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Why We Need to Munch On Phytonutrients

By Sandy Schroeder

Our grandmothers already understood phytonutrients as they grew their own gardens and loaded our plates with savory fruits and vegetables, where most phytonutrients originate.

Researchers now tell us phytonutrients, which are really nutrients derived from plant-based foods, are crucial to our overall health. They are also key weapons against cancer, and the leading cause of blindness, macular degeneration.

Looking closer, phytonutrients are found in fruits, vegetables, grains, dried beans and nuts. There are some 2,000 known variations of plant-based nutrients. The best known are lignans, found in flaxseed and whole grains, isoflavones in soy, carotenoids such as beta-carotene in carrots and dark leafy greens, lycopene and luteine in brightly colored vegetables and fruits, and flavonoids in red/blue fruits.

Tasty Phytonutrients

So the next time you get hungry try a hummus dip, veggie lasagna or pizza, guacamole, oven baked zucchini, sweet potato fries or eggplant parmesan, instead of burgers or hotdogs. When you want a snack, almonds or peanuts work, with fresh grapes, cherries, apricots, or cranberries.

The further you get into the phytonutrient game the more fun it is. Try a site like Epicurious.com for recipes for savory grilled garlic carrots, eggplant parmesan, mashed cauliflower “potatoes,” spicy sweet potato pie, or overnight pumpkin oats.  Just pick a vegetable or fruit and look for recipes that fits your taste buds.

Or stroll through your local farmers market looking for deep reds like beets, strawberries, raspberries, or red peppers and the blue/purples like blueberries, plums, eggplant, and grapes.  The deeper the color, the more phytonutrients, according to the Harvard health medical community. Exceptions are garlic, whole grains, onions and cauliflower, all high-powered phytonutrients.

Final Tips

As phytonutrients become well known, many will take a supplement. Overall, a pill cannot compete with plant-based meals.  Plant-based foods supply nutrients that work together. Pills may supply one or two phytonutrients, while one vegetable might deliver hundreds.

More Plant-based Tips:

  • Most phytonutrients are heat stable, so feel free to cook your choices
  • Eat five to nine helpings of vegetables and fruits daily.
  • Make sure half of your dinner plate is filled with plant-based choices.
  • Fruit and vegetable skins are often loaded with phytonutrients.

I have a friend who is fully hooked on phytonutrients. He starts with a warm bowl of old-fashioned oats, topped with fresh strawberries. At lunch, he has a heaping dish of mixed veggies, or split pea, navy bean or lima bean soup, followed by an apple, banana or pear.

In the evening, he usually has a veggie casserole, big leafy green salad topped with onions, beets, peppers or carrots, followed by a berry tart, or a baked pear topped with dark chocolate sauce. He enjoys every minute of his phytonutrient diet.

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