Adding more phytonutrients to your diet might just seem like a prescription for more food, more confusion, more to worry about. But in reality, making sure you get enough of the phytonutrient benefit is as easy as adding color, freshness and variety.
Phytonutrients are found naturally in a variety of foods, such as legumes, nuts, teas, fruits, vegetables and grains, but are not considered necessary to sustain life (as are fats, protein, vitamins and minerals). Many people choose to increase phytonutrients in their diet by improved diet as well as nutritional supplementation.
Phytonutrients are thought to have a variety of beneficial and significant benefits to our health. Eating more whole foods in the form of fruits and vegetables and the like can benefit you by protecting you from cancer and certain diseases. In addition, it’s believed that phytonutrients can improve cell-to-cell communication within the body, possibly repair DNA damage from smoking and other toxic substances, and strengthen the immune system.
So how do you add more phytonutrients to your diet? It’s as easy as adding color, variety and freshness.
Color When you think of phytonutrients, think color. Think of the bright red of a perfectly ripe tomato, or the rich redness of a summer grape. Although fruits and vegetables are the best source of nutrient-dense phytonutrients, most Americans get woefully low amounts of fresh produce in their diets. According to the USDA, while it’s recommended we get at least 5-7 servings of fruits and vegetables daily, most Americans get little more than 3 servings. Of that, deep yellow and dark green vegetables account for only 0.2 daily servings on average.
Yet it’s the richly colored vegetables and fruits that provide the best sources of phytonutrients. If your grocery cart isn’t full of color (and that doesn’t include colored Goldfish crackers), add some next time you’re shopping.
Variety — Although fruits and vegetables are the best sources of phytonutrients, they aren’t the only source. So while you want to add a lot of color to your diet in the form of nutrient-dense fruits and vegetables like berries, grapes, tomatoes, peppers, spinach and the like, think about adding other sources of phytonutrients as well. Consider adding a glass of tea at lunch or dinner or some chopped pecans or slivered almonds to your oatmeal in the morning.
Freshness There is much debate on the value of fresh vegetables versus frozen. It’s fair to say everyone agrees that canned holds little nutritional content, so adding can of veggies to your cart isn’t the best plan (this excludes canned tomatoes which retain the freshness and nutrient value of fresh). But in a pinch, or in the off season, frozen vegetables can certainly be included in your daily diet. Frozen fruits are always fine, as long as they are whole, unprocessed and without added sugar.