What Are Phytonutrients? 

by Melissa Chichester

In the quest for optimal health, it’s no secret that a balanced diet is vital.

While essential nutrients like proteins, carbohydrates, and fats often take center stage, there’s another group of compounds that play a vital role in promoting well-being: phytonutrients. 

Derived from the Greek word “phyto” meaning plant, phytonutrients are bioactive compounds found in fruits, vegetables, whole grains, legumes, nuts, and seeds. These plant-based powerhouses offer numerous benefits and continue to capture the attention of researchers and nutritionists alike. 

Understanding phytonutrients 

Phytonutrients are compounds produced by plants to support their vitality and overall well-being. Although phytonutrients are not classified as essential nutrients like vitamins or minerals, research has revealed their potential for health benefits. 

Thousands of phytonutrients in plants exist, containing unique properties and benefits. They are not all understood, but recent research has begun to uncover what they can do for humans. Many phytonutrients act as antioxidants, helping to neutralize harmful free radicals in the body. 

Types of phytonutrients

Some of the most well-known and studied phytonutrients include: 

Carotenoids: These give fruits and vegetables their vibrant colors. Examples include beta-carotene, lycopene, and lutein. These carotenoids are potent antioxidants that help fight against free radicals, which can cause oxidative stress. 

Flavonoids: This diverse group is one of the largest groups of phytonutrients and includes anthocyanins that are found in dark berries. Anthocyanins contribute to the reddish-purple color of elderberries, blueberries, and more. 

>>Three Potent Flavonoids Found in Elderberry

Glucosinolates: Cruciferous vegetables such as broccoli, cabbage, and cauliflower contain these compounds. 

Polyphenols: Polyphenols are found abundantly in fruits, vegetables, whole grains, legumes, nuts, and beverages like tea and coffee. Resveratrol has gained attention for its potential cardiovascular benefits and healthy aging effects.* Resveratrol is a polyphenol found in the skin of red grapes. Red wine and dark chocolate both contain resveratrol. It helps support sugar metabolism and heart health.*

Another well-known polyphenol is curcumin. This compound is found in turmeric, a spice commonly used in Indian cuisine. Curcumin is a bright yellow pigment and it is what gives turmeric its antioxidant properties.*

>>6 Antioxidants You Should Know

Phytonutrients hold immense promise for promoting optimal health and well-being. These bioactive compounds offer a wide array of benefits that have captivated researchers and nutritionists alike. Incorporating a colorful variety of fruits and vegetables ensures a rich intake of these powerful compounds. 

*These statements have not been evaluated by the Food and Drug Administration. These products are not intended to diagnose, treat, cure or prevent any disease.