foods will be far more beneficial than taking them from supplements. Please consult with a health professional about which supplements are best for you.

  • Eat as many fruits and vegetables as possible! A larger variety of colorful fruits and veggies that you eat means more benefits for your health. Each color represents various health benefits and they are all equally important for overall health. Below are just a few benefits you can reap when eating by color.

Taste The Phytonutrient Rainbow

Red: Rich in Lycopene, a carotenoid that protects us from free radicals that can lead to prostate cancer, heart disease, and lunch disease. They are high in antioxidants that provide anti-inflammatory properties and immune system modulation. 

Can be found in: Strawberries, cranberries, raspberries, tomatoes, cherries, apples, beets, watermelon, red grapes, red peppers, and red onions

Orange: Rich in Beta-cryptoxanthin, a common carotenoid that is found in fruit which supports intracellular communication and may help prevent heart disease. This is known to support endocrine-regulating activities.

Can be found in: Carrots, sweet potatoes, oranges, tangerines, mango, pumpkin, apricots, peaches, and cantaloupe 

Yellow: Rich in Beta-cryptoxanthin and fibers that support the microbiome and assist in maintaining gastrointestinal health through gastric motility and/or digestive secretions.

Can be found in: Yellow peppers, bananas, pineapples, and corn 

Green: These foods are rich in cancer-blocking chemicals like sulforaphane, isothiocyanates, and indoles, which inhibit the action of carcinogens (cancer-causing compounds). They are also high in a variety of nutrients that support cardiovascular health, such as vitamin K, folate, magnesium, potassium, and dietary nitrates.

Can be found in: Spinach, avocados, asparagus, artichokes, broccoli, alfalfa sprouts, kale, cabbage, Brussels sprouts, kiwi fruit, collard greens, green tea, and green herbs (mint, rosemary, sage, thyme, and basil)

Blue and purple: These foods have powerful antioxidants called anthocyanins, which delay cellular aging and help the heart by blocking the formation of blood clots. They are rich in polyphenols, which assist with learning, memory, and mood.

Can be found in: Blueberries, blackberries, elderberries, Concord grapes, raisins, eggplant, plums, figs, prunes, lavender, and purple cabbage


Phytonutrients Improve Your Overall Health

These are just a few of the benefits that are offered by phytonutrients when broken down by color. With thousands of different phytonutrients available, you can see just from the short list above that eating your fruits and veggies with each meal can do a great deal for your overall health. 


Harvard Health. (2019, April 25). Phytonutrients: Paint your plate with the colors of the rainbow. Your-plate-with-the-colors-of-the-rainbow-2019042516501

Minich, D. M. (2019, June 2). A Review of the Science of Colorful, Plant-Based Food and Practical Strategies for “Eating the Rainbow.” Hindawi.

DISCLAIMER: All information presented and written are intended for informational purposes only. You should not rely on this information as a substitute for, nor does it replace, professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. If you have any concerns or questions about your health, you should always consult with a physician or healthcare professional.