The importance of receiving a wide variety of vitamins and minerals in one’s diet is often spoken of, however there are many vitamin-like compounds that our body also uses for physiological functions such as reducing inflammation and preventing infection.
These compounds cannot be simply classified as a vitamin, mineral, protein, fat or carbohydrate – although they do have important health benefits and can be found in a well-balanced diet of whole foods and fresh (preferably local) vibrant fruits and vegetables containing phytonutrient compounds.
What are Phytonutrients?
Also referred to as phytochemicals, phytonutrients are natural plant compounds that prevent inflammation and have antioxidant properties. These bioactive components act as protective agents for the plant, and therefore can potentially play an important role in our as well health, having anti-microbial, antioxidant, anti-inflammatory, antiallergic, anti-spasmodic, anti-cancer, anti-aging, neuroprotective and immunomodulatory properties (the list goes on..).
These nutrient compounds play an important role in maintaining some of the most basic physiological functions of our human body like immune system regulation. Their consumption should therefore be prioritized in our daily diet through the dietary intake of colourful fruits, vegetables, teas and spices.
Some important phytonutrients that play pharmacological roles within the body include flavonoids, reservatrol and ellagic acid among others.
Plant compounds found in deeply coloured fruits, vegetables, teas and even cocoa. Flavonoids belong to a group of natural substances that have been studied and well-known to have benefits for one’s health such as anti-oxidative, anti-inflammatory, anti-mutagenic and anti- carcinogenic properties.
There are different types of flavonoids, and the best way to ensure we receive them all is through the consumption of a variety of fruits and vegetables high in flavonoids compounds.
Foods like berries, red cabbage, onions, dark chocolate , teas and citrus fruits that are high in this plant compound are also beneficial for cellular protection from oxidative damage, which is the cause of many modern diseases.
Reservatrol is another natural compound that is made by plants when they are in a stress condition, therefore having high antioxidant potential when consume by us. It’s found in foods like grape skin, peanuts, mulberries, blueberries and strawberries.
These compounds most notably have biological acitivites such as anti-thrombogenic, anti-inflammatory, cardio-protective, neuroprotective, anti-agiging and cancer preventative and therapeutic activities.
This plant compound is a natural antioxidant found in foods like apples, grapes, pomegranates, strawberries, raspberries, cranberries, pecans, walnuts and cashews.
Ellagic acid works as an antioxidant, neutralizing harmful free radicals that enter our bodies from our environment, food and lifestyle choices. It ultimately has a protective effect on our cells, mitigating damage and oxidative stress.
Immune function is also regulated by ellagic acid, which can also decrease inflammation levels being beneficial on the long run for good health and the prevention of diseases.
Cellular damage resulting from oxidative stress is believed to be a major contributor to cardiovascular disease through oxidation resulting in DNA strand breaks, which may lead to mutations and cancers.
Therefore, the importance of having a well-rounded diet consisting of a fruit and vegetable “rainbow” is an important reminder as we head through the winter season.
And if there is more difficulty accessing fresh fruits and vegetables during the winter months, supplemental intake of certain vitamins and minerals may be beneficial for our overall health and wellbeing. Although, please do read ingredient labels (non-medical ingredients as well) to ensure that there are no ascorbic acids, fillers, binders, gums, maltodextrin or other unnatural and overly processed ingredients before consuming a dietary supplement.
Brennan, D. (2020, October 30). 10 foods high in flavonoids and why you need them. WebMD. Retrieved January 12, 2022, from https://www.webmd.com/diet/foods-high-in-flavonoids#1
Gupta, C., & Prakash, D. (2014, September 1). Phytonutrients as therapeutic agents. De Gruyter. Retrieved January 12, 2022, from https://www.degruyter.com/document/doi/10.1515/jcim-2013-0021/html
Panche, A. N., Diwan, A. D., & Chandra, S. R. (2016, December 29). Flavonoids: An overview. Journal of nutritional science. Retrieved January 12, 2022, from https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5465813/
Szalay, J. (2015, October 21). What are phytonutrients? LiveScience. Retrieved January 12, 2022, from https://www.livescience.com/52541-phytonutrients.html