What are they?
Phytonutrients (phytochemicals) are protective compounds produced by plants that also provide color, aroma, and flavor. These chemicals protect them from damage due to UV (sun exposure), insect attacks, and other forms of harm. These protective properties also benefit humans when we consume certain varieties. Although multiple plants produce these compounds (over 25,000 different types), the most readily available forms exist in fruits, vegetables, whole grains, nuts, and seeds.
What are their claims?
There are thousands of compounds, but the ones of notes are split into five major groups that produce color ranges within fruits and vegetables. Carotenoids (Orange/Yellow), Anthocyanins (Purple/Blue), Lycopene (Red), Chlorophyll (Green), and Anthoxanin (White).
Each group has different claims, but the overarching benefits are antioxidant, detoxification, and anti-inflammatory properties—also, prevention of cancer, lowering of cholesterol, and heart health.
For fruits and vegetables, their colors correlate to high concentrations of certain phytocompounds.
Carotenoids (Orange/Yellow) → Sweet potatoes, carrots, and mango
Immune system response
Anthocyanins (Purple/Blue) → Berries, radishes, and plums
Blood vessel health
Lycopene (Red) (Carotenoid) → Tomatoes, Red peppers, and grapefruit
Chlorophyll (Green) → Broccoli, spinach, and green beans
Anthoxanin (White) → Onions, mushrooms, and turnips
Lower blood pressure
Others of note:
Lignans (phytoestrogen = mimics estrogen) prevention of hormone-related cancers. Flax seeds, sesame seeds, poppy seeds, rye, and oat bran.
Resveratrol may reduce the risk of heart disease. Grapes, cocoa, and cranberries.
Ellagic Acid (a tannin) is associated with anti-inflammatory, anti-cancer, lowering blood pressure, and preventing arterial plaque build-up. Strawberries, cranberries, and walnuts.
What the Science Says:
Research is still ongoing as to the exact interactions and specific benefits of phytochemicals. Supplements and isolated forms of compounds do not seem to perform as well as their whole food counterparts. The interacting nature of the thousands of compounds contained within whole foods and the difficulty isolating each component from their interactions means consuming phytonutrients in their complete food forms is best.
The benefits vary depending on the plants growing conditions and humans’ ability to break down and utilize the plant.
The Apeiron Life Perspective
Phytochemicals exist and interact in the thousands. Therefore, it is difficult to pinpoint specific foods or interactions between compounds that provide a definitive benefit. It is best to consume various colorful fruits and vegetables in their whole food form to access the benefits phytochemicals have to offer.
Phytochemicals are a long-term protective strategy and work best when consumed over months/years.
So will this benefit you?
Yes! Consuming various vegetables, fruits, nuts, seeds, and whole grains will provide phytonutrients in a wide range of beneficial areas.
In order to benefit from phytonutrients:
Make sure you’re consuming an extensive array of vegetables, fruits, nuts, seeds, and whole grains
Aim for whole foods to benefit from their interactions and combining benefits.
Consistently consume whole foods over the long term to build protective qualities.
Reference & Additional Reading