Vitamins, minerals, fiber, fats, carbs, and proteins get all the glamour. Everyone is always talking about fat this, carb that, and vitamin whatever. But what about all the other substances in food and plants? I bet you’ve never thought about those.

Phytonutrients simply means “plant nutrients” – everything in plants that have health benefits that aren’t any of those things I already mentioned. You’d be surprised to know that they outnumber traditional nutrients by about 10,000 to 1.

The way food smells, tastes, and looks comes down to its phytonutrients. That purple colour of the eggplant? Yep, that’s a phytonutrient. The intense smell that makes you cry when you cut onions? Phytonutrient. The bitterness of some wines? Well, you get the picture.

Basically, your experience of food is chalked up to these molecules, not vitamins or macronutrients like proteins.

And it’s a wonder we’ve never paid them much attention!

Phytonutrients are broken down into many different categories such as flavanoids, tannins, terpenoids, alkaloids, phenylpropanoids, glycosides, and sulfur compounds. Those categories are then broken down to hundreds of other categories of substances.

Why is this important? Because phytonutrients are just that…. nutrients. They are really important for your health, as each one of them has specific properties that can benefit your body in some way. These include antioxidant, anti-inflammatory, cancer preventative, and immunosupportive properties.

One phytonutrient you may be familiar with is a carotanoid called beta-carotene. It’s what gives carrots and sweet potatoes their orange colour and they say it’s good for seeing in the dark. (It’s also good for the skin!)

Anyway, this is just one reason why it’s a good idea to eat a variety of foods and not just get stuck on the same one or two fruits and vegetables, as it can be easy to do.

You know how they say to ‘eat the rainbow’ on your plate? It’s referring to eating many different colours of plants at your meal so that you’re getting a well rounded hit of all those different phytos!

Another good reason to rotate foods is that some phytonutrients can become slightly toxic if they are built up in your body over time. For example, this happens with phytonutrients in leafy greens called alkaloids. So it’s best to change which greens you are using in your green smoothie every few days or each week to ensure you are getting the most out of them!

Do you eat the rainbow?

PS. I’m taking the weekend off to go to my favourite summer festival (the one I mentioned in my life story) in order to dance my arse off and enjoy life – so if I’m M.I.A on answering your questions and comments for a few days, that is why. Have a wonderful weekend everyone!!

photo by m.a.x