Phytonutrients contain compounds with rich colors that provide essential nutrients to protect the body from diseases. The US Dietary Guidelines prescribe consuming two and a half cups of vegetables and two cups of fruits on a daily basis to maintain good health.
As 25,000 phytonutrients are present in fruits and vegetables, low fruit and vegetable intake can cause premature death due to a variety of health problems. Studies says that 5.6 to 7.8 million people die prematurely worldwide due to an average intake of below 500 grams of fruits and 800 grams of vegetables per day.
A meta-analysis of 95 studies and 142 publications revealed significant reduction in the risk of cardiovascular diseases and that mortality rates had decreased after an intake of 800 grams per day of fruits and vegetables. To arrive at the result, researchers searched PubMed and Embase until Sept. 29, 2016.
There are six main phytonutrients commonly found in plant foods, according to WedMD. They are listed below.
Carotenoids give off yellow and orange colors predominantly. They are strong antioxidants that fight free radicals and prevent the damage of tissues in the body. Yellow and orange foods such as pumpkin and carrots are good sources of Vitamin A needed for eye health.
Ellagic acid is found in red fruits and vegetables such as strawberries, raspberries and pomegranates. It acts as a cancer prevention tool that stops the growth of cancer cells right in its tracks. Ellagic acid's effect on the body is not known completely as laboratory studies are the only research done and more analysis is needed.
Flavonoids are of three types. Catechins are present in Green tea. Hesperidin is found in citrus fruits. Flavonols are found in apples, berries and kale. Flavonoids in all forms are antioxidants that reduce inflammation to prevent chronic diseases, especially cancer.
Resveratrol is found in red wine, grapes and purple grape juice. Resveratrol, as animal studies have disclosed, have a positive effect on health and increases longevity of life. It also reduces heart risk and prevents cancer.
Glucosinolates are found in kale, sprouts, broccoli and cabbage. These phytonutrients are processed into chemicals when cooked and digested. The main benefit is the prevention of cancer.
Phytoestrogens are found in soy and its varieties and have the effect similar to estrogen, lowering the risk of bone loss and endometrial cancer.