Phytonutrients or phytochemicals are chemicals found only plants – phyto comes from the Greek word for plant. Since you may hear me frequently referring to these beautiful nutrients on the blog I thought I would give you a little bit of background information.
Phytonutrients often account for the colour, taste or smell of food for example the dark blue colour of blueberries, the bitterness of brocolli and the garlicky smell of well garlic. Phytonutrients often play a protective role in plants, the chemicals protect the plants from fungi, insects and birds as well as UV radiation.
These nutrients are not essential –meaning we will not die from nutritional deficiencies if we do not consume them, however they have very definite health promoting effects such immune boosting, detoxification, anti-aging and anti-inflammatory properties. There is also vast amount of scientific literature showing that phytonutrients can help protect against diseases from alzheimers, cancers, heart disease, lung disease, parkinsons and many more.
It is thought that there are over 4000 different phytonutrients, and each of these nutrients plays it’s own specific function – when eaten together, in sufficient quantities, these nutrients can be hugely beneficial to your health.
5 quick tips to increase the phytonutrients in your diet:
- Paint your plate with colour
Try choose fruit and veg in a variety of dark colours. For example sweet potato has a much higher carotenoid content than regular spuds. Green granny smith apples over golden delicious – granny smiths have the highest phytonutrient content and the best fiber to sugar ratio. Dark green leafy veg like spinach, kale and rocket and dark skinned fruits such as blueberries, red grapes, cherries and cranberries have fantastic sources of antioxidants. Generally the darker the colour the richer the antioxidants.
- Don’t boil your veg
Raw fruit and veggies generally have greater antioxidant concentrations. Boiling veg can mean you lose all the nutrients to the water. However there are 1 or 2 exceptions, for example broccoli releases more cancer fighting indoles when it is lightly steamed or sautéed.
- Skip the salt and use fresh herbs & spices
Herbs and spices are a great way to flavour your meals and have powerful anti-inflmmatory and detoxification properties. Tumeric is fantastic – it is one of the most powerful natural anti-inflammatories, but also try ginger, cumin, rosemary, coriander among others.
- Eat garlic, onion & chilli
I try use these for the base of most of my stews , sauces and curries. Chillies are great sources of vitamin C and capsaicin which can help lower blood pressure, reduce blood clotting and decrease inflammation. Garlic and onions are good sources of the phytonutrient allicin, which has been shown to lower blood pressure and cholesterol. In terms of food preparation chop or crush your garlic and allow it to sit for a few minutes before you cook it, the chopping allows the allicin to be released, if you cook it immediately the allicin content of the meal is much lower.
- Choose Dark Chocolate
Yay for this final tip – I’m sure most of us have no problem including this in our diet. In terms of chocolate try choose the darkest type you can find, at least 70%. The cocoa in chocolate contains flavonoids which have been linked to anti-oxidant and blood pressure lowering benefits. Try to keep your chocolate fix to a maximum of 50g.