By Jay Cao
What are Phytonutrients? The prefix "phyto-" originated from the Greek word meaning plant. Phytonutrients sometimes referred to as phytochemicals, are a group of plant-based compounds that are believed to provide a wide range of health benefits to humans.
At least 900 different phytonutrients have been identified in plants. These include catechins, flavones, flavonols, isoflavones, lutein, lycopene and zeaxanthin. Fruits and vegetables such as spinach, soybeans, tomatoes, onions, carrots, oranges, berries and green tea are rich in these substances.
Studies have found the protective and disease-preventing benefits of phytonutrients are mainly related to their powerful antioxidative activities and anti-inflammatory properties. A common example, green tea, contains high amounts of epigallocatecin gallate or EGCG, one of the most powerful naturally occurring antioxidants.
Phytonutrients help protect from oxidative stress and chronic inflammation, the main causes of age-related chronic disease. Oxidative stress results from normal metabolism; it is increased by such factors as smog and tobacco smoke and decreased by antioxidants including the phytonutrients. Research has revealed that EGCG can decrease oxidative stress as well as inflammation in the arteries, reducing the risk of developing atherosclerosis.
Phytonutrients in foods such as apples, grapes, berries, plums and other vegetables have been found to improve blood vessel function, improve the negative effects of LDL ("bad" cholesterol), and prevent coronary artery disease through their anti-inflammatory effects. Oxidative stress can also contribute to osteoporosis which causes bones to become porous and break easily. Osteoporosis affects more than 10 million people in the United States and costs more than $17 billion in direct annual healthcare expenses.
The antioxidant phytonutrients can benefit bone health. Scientists at the Grand Forks Human Nutrition Research Center found phytonutrient-rich pinto bean hulls have high antioxidant activity. Supplements decreased bone loss and improved overall bone health. They also found green tea polyphenols to reduce oxidative stress and inflammation improving bone quantity and quality in animal models. They are also rich in calcium, magnesium, and potassium which are required for bone health and can help to prevent calcium loss from bones by neutralizing acids produced by normal digestion.
Most Americans do not consume the recommended numbers of servings of fruit and vegetables on a daily basis. For your good health including bone health, eating enough fruits and vegetable is important to maintaining a healthy lifestyle. For dietary recommendations, visit the website www.choosemyplate.gov. Be sure to check out the free "Interactive Tools".