Many of us know that foods high in phytonutrients are extremely healthy and healing. But exactly, what are phytonutrients and what is their purpose in plants?
Plants contain thousands of phytonutrients. Some researchers estimate up to 40,000 phytonutrients will someday be fully catalogued and understood. Some commonly known phytonutrients are:
- the flavonoids
The sensory characteristics of plants, such as their color, flavor and smell, are all produced by phytonutrients. However, this is not their main function. The purpose of phytonutrients in plants is for defense and protection from free radical attack due to excess ultraviolet radiation and predator pests.
Plants are exposed to damaging radiation, toxins, and pollution, resulting in the generation of free radicals within the plant’s cells. Free radicals can bind and damage proteins, cell membranes and DNA. Nature has provided plants with a means of protection: –the phytonutrients. Like plants, we’re exposed to ultraviolet radiation or pollution, we also generate reactive, free radicals, and although we cannot produce our own phytonutrients, when we consume plants, their phytonutrients also protect us against damage from these free radicals.
Phytonutrients Help Prevent Disease and Promote Vitality
Phytochemicals in Fruit – Anthocyanidins
With over two thousand known plant pigments presently identified, the chemicals that give foods their colors may also translate into vibrant health. Notable among these phytochemical pigments are the bioflavonoids known as anthocyanidins. These are the purple-blue pigments that give fruits such as blueberries, blackberries, raspberries, black currants, and red and purple grapes their unique coloration, and which protect them from the damaging effects of oxidation. Anthocyanidins’ antioxidant properties are now being investigated by health care researchers who are determining that these phytonutrients not only support the health of plants, but can support the health of humans as well.
Phytochemicals in Vegetables – Glucosinolates
Members of the brassica family of vegetables, including broccoli, Brussels sprouts, cabbage, kale and bok choy appear to have significant cancer-preventive properties. Studies have shown that people who consume these vegetables frequently have a lower risk of developing a variety of cancers, including cancers of the colon, stomach and lung.