Phytochemicals (also known as phytonutrients) are compounds in plant foods that provide a wide range of important health benefits.
The media has nicknamed many of these foods as “super foods” because of these benefits. However, be careful because this term may be overused for marketing.
Types of phytochemicals
Types of phytochemicals you may recognize are carotenoids, flavonoids, polyphenols, and resveratrol. However, there are over 15 phytochemicals currently being studied, so scientists may discover a lot more!
Studies have shown a diet rich in phytochemicals can reduce plaque buildup in your arteries and reduce your risk for cardiovascular disease. Studies of one specific phytonutrient – polyphenols, found in blueberries and strawberries – has shown a decrease in cancer cell growth.
Examples of phytonutrients
Phytochemicals are found in a variety of plant foods, especially fruits and vegetables. Common food sources include blueberries, chili peppers, garlic, onions, citrus fruits, tomatoes, legumes, and eggplants.
Also, eating many different colors of fruits and vegetables to increase variety is one step towards boosting the phytonutrients in your diet.
Lastly, you may see supplements in stores advertising that they contain phytochemicals. Truth be told, you get the greatest health benefits from eating whole foods that are rich in phytonutrients. Even more exciting, research is still ongoing to understand exactly how these foods impact and benefit our health.
Meet with your registered dietitian to learn more about how to increase phytonutrients in your diet!
- Kris-Etherton, Penny M et al. “Bioactive Compounds In Foods: Their Role In The Prevention Of Cardiovascular Disease And Cancer”
- The American Journal of Medicine 113.9 (2002): 71-88. DOI 10.1016/s0002-9343(01)00995-0