Tuesday, August 22, 2023 11:05 AM
Taken from the book “Staying Healthy with Nutrition.”
greater shift has occurred in nutritional thinking about food since the mid-1990s than the shift related to phytonutrients, which simply means “plant nutrients”. The term refers to all nontraditional substances in plants that provide specific health benefits. By non-traditional here, I mean everything except vitamins, minerals, proteins, carbohydrates, and fats. What is left for phytonutrients?
Surprisingly, phytonutrients outnumber traditional nutrients by about 10,000 to 1. All of the wonderful qualities that we associate with good food – the way it looks, the way it smells, the way it tastes – are the result of a food’s phytonutrients. When steamed kale starts to change color, that change is centered around phytonutrients. When a sliced onion releases its smell, phytonutrients are the reason. When we taste the bitterness in beer, that taste is based on phytonutrients. Our experience of food is not based on essential nutrients (which, from the scientist’s point of view, are also sometimes called primary metabolites [an intermediate or end product of metabolism. The term is usually used for small molecules]) but on secondary metabolites that we have come to call phytonutrients.
Even if you have not heard about phytonutrients, you may be more familiar with them than you might think. You may not have realized that the way foods look, and smell is also connected with their nutritional value. Maybe some people have stopped making this connection because they have gotten too used to eating highly processed foods that smell or taste great but provide little nourishment.
Researchers are finding out more about the way phytonutrients keep us healthy. The phytonutrients beta-carotene and carotenoids give foods like carrots their bright orange color, and at the same time they help protect us from the development of such diseases as cancer or heart disease. Carotenoids are only a single category of phytonutrients, however, and most of the other phytonutrient groups are not as familiar to most people. For example, the color of food comes primarily from carotenoids and flavonoids, but it also comes from porphyrins, alkaloids, and tannins. The taste of food often comes from terpenoids and phenylpropanoids. These phytonutrients groups have not gotten much press.”
In short, fruits and vegetables have a lot of phytonutrients that are necessary for health, so eat your veggies!