Nutrition Articles

Foods with Phyto! Special Nutrients in Plant Foods
It's no secret that plant foods like fruits and veggies are healthful choices because they contain nutrients like vitamins, minerals and fiber. But did you know they also contain compounds that may promote good health in their own special way?

These compounds are called "phytonutrients" or "phytochemicals" ("phyto" is the Greek word for plant). They're found in plant foods such as vegetables, fruits, beans, nuts, seeds, whole grains, tea, coffee, herbs and spices.

Phytonutrients give plants color, flavor, aroma and texture. They also protect plants against insects, drought, disease, and even the sun. Plant foods contain an incredible array of phytonutrients-an orange alone is thought to offer more than 170!

The phytonutrients in plant foods may help protect our health, too. Some studies suggest phytonutrients may help slow the aging process and protect against diseases such as stroke, heart disease, high blood pressure, cataracts, osteoporosis and some types of cancer. However, more research is needed to confirm the potential health benefits of phytonutrients and how they actually work in the body. Until then, eat plenty of plant foods every day.

The chart below lists several phytonutrients, where they're found, their potential health benefits and tips to enjoy them.

PhytonutrientFound in....Potential BenefitHow to enjoy it
Beta caroteneApricots, cantaloupes, papayas, carrots, pumpkins, sweet potatoes, winter squashes, kale, broccoli and spinachMay help protect body cells from damageFancy fruit salad: Toss together cantaloupe balls, sliced strawberries, blueberries, grapes and watermelon chunks. Sprinkle with lemon juice. Cut papayas in half and seed. Spoon fruit salad into papayas and serve.
LuteinKale, collard greens, spinach, chard, broccoli, Brussels sprouts, romaine lettuce, kiwiMay help maintain healthy visionNutrition-boosted lasagna: Add a layer of chopped and cooked spinach, kale or chard to your favorite lasagna recipe.
LycopeneTomatoes, processed tomato products, pink grapefruit, guava, watermelonMay help protect prostate healthNo-cook tomato topping for pasta: Rub medium-size bowl with a peeled and slightly-mashed garlic clove. Add diced fresh tomatoes (with skins and seeds), chopped basil, a few splashes of olive oil, and salt and pepper to taste. Let sit on the counter for about 30 minutes, then add cooked pasta and toss together. Serve at room temperature, with grated Parmesan cheese.
ZeaxanthinCorn, spinach, winter squash, citrus fruitsMay help maintain healthy visionCorn-y ideas: Add cooked corn kernels to cornbread, taco salad and chili. Sauté corn kernels with chopped onion and green chilis for a tasty side dish. Sprinkle corn-on-the-cob with Parmesan cheese.
AnthocyanidinsBlueberries, blackberries, strawberries, cranberries, cherries, kiwi, plums, red grapes, red cabbage, eggplant (skin)May help protect body cells from damage
May help maintain brain function
May help maintain healthy immune function
Berry good salad: Toss together one cup each of blueberries, blackberries, raspberries and strawberries. Drizzle with honey, sprinkle with chopped mint and mix. Let sit at room temperature 30 minutes before serving.
FlavonolsApples, chocolate, cocoa, grapes, tea (black, green or oolong), wineMay help promote heart healthChocolate grapes: Rinse and dry red seedless grapes, then cut into small bunches. Dip grapes in melted dark chocolate and place on cookie sheet lined with parchment paper to cool. Store in fridge.
SulphoraphaneBok choy, broccoli, broccoli sprouts, cabbage, cauliflower, collard greens, kale, turnips, turnip greensMay help protect body cells from damageSuper stir fry: Add diced bok choy, broccoli florets and chopped greens or kale to your favorite stir fry recipe.
SulfidesChives, garlic, onions, leeks, scallionsMay help maintain heart health and healthy immune functionRoasted garlic: Cut the top off a head of garlic so the tips of the cloves show. Place garlic head on a sheet of tin foil, drizzle with olive oil to coat and tightly wrap. Roast at 400°F until cloves are soft, about 30 minutes; let cool. Squeeze out cloves to spread on bread, add to pasta and vegetable dishes, or mix into mashed potatoes.

Source: Functional Foods Fact Sheet: Antioxidants from the International Food Information Council Foundation.