Phytonutrients are only obtained from plants, which develop them to protect themselves from damaging environments. Ultraviolet radiation, predator pests, toxins, and pollution are just a few of the the things that plague plants on a daily basis. Plants produce phytonutrients to fight the free radicals that result from the exposure to the threats we previously mentioned. Without producing phytonutrients, free radicals damage plant proteins, cell membranes, and DNA, leading to the death of the plant.
Phytonutrients are like shields for plants, but they also provide color, flavor, and smell. So what do phytonutrients do for the body? Well, they protect the body in a similar way that they do plants. Similar to plants, the human body is regularly exposed to UV light, toxins, bacteria, and pathogens, so it requires protection from free radical damage. By “eating the rainbow,” or eating colorful fruits and vegetables, you supply the body with the protective shield it needs.
Sufficient phytonutrient intake is necessary for proper immune function and normal cellular activity. Phytonutrients work to fight harmful free radicals, making cells less susceptible to damage. Research shows that phytonutrients are the basis for more than 40% of medications today, including those that help treat heart disease, obesity, diabetes, and certain cancers. Continue reading to learn more about why you should eat more phytonutrients.
Improved Skin And Vision
Blueberries, strawberries, and red wine, for example, contain anthocyanins, which are a group of phytochemicals that may help improve vision and protect eye health. Studies show that eating darker-pigmented foods can help improve visual acuity. Enhancing vision and night vision with these types of foods has been well-documented. In addition to benefiting vision, many plants contain carotenoids, which contribute to a more youthful glow to the skin. Kale and collard greens contain lutein and zeaxanthin, two compounds that help naturally treat glaucoma. Lutein and lycopene may also protect against sun damage.
Decreased LDL Cholesterol
Phytonutrients like sulfides and thiols work to decrease LDL (bad) cholesterol levels. If LDL cholesterol builds up in the arteries, you increase your risk of heart disease. Those protective compounds are typically in aromatic herbs and vegetables like onions, leeks, garlic, and olives. Other studies indicate that cruciferous vegetables may help maintain normal cholesterol levels. These vegetables are high in lignans, carotenoids, flavonoids, and a few other nutrients that may benefit overall heart health.
According to several studies, flavan-3-ols and proanthocyanidins can help decrease disease-causing inflammation. These compounds are found in grape juice extracts, cranberries, raw cacao, and red wine. Resveratrol, for example, plays a role in cancer prevention and fighting diabetes, stroke, Parkinson’s disease, and Alzheimer’s disease. Studies show that resveratrol helps to reduce inflammatory responses in the body. Broccoli, for example, contains sulforaphane and is associated with reduced breast cancer risk. Other phytonutrients exhibit antiviral and antibacterial properties that help fight infections and viruses in the body.
Lower Blood Pressure And Increased Vessel Dilation
The New England Journal of Medicine published a study about how a diet rich in phytonutrients from fruits and vegetables may help substantially lower blood pressure. While a higher intake of phytonutrients can aid blood pressure reduction, one also has to reduce saturated fat intake and reduce consumption of dairy products for that to happen. Authors behind the study concluded that such a diet offers an approach to help reduce the risk of hypertension. Phytonutrients like lycopene, which is in tomatoes, can help protect against heart disease. Flavonoids in raw cacao can also help prevent heart damage caused by environmental toxins and aging.