So recently I was introduced to the concept of phytonutrients. Not having heard this term before, I have to admit I was skeptical. After a bit of digging though, I discovered that phytonutrients are essentially plant-based nutrients that come from a wide variety of fruits and vegetables. Here’s what all the buzz is about:

What exactly are phytonutrients?

Phytonutrients are plant-derived nutrients. They are also referred to as phytochemicals or “superfoods.” They have been touted as having anti-viral, anti-cancer, and anti-bacterial properties. Currently, many clinical trials are underway examining the use of phytochemicals from certain plants that may have medicinal properties. For example, an important cancer drug, Taxol (paclitaxel), is a phytochemical initially extracted and purified from the Pacific yew tree.

What health benefits do phytonutrients provide?

Some of the top benefits include boosting immunity, providing an antioxidant boost (antioxidants have anti-cancer properties), protecting against heart disease, and possibly slowing the aging process. Many phytonutrients, such as turmeric and salvia, also have anti-inflammatory properties. It is thought that the absence or deficiency of phytonutrients in processed foods may contribute to the increased risk of coronary artery disease, diabetes, and cancer.

What foods contain phytonutrients?

Increasing your consumption of fruits and veggies is the best way to get more phytonutrients into your diet. Virtually all non-processed fruits and vegetables have phytonutrient properties. More well-known examples include lycopene in tomatoes (currently being investigated for prostate cancer), beta-carotene in carrots, isoflavones in soy, and the tannic acid in blueberries. The list is endless. It’s not as important to get caught up in which nutrient is in what – the research is just starting to come in, so the best thing to do is to incorporate a few of your favorites in your diet and switch it around a bit. Variety matters, since different fruits and vegetables have differing properties. Have fun trying new foods, and learn to eat what intuitively appeals to you – you might find that your body really needs one nutrient which will cause a craving for a certain food.

There are many resources out there to learn more. One of my favorites is http://www.phytolife.com/ – they have great recipes, articles, and healthy lifestyle tips. Happy eating!