The Power of Phytonutrients

Even if you've never heard of phytonutrients, chances are you eat them every day. And chances are that you probably should eat more of them. That's because phytonutrients are the organic compounds found in plants that are believed to enhance and promote wellness.

There are many different classes of phytonutrients, some of which scientists know more about than others. But evidence is mounting that they all offer protection against disease and can be a key factor in achieving and maintaining good health. How do you get a good dose of phytonutrients? Eat colorfully!

The Hue: Red

Think dark, juicy cherries and pomegranates, tart cranberries, luscious grapes, tangy peppers and tomatoes, and sweet beets.

Why to eat it: The red color group, which includes red potatoes and onions as well as rhubarb and watermelon, is a well-spring of the carotenoid known as lycopene. Eating plenty of red foods such as these can help ward off heart disease and cancer and prevent vision problems such as age-related macular degeneration (the leading cause of blindness in adults over 55).

The Hue: Green

Leafy salad greens are an obvious good choice, but don't overlook other vegetables and fruits. Great green foods include green beans, green peppers, broccoli, asparagus, avocado, green apples, limes, kiwis, grapes, and honeydew melons.

Why to eat it: Green produce is full of lutein, an antioxidant that's particularly good at helping prevent vision issues such as cataracts.

The Hue: Purple and Blue

These cool-hued foods include blueberries, blackberries, plums, raisins, eggplants, purple cabbage, and purple potatoes.

Why to eat it: You can thank anthocyanins, potent antioxidants that have been found to tamp down inflammation and stave off the growth of cancer cells, for the beautiful hue. The nutrient may also help boost memory and prevent cognitive deficits as people age.

The Hue: Orange and Yellow

Brightly colored foods, such as carrots, yellow peppers, mangoes, cantaloupes, apricots, papayas, peaches, pineapples, and sweet potatoes top this list.

Why to eat it: These sunny picks are loaded with immune-boosting vitamin C and other antioxidants. Look for produce that's deeply colored—it contains higher levels of nutrients.

The Hue: Tan, Brown, and White

Although perhaps not as beautiful as their rainbow-hued brethren, earth-colored foods have plenty of health benefits to offer.

Why to eat it: Mushrooms are high in selenium, a mineral that may contribute to heart health and reduced cancer risk, while garlic and onions contain allicin, an antibacterial compound. Don't neglect such high-fiber goodies as bananas, pears, cauliflower, and white corn when you hit the grocery store.

Alison Massey, MS, RD, reviewed this article.



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"Fight Back With Phytonutrients." University of Missouri Extension. October 15, 2013.

"Antimicrobial Properties of Allicin From Garlic." National Institutes of Health. Accessed October 18. 2013

"Phytonutrient FAQs." United States Department of Agriculture. Accessed October 14, 2013.