Phytonutrients are nutrients found in plant material – fruit, vegetables, nuts, whole grains, and legumes.
Whether you eat a vegetarian or non-vegetarian diet, phytonutrients are the key to good health. To ensure you have the full complement of phytonutrients include a wide variety of different plant foods in your diet – no one food source is nutritionally complete by itself. Whole unrefined foods are best.
On a plant-based diet, you will have the distinct advantage over a non-vegetarian diet, of obtaining nutrients from sources high in fibre, and low in saturated fat and cholesterol.
Vegetables contain many beneficial nutrients in the form of vitamins and minerals including:
- Vitamin A, like beta-carotene and riboflavin
- Vitamins B, C and E
- Minerals like folate, magnesium, zinc and phosphorous
- Folic acid – found in green leafy vegetables, peas and avocado.
Fruits are a great source of ‘protective’ nutrients in the form of vitamins and minerals. As a group, fruits contain:
- Many vitamins and minerals and are low in fat
- Dietary fibre
- Vitamin A (beta-carotene) – found in fruits like mango, rockmelon, pawpaw and apricot
- Vitamin C – found in citrus fruits, berries, mango, pawpaw and pineapple
- Natural sugars called fructose.
Carotenoids include alpha- and beta- carotene, beta-crypotoxanthin, and lutein. These carotenoids are found in leafy green and yellow vegetables, and citrus fruit or pulpy fruits. Another cartenoid, lycopene is found in tomatoes.
Phenols particularly polyphenols are comprised of flavonoids and non-flavonoids. Polyphenols are found in strawberries, blueberries, raspberries, teas, and soybeans. Polyphenols are beneficial to fight allergies, inflammation, free radicals, hepatotoxins, platelet aggregation, microbes, ulcers, viruses and tumours. Flavonoids block the angiotensin-converting enzyme that is responsible for raising blood pressure.