The Color of Food

What are phytonutrients?  

Phytonutrients are chemicals produced by plants. Therefore, they are abundant in plant-based foods such as fruits, vegetables, legumes, and grains. To ensure that phytonutrients are being consumed, a colorful plate is essential. This is why it is important to add fruit and vegetables to every meal. 

Each color has different phytonutrients that come with their health properties. Red is full of carotenoids and lycopene. Foods that are rich in these include beets, tomatoes, cherries, red bell peppers, red cabbage, cranberries, rhubarb, red onion, and watermelon. Orange and yellow are good sources of carotenoids (like red foods) and lutein. Foods to include for this color group include apricots, mango, carrots, pumpkin, cantaloupe, and sweet potatoes. Green foods are packed with lutein and zeaxanthin. Green foods to include on one’s plate are kale, spinach, cucumber, zucchini, green beans, avocado, asparagus, broccoli, and kiwi. Blue, purple, and black foods have anthocyanins and flavonoids. Foods that fall within this category are blueberries, blackberries, eggplant, purple cabbage, elderberry, plum, and purple grapes.

Why are phytonutrients important?  Do we need them to keep us alive?

Phytonutrients are important in maintaining homeostasis within the body. They provide health benefits and help in the prevention and treatment of diseases. Although they are not essential like vitamins, they are helpful in promoting overall health and well-being in the body. The United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) has even acknowledged that a diet full of phytonutrients is a way to reduce one’s chances of developing cancer and heart disease, which are the leading causes of death in the United States. 

What are the different types of phytonutrients out there?

There are about 4,000 different types of phytonutrients. However, not all of them have been fully studied yet to learn all their benefits. A portion of the thousands of phytonutrients has been analyzed. Some common phytonutrients are carotenoids, lycopene, lutein, resveratrol, anthocyanidins, zeaxanthin, and flavonoids.

Carotenoids help regulate the immune system, vision, skin health, and bone health. These are pigments that are found in plants, which give off the bright color in fruits and vegetables. Types of carotenoids include alpha-carotene, beta-carotene, beta-cryptoxanthin, lutein, lycopene, and zeaxanthin. The body processes carotenoids as antioxidants and even converts some of them into Vitamin A. Lycopene aids in heart health and prevents cancer. Eating foods that are cooked helps the body to absorb lycopene more efficiently. Lutein and resveratrol have the same health benefits by reducing inflammation within the body, improving eye and heart health, and decreasing the risk of cancer. Anthocyanidins decrease the risk of cancer and improve memory. Zeaxanthin ensures that blood cells are healthy, lowers the chances of heart disease, and maintains eye vision. Some benefits of flavonoids are that they can lower cholesterol and decrease the amount of inflammation within the joints. 

Eat the rainbow

What phytonutrients should we focus on?

There are so many types of phytonutrients, and the best advice is to eat the rainbow.  Each type of phytonutrient has a unique property that can help your health.  Fruits and vegetables are nature’s skittles for us, and we should take advantage of them to enhance our health from the inside out.

Citations:

Anthony, K. (2019, May 25). Phytonutrients. Healthline. https://www.healthline.com/health/phytonutrients

Gupta, C. & Prakash, D. (2014). Phytonutrients as therapeutic agents. De Gruyter, 11(3), 151-169. https://doi.org/10.1515/jcim-2013-0021

Mohammed, S.G. & Qoronfleh, M.W. (2020). Vegetables. Advances in Neurobiology, 24, 225-277. https://doi.org/10.1007/978-3-030-30402-7_9

Linnewiel-Hermoni, K., Khanin, M., Danilenko, M., Zango, G., Amosi, Y., Levy, J., & Sharoni, Y. (2015). The anti-cancer effects of carotenoids and other phytonutrients resides in their combined activity. Archives of Biochemistry and Biophysics, 572, 28–35. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.abb.2015.02.018

Phytonutrients. University of Missouri Extension. (n.d.). https://health.mo.gov/living/families/wic/pdf/phytonutrients.pdf

Sacco, S. M., Horcajada, M.-N., & Offord, E. (2013). Phytonutrients for bone health during ageing. British Journal of Clinical Pharmacology, 75(3), 697–707. https://doi.org/10.1111/bcp.12033 

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