Phytonutrients is a term from the science of nutrition. As you can see from its shape, phytonutrients are nutrients that are found in plants.
The phytonutrients have many different functions. Above all, they protect plants from bad environmental conditions and pests. Outside plants (for example, in the body of a person who eats vegetables), these compounds can be dyes, protein modulators, antioxidants, antimicrobial and anti-inflammatory agents – that is, they take part in the metabolism and affect the body.
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Which Substances Are Phytonutrients and What They Are Useful For
The name “phytonutrients” combines several groups of substances. These compounds are not included in the groups of vitamins, minerals, macronutrients or dietary fibres. Normally there are five groups of phytonutrients.
carotenoids. These are compounds that give vegetables a yellow, orange or red color. Under certain conditions, some carotenoids in the body are transformed into vitamin A. Carotenoids are therefore important for maintaining the immune system.
Among the carotenoids are lycopene, beta-carotene, lutein – and in general there are about 600 such compounds. Each of them has its own function. For example, studies have shown that 6 mg of lutein per day helps to maintain eye health, especially in old age. Because of their high lutein content, blueberries are considered to be beneficial for vision.
flavonoids. This is a large group of compounds found in the surface cells of plants, there are thousands of them. Accordingly, these substances have many functions. They are used in medicine and industry as colorants, antioxidants and tannins. Flavonoids are responsible for blue and violet colors, such as those found in blueberries and grapes.
Flavonoids are involved in cellular metabolic processes. They contribute to the body’s detoxification process because they can neutralize chemicals that are not involved in metabolic processes.
Flavonoids have an anti-inflammatory effect and help maintain cardiovascular health: They can regulate blood cholesterol levels.
Resveratrol, one of the flavonoids found in grapes, red wine, nuts and berries, is also associated with a positive effect on the cognitive functions of our brain.
glucosinolates. These are components of many plants with a pungent odor, such as mustard. Their function is to protect against pests. They are the ones that make all kinds of herb cakes.
Like some flavonoids, glucosinolates can neutralize not only external but also internal pests. We are talking about xenobiotics, chemical compounds that are foreign to our body.
Another useful function of glucosinolates is anti-inflammatory. A diet rich in various cruciferous plants supports the body in chronic inflammatory processes.
phytoestrogens. These are substances that are similar in structure to the human hormone estrogen, except that they are produced in plants.
Phytoestrogens have a positive effect on the cardiovascular system. Many scientific studies have focused on the positive effects of phytoestrogens on bone health, which can be very important for older people.
Polyphenols such as ellagic acid or EGCG are the gallate of epigallocatechin, which occurs in large quantities in green tea. It is a very large group of compounds (there are more than 500 of them) that are found in plants, protect them from UV radiation and are responsible for their antioxidant effects. This means that they bind free radicals – aggressive molecules that are harmful to normal body function. Moreover, polyphenols have anti-inflammatory effects. In some studies, ellagic acid has shown good results in maintaining liver function and normal blood cholesterol levels.
Where to Find Phytonutrients?
The simplest answer to this question is in any fruits, vegetables and berries, as well as in legumes and whole grains. In general, in everything that grows. It is almost impossible to calculate the amount in grams of all groups of phytonutrients in different types of plants. But the common sources of the various compounds are known.
Fresh or minimally processed foods have higher phytonutrient content than cooked foods. Therefore, it is so important to eat vegetables and fruits raw – they are more beneficial.
To get all the necessary phytonutrients, you need to eat at least 300-400 g of fresh fruits and vegetables per day, it is the golden standard of nutrition. After all, in addition to phytonutrients, vegetables have vitamins, minerals, fiber. All this together has a positive effect on the body, and if you stick to a diet rich in vegetables, your whole system will love it.
Fresh plant products give the body maximum beneficial compounds, help maintain a healthy weight and normal bowel function.
There Are Supplements With Phytonutrients. Do You Have to Buy Them?
It all depends on your desire. Typically, with a well-balanced diet rich in a variety of nutrients, no supplementation is required – phytonutrients come from natural sources. But with high loads and poor nutrition, supplements can be justified – on the recommendation of a specialist.
Are There Any Health Risks Associated With Phytonutrients?
Unless you take some substance in shock doses, there is no harm from phytonutrients. But, for example, large amounts of antioxidants: including some phytonutrients with prolonged use, can be toxic.
This means that if you take any supplements, you need to monitor the content of different substances in them and not to buy those packages in which the same substance is found. And as for the food – to eat so many fruits that it becomes harmful, it will not work anyway, so you can not limit yourself in this.