Phytochemicals have become one of the famous compounds in our foods known for boosting our health. But what are they? Phytochemicals, in simplest terms, are a group of chemical compounds found in foods such as fruits, vegetables, whole grains, legumes, beans, herbs and spices, nuts, seeds, tea, wine, and cocoa. Research suggests that eating foods rich in phytochemicals provides health benefits as these compounds are what is thought to be responsible for protective health benefits including enhanced protection fighting cancer and chronic disease. Though there are thousands known, it’s hypothesized that there are still many that have not been discovered.
Arguably, fruits and vegetables get the most fame for being rich in these chemical compounds. Research from the Journal of Human Hypertension shows that increasing your fruit and vegetable consumption from less than three servings per day to more than five servings per day could potentially reduce your risk for certain chronic disease by up to 17%. And with Summer in full swing, opportunities abound for ways to include phytochemicals and boost your health with each bite!
There are different classes of phytochemicals, some with more notoriety than others. For the sake of this article, we will look at some of the most well-known phytochemicals and where they can be found.
|Anthocyanins||Berries, grapes, eggplant, red onion, beets, red wine||Fights free radicals helping protect the brain and cognition, heart and arteries, and prevent cancer|
|Carotenoids||Carrots, butternut squash, sweet potato, pumpkin, papaya, yellow beets, tomatoes (lycopene)||Promotes health vision, heart health, and immune function|
|Broccoli, cauliflower, cabbage, leafy greens||Fights free radical damage and supports DNA|
|Green and black tea varieties, cocoa||Improved blood flow and improved insulin sensitivity|
The takeaway for the best benefit is to “eat a rainbow” of foods for the most comprehensive health benefits. Let’s explore some ways to include a rainbow in your daily diet:
- Keep fresh fruits and vegetables washed in the refrigerator and in clear sight. Having “grab and go” veggies and fruits makes them more appealing and accessible. Find here Five Easy Ways to Increase Fruits and Vegetables in Your Diet
- Start your day with a fruit and vegetable smoothie. Throw together your concoction with what you have on hand or find some ideas here. Add chia seeds or flax seeds for fiber and a source of unsaturated fat. To add sweetness, try a low carb sweetener such as Stevia, Monk Fruit, Yacon Syrup, Xylitol or Erythritol.
- Switch your caffeine pick-me-up of choice to green (~35mg caffeine/8 ounces) or black tea (50-100mg caffeine/8 ounces); in the summer months, try your tea over ice for a refreshing drink
- Visit your local farmers market – look (or ask your local vendor) for good roasting/grilling vegetables. Season with a little olive and salt and cook them for a savory side perfect for a summer evening
- Enjoy a glass of red wine with your meal for an extra boost of phytochemicals
Summer is a time for creating memories, enjoying sunshine, and giving your health the extra care and attention it needs. What better way to boost your health than to serve up some nutritious foods! Here’s to a Summer filled with fun and phytochemicals!