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What are Phytonutrients and Why are They Important?

You may or may not have heard of the newest reason why you should eat your vegetables. Mom always told us to eat them and we’ve all heard about how good they are for us. They provide us with fiber and are a good source of vitamins and minerals. But now we’re hearing they do so much more.

natural_vitamin_sources_fruits_and_vegetables_imageUnlike us, plants are unable to run away when threatened by outside danger. Because of this, plants have developed their own protection from these outside threats. Scientists have been busy studying these tiny compounds we call phytonutrients. Simply put, phytonutrients are chemical compounds in plants that protect it from germs, pests, and environmental toxins.

They have discovered up to 40,000 different ones and are still discovering more. It appears as though it’s not just the vitamins and minerals that make vegetables so good for us. And the great news is that we are still learning of all the ways we can benefit from consuming phytonutrients.

In general, we can say that phytonutrients help prevent disease and infection, and improve general wellness. Specifically, there are plenty of known benefits of eating phytonutrients. Some of the main benefits include:

1. Antioxidant: They can act as an antioxidant, ridding our bodies of damaging free radicals. If left to roam in the body, free radicals can cause damage to cells, proteins, and even your DNA.

2. Antibiotic: Phytonutrients are known to boost your immune system to help prevent bacterial infections.

3. Cancer preventative: Some of the phytonutrients studied, specifically in broccoli and tomatoes, may have cancer preventative properties.

woman_hands_wrist_arm_pain_ache_hurt_pic4. Anti-inflammatory: Many are known to have properties to reduce inflammation, benefiting anyone with an inflammatory condition. This would include any condition ending in “-itis.”

5. Immune support: Phytonutrients have qualities to support your immune function, which will help prevent disease and help you heal quicker. Immune function decreases naturally as we grow older, and eating a diet full of phytonutrients may slow that process down.

6. Tissue support and protection: They are known to strengthen tissue and speed healing.

It’s best to choose organic plant-based foods so we’re not ingesting any pesticides with our phytonutrients. Make use of local farmers’ markets and stock up on great tasting fresh fruits and vegetables. Not only do we get the best produce from our local markets, everything is picked when it’s ripe, providing us with more phytonutrients than from the produce you’ll find in the grocery store. Many of the farmers who frequent farmers’ markets follow organic farming principles, and all you need to do is ask if they do. So, we can support our local farmers and our health will benefit too.

We’re very lucky—phytonutrients can be found in almost every plant-based food. This means if we eat a diet including lots of fruits, vegetables, herbs, beans, nuts & seeds, tea, and whole grains, we’re getting a lot of phytonutrients too. It’s easy to add more phytonutrients into your diet. For breakfast you could add spinach to your strawberry smoothie. At lunch you could add pumpkin seeds, carrots, red peppers, and blueberries to your mixed green salad. Since phytonutrients contribute to the color, tastes, and smell of the plant, make your food as colorful and tasty as you can. It just takes a little creativity in the kitchen. Your health and your taste buds will thank you!

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