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This Month In Diet
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  • Fight Disease with Phytonutrients
    Also called phytochemicals, phytonutrients are produced by plants to help protect them from the sun’s harmful rays, guard against fungus, and fend off insects. When you eat plant-based foods, you also reap the benefits of these nutrients. Read >>
Health and Fitness News

Fight Disease with Phytonutrients

What are phytonutrients and how do they affect health?

You know you need to eat healthy foods for the essential vitamins and minerals they provide, but you may not have heard much about phytonutrients. Also called phytochemicals, phytonutrients are produced by plants to help protect them from the sun’s harmful rays, guard against fungus, and fend off insects. When you eat plant-based foods, you also reap the benefits of these nutrients. They may not protect you from UV rays or mosquitoes, but they play a powerful role in disease prevention. Studies show leading causes of death such as heart disease, cancer, and type 2 diabetes can often be prevented, reversed, or treated with a plant-based diet.

More than 25,000 different phytonutrients can be found in foods such as fruits, vegetables, whole grains, beans, nuts, spices, and tea. Out of the 25,000 types of phytonutrients, scientists consider six to be especially good for you: flavonoids, carotenoids, resveratrol, ellagic acid, glucosinolates, and phytoestrogens. Keep reading for a brief description of each.


A large group of phytochemicals known as flavonoids is found in green tea, ginger, onions, apples, kale, berries, and coffee. Flavonoids help protect you from heart disease, certain types of cancer, and asthma. They also improve communication between cells, which reduces inflammation. Studies show folks who eat a diet rich in flavonoids live longer than those who don’t. Ready for a second cup of coffee?


Bright-colored fruits and vegetables are typically high in carotenoids. These powerful antioxidants fight to prevent damage caused by free radicals; support a healthy immune system; improve vision; and prevent cancer. Think of carrots, pumpkins, red peppers, tomatoes, pink grapefruit, spinach, and kale. The more colorful the plate of food, the healthier it is for you.


This powerful phytonutrient is found mainly in grape skin, grape juice, and wine, but can be found in dark chocolate, blueberries, strawberries, pistachios, and peanuts. The antioxidants and anti-inflammatory compounds in resveratrol are linked to increased blood flow to the brain (which slows cognitive decline), cancer prevention, and improved heart health. A glass a day (for women) or two glasses a day (for men) of red wine might be just what the doctor ordered.

Ellagic Acid

A fourth type of phytonutrient is ellagic acid. Raspberries have the highest concentration of ellagic acid, but this compound can also be found in blackberries, strawberries, grapes, pomegranates, pecans, and walnuts. Why eat these foods? Ellagic acid reduces your risk of cancer and lowers cholesterol. It reduces high blood pressure and may lower high blood sugar. So maybe you’ve never heard of ellagic acid, but now that you have, get to eating.


One reason why cruciferous vegetables are so good for you is because they are full of glucosinolates. Foods such as broccoli, kale, Brussels sprouts, and cabbage may help prevent the growth of cancer and reduce inflammation in the body.


Similar in structure to estrogen, phytoestrogens can either mimic the effects of estrogen or block your natural estrogen. Found in soy products, flaxseeds, sesame seeds, oranges, carrots, and broccoli, phytoestrogens may reduce the risk of endometrial cancer in women and prevent bone loss. Additionally, they’re associated with a decreased risk of heart disease and osteoporosis.

Women experiencing menopausal symptoms such as hot flashes may find some relief by eating foods rich in phytoestrogens. Work with your doctor to find the best way to treating symptoms of menopause. What works for one woman may not work for you.

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