The essential food-group you’ve never heard of

You’ve heard it time and time again: eat your five a day switch firmware 8.1.0. It may sound like a health gimmick, but a colourful, balanced diet is essential to your overall health and wellbeing. And, it’s a good way to get your daily dose of powerful phytonutrients.

What are phytonutrients?
Phytonutrients are natural compounds that are made in plants. In fact, “phyto” comes from the Greek word for plant. These little health helpers may protect against germs and other environmental threats. They give plants their vibrant colour, distinct taste and smell, and keep them healthy.

In the same way that phytonutrients are helpful for plants, they can also be really helpful for humans. A diet that’s filled with phytonutrients may boost your immune system, and can help prevent illnesses like heart disease, diabetes, and cancer.

Bonus: phytonutrients could also slow down the ageing process and repair DNA damage from exposure to toxins.

There are more than 25 000 phytonutrients found in plant foods. The most common variants include:

  • Carotenoids act as antioxidants in your body, tackling those harmful free radicals that damage your tissues. The most common carotenoids are beta-carotene, lycopene and lutein. These compounds are known to reduce the risk of cardiovascular disease and certain cancers. Find carotenoids in purple, white, red, green, and orange plant foods.
  • Flavonoids work against damaging free radicals that destroy cells and interfere with cell growth and healing. They may help prevent certain cancers, reduce inflammation in the body, and reduce your risk of heart disease. They can be found in berries, grapes and green vegetables.
  • Resveratrol functions like an antioxidant and anti-inflammatory. It is a neuroprotective compound, which means it can improve brain health. Thanks to its antioxidant properties that preserve the functioning of cells in the arteries, it can also help your cardiovascular system. Get your boost of resveratrol from the skin of purple grapes, strawberries, blueberries and red wine.
  • Ellagic acid can protect against cancer and slow the growth of cancer cells, particularly cancers of the prostate and breast. Ellagic acid can be found in blackberries, strawberries, raspberries, cranberries and pomegranates.
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Enjoy the rainbow

Filling up on brightly coloured fruits and vegetables every day is the best way to get your intake of phytonutrients. Wholegrains, legumes, nuts, seeds, tea, dark chocolate, and some spices are also high in phytonutrients, so definitely include these in your diet. Keep in mind; phytonutrients are best taken in by enjoying foods that contain them. No supplement or pill can substitute for all the benefits of healthy eating. So, aim to eat more plants, and don’t be afraid to get colourful!