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So, what are phytochemicals? You’d never guess it, but plants all over the world have their own sort of immune systems – just like people. Well, maybe not just like people, but they do have various organic systems built in to protect them from dangerous parasites, intruders, and threats.

Of course, you’ve seen some of these protective defense mechanisms before – a cactus is armed with spiky, sharp spines to keep animals away … and every rose has its thorn.

But plants also contain thousands of natural chemicals meant to help them defend themselves against pathogens and herbivores. These natural chemicals are called phytochemicals, and guess what? They can help you too.

In the same way phytochemicals help protect plants from germs, insects, fungi, and other threats, they may be able to help human beings with some of the same health menaces when consumed on a regular basis.

phytochemicals | Gundry MD

Where Can You Find Phytochemicals?

“Phyto” gets its meaning from the Greek term for plant. So, wherever you can find a plant or plant-based food, you can find phytochemicals. And while many fruits and vegetables contain phytochemicals (aka phytonutrients), they aren’t the only plant-based foods full of helpful phytonutrients. You can also find them in –

  • Nuts
  • Olives
  • Seeds
  • Tea

You should know, phytochemicals aren’t actually responsible for helping to keep you alive (like certain vitamins and minerals), but when you eat or drink them, it’s possible they can help your body defend itself against specific health issues.

And they will definitely help you to keep feeling better overall.

Now, approximately 25,000 phytochemicals exist in plant foods throughout the world. Of course, there’s no way to cover all of those phytonutrients and their benefits here.
So, I’m going to focus on the following four phytonutrients and tell you a little about what each kind can do for you.

  • Flavonoids
  • Resveratrol
  • Carotenoids
  • Ellagic acid

phytochemicals | Gundry MD

Flavonoids

Flavonoids are a diverse group of phytochemicals found in nearly all fruits or vegetables. They happen to be one of the few phytochemicals responsible for the amazing array of colors in most fruits and vegetables.

Not only that, flavonoids are also potent antioxidants with special anti-inflammatory benefits. They’ve also been known to provide support to your immune system. The following are some of the most common types of flavonoids –

  • Flavonols – These flavonoids are active antioxidants able to defend against inflammation and counterbalance free radicals. Free radicals are highly reactive and troublesome atoms formed when oxygen interacts with certain molecules.

One of the best studied flavonols happens to be quercetin. It’s found in –

  • Capers
  • Berries
  • Onions
  • Black and green tea
  • Peppers
  • Red wine
  • Dark cherries
  • Apples

According to University of California, Berkeley researchers, quercetin might help avoid or heal certain heart issues, allergies, breathing issues, chronic inflammation, and other health conditions.1

  • Catechins – Commonly found in green tea, this flavonoid is becoming known for helping to reduce body fat.2
  • Hesperidin – This flavonoid, often found in various citrus fruits, can work to calm inflammation and may even lower pain levels.3

phytochemicals | Gundry MD

Resveratrol

Another phytochemical that is receiving quite a bit of press lately is resveratrol. Resveratrol’s promising antioxidant properties make it potentially useful for a variety of health conditions. One of the most exciting aspects of research on resveratrol is its potential ability to slow the visual signs of skin aging.4
Turns out, resveratrol fights hard on your body’s behalf – particularly against oxidative stress and the damage it can cause, including wrinkles, sagging skin, and a blotchy complexion. Resveratrol can be found in –

  • Pecans & pistachios
  • Grapes
  • Wine (red & white)
  • Blueberries
  • Dark chocolate

Carotenoids

Carotenoids are the pigments responsible for providing plant life with the various yellows, oranges and reds that make them so unique and beautiful. They color everything from carrots to autumn leaves. And, these phytochemicals can help tackle harmful free radicals throughout your body.
You’ve heard of beta-carotene – important because your body can actually convert this carotenoid into vitamin A. Because this compound can be converted into a necessary vitamin, it helps to keep your immune system working properly, and it also contributes to eye health.5
Look to your orange, yellow, and red (and sometimes pink) fruits and vegetables to be your best sources of carotenoids –

  • Carrots
  • Bananas
  • Rutabagas
  • Sweet potatoes
  • Pink grapefruit

phytochemicals | Gundry MD

Ellagic Acid

Now, lots of researchers are focusing on ellagic acid lately, too. And it’s not just because this powerful phytochemical can potentially help block virus infection and disrupt inflammation.

In fact, a recent study suggests ellagic acid shows promise preventing inflammatory responses caused by UV-B.6 Now, UV-B rays are the harmful, shortwave rays from the sun responsible for burning the superficial layers of your skin. The same study shows ellagic acid helping to prevent collagen destruction as well – which means less wrinkly, saggy skin as you age.

Ellagic acid can be found in several types of tasty berries and in other plant foods –

  • Blackberries
  • Raspberries
  • Strawberries
  • Walnut
  • Pecans
  • Pomegranates

Studies of ellagic acid have mainly been conducted in vitro, so it may be some time before people are able to know the full extent of this phytochemical’s beneficiary attributes.

How to Get More Phytochemicals Into Your Diet

In order to get more phytonutrients into your diet you’ve really only got to do one thing – eat more plants. That’s it. Just eat more plants.
The fact of the matter is you should try to work plant based foods into every meal. You know your morning omelette with onions, mushrooms and ham? Well, add some arugula or kale.

Need to keep lunch quick and easy? Throw together a salad and add walnuts and carrots.

And, of course, for dinner, make sure you’ve got some veggies on your plate. You could even make a nice glass of wine part of your nightly ritual.

Whatever you decide, make sure you’re thinking about the foods you eat and trying to load as many phytonutrients into your diet as you can. Because, as you know, phytochemicals aren’t the only good thing fruits and vegetables have to offer. You’ll also be able to create colorful presentation and infuse your meals with great flavor.

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Sources
1- “Quercetin”. @berkeleywellness. N.p., 2017.
2- Nagao T, et al. “Ingestion Of A Tea Rich In Catechins Leads To A Reduction In Body Fat And Malondialdehyde-Modified LDL In Men. – Pubmed – NCBI”. Ncbi.nlm.nih.gov. N.p., 2017.
3- Galati EM, et al. “Biological Effects Of Hesperidin, A Citrus Flavonoid. (Note I): Antiinflammatory And Analgesic Activity. – Pubmed – NCBI”. Ncbi.nlm.nih.gov. N.p., 2017.
4- Ndiaye, Mary et al. “The Grape Antioxidant Resveratrol For Skin Disorders: Promise, Prospects, And Challenges”. N.p., 2017.
5- EJ, Johnson. “The Role Of Carotenoids In Human Health. – Pubmed – NCBI”. Ncbi.nlm.nih.gov. N.p., 2017. Web.
6- Bae JY, e. (2017). Dietary compound ellagic acid alleviates skin wrinkle and inflammation induced by UV-B irradiation. – PubMed – NCBI. Ncbi.nlm.nih.gov.

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