Phytonutrients: What They Are & Where to Find Them

You've probably heard the term "eat the rainbow" when it comes to fruits and vegetables. This refers to making sure you are eating produce from a wide variety of colors. But why is color important? Shouldn't meeting the recommended 5-9 servings of fruits and vegetables per day be enough?

"Phyto" refers to the Greek word for plant. These nutrients are often responsible for the pigments found in different fruits and vegetables. Different colors can signify different phytonutrients, which is why it's so important to eat a diet that's rich in colorful produce.

These phytonutrients do more than make fruit pleasing to the eye. They are biologically active compounds that provide antioxidant and anti-inflammatory benefits to help boost the immune system, prevent chronic illnesses, and reduce inflammation.

There are more than 100,000 phytonutrients that occur naturally in plant foods. With so many different groups of phytonutrients, we can't cover them all in one blog!

Instead, here is a list of some of the major phytonutrient groups, their benefits, and where you can find them.

1. Carotenoids

Common Sources: Oranges, carrots, yams, sweet potatoes, papaya, mangos, cantaloupe, watermelon, tomatoes, bell peppers, spinach, & kale

Carotenoids are responsible for the bright red, yellow, and orange colors of many fruits and vegetables, but are found in some green vegetables as well. We can't create carotenoids by ourselves, so getting them from our diets is essential. Some carotenoids are converted to vitamin A by the body, which is essential to vision and normal growth and development.

Tip: Carotenoids are fat-soluble- consuming them with fat can help your body absorb them better!

2. Flavonoids

Common Sources: Grapes, citrus fruit, onions, tea, strawberries, kale, brussels sprouts, parsley, & many spices

Flavonoids are the largest group of phytonutrients with more than 6,000 different types. They are found in almost all fruits and vegetables and responsible for a wide range of vivid colors. They have a wide range of health benefits as well, and are associated with skin protection, brain function, blood sugar and blood pressure regulation, antioxidant, and anti-inflammatory activity.

Tip: Flavonoids are often concentrated in the skins and outer areas of fruits and vegetables. Make sure to not cut up fruit (which can damage the skin) until you are ready to eat it!

3. Ellagic acid

Common Sources: Raspberries, strawberries, blackberries, cranberries, pomegranate, kiwifruit, currants, red grapes & some nuts (pecans, walnuts)

Ellagic acid is found in many red fruits and berries and have antioxidant, anti-inflammatory, and anti-cancer activity. Some dietary ellagic acid is converted in the intestines into compounds called urolithins, which many be responsible for some of the many health benefits of ellagic acid. They have also shown to help with reducing blood pressure and arterial plaque.

4. Allium compounds

Common Sources: Onions, scallions, leeks, chives, garlic, & shallots

Allium compounds are possible cancer-preventive agents and can help prevent bacteria from converting nitrates into substances that make carcinogens. They also have important anti-inflammatory effects, and help protect the cardiovascular and immune systems. Garlic has even been shown to help lower cholesterol and blood pressure and help reduce blood clotting!

Here at Functional Fueling Nutrition, we include phytonutrients in all of our clients' diets to ensure that they receive an adequate balance of healing nutrients every single day.

What's your favorite phytonutrient?


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Fuel More Functionally, Erika

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