Thursday, April 26, 2012

The Healing Power of Phytonutrients

"Phytonutrients have the ability to halt a cell from converting to a cancerous cell."  - American Institute for Cancer Research.

Powerful words about an amazing immune system protector that is readily available in fruits, vegetables, seeds and nuts.  The word "Phytonutrient" comes from the Greek word phyto, meaning plant.  The plant world not only provide high amounts of fiber, vitamins and minerals but also these essential phytonutrients.

Some examples of phytonutrients are: carotenoids, flavonoids, lycopene and beta-carotene (phytosterols, phytoestrogens and indoles are other examples but I will talk about these in a future blog). These are nature's powerhouses of nutrition and can pack a mighty punch against illnesses.  To ensure adequate protection from disease, we must eat 7 to 10 half-cup servings of fresh (organic when possible), fruits, vegetables, seeds and nuts daily.  Food processing destroys phytonutrients (especially in seed and nut oils) and cooking reduces these nutrients.  The cooking water that is often thrown out contains the most important substances so its actually beneficial to drink this!  Freezing food releases certain enzymes that can destroy some of  the health-promoting substances so fresh is definitely best.

Flavonoids are phytonutrients that offer potent antioxidents that prevent the formation of free radicals.  They also decrease inflammation in the body and help the body to absorb vitamin C better.  Flavonoids are extremely important to the health of the immune system and have the ability to lower blood sugar levels.  Flavonoid-rich foods include broccoli, grapes, carrots, onions, peppers, green tea, tangerines, blueberries, apples, and all citrus fruits.

Carotonoids are right up there with flavonoids and, so far, there have been more than 600 different carotenoids identified!  Dark green, yellow, red and orange vegetables and fruits are rich in carotonoids and offer superior antioxidants activity that protects the body from skin damage, cataracts, macular degeneration and cancer.

Lycopene is a powerful antioxidant that stops the damage caused by free radicals.  Tomatoes, watermelon and pink grapefruit are rich in lycopene.  Lycopene is a little different in that it works better in the body when cooked - for example, tomato sauce is richer in this antioxidant than raw tomatoes (although raw tomatoes still contain a great amount).  Since lycopene is a fat-soluble carotenoid adding a little flaxseed oil or olive oil will help the body absorb it better. As well, if you let a watermelon sit on the counter for a couple of hours at room temperature it too will be richer in lycopene.

Most people have heard of beta-carotene, found in carrots, sweet potatoes, squash, peaches, mangoes and apricots (its responsible for the orange or red color of fruits and vegetables).  Beta-carotene is converted to vitamin A in the body but, unlike vitamin A, consuming too much beta-carotene is not toxic (the only side effect is a yellowing of the skin!).  Including lots of carotene-rich foods in your daily diet can help to reduce the risk of developing cancers of the colon, esophagus, pancreas, throat and stomach.  Carotene also boosts the immune system.

Its so amazing to me all the wonderful nutrients that the plant world provides!  Scientists are constantly finding new phytonutrients and new benefits all the time.  It really doesn't matter to the average person what all these names are but simply that we eat these amazing immune boosters that God has provided to us in nature!  Enjoy!!

1 comment:

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