What are phytonutrients and what do they do?

What are phytonutrients and what do they do?

You will find the answers in this great interview with Angela Hermes.  Angela is a registered dietitian from Portland Oregon.  She specializes in chronic illnesses and vegetarian and vegan diets.   Her website is www.NourishingTransitions.com  and my website is www.peaceloveandsnacks.com

Stan: Hi, I am Stan Starsky from peaceloveandsnacks.com, author of the Healthy Snacks Cookbook and I am back with Angela Hermes. She is a Registered Dietitian in Portland, Oregon, specializing in chronic illnesses and vegetarian and vegan diets. You should check out her website at nourishingtransitions.com. Welcome back Angela.

Angela: Thanks Stan, thanks for having me.

Stan: Hey, well first thanks again for speaking with me previously and you should check out those other podcasts that I’ve done with Angela. She provides a ton of information and we’re going to talk about today phytonutrients. And you can see that my knowledge level … I can’t even pronounce it. But if you can tell me some more about phytonutrients, that would be great. I’m curious about it and I’ve had other people that have asked me about it as well.

Angela: All right. Well, phytonutrients are something that most people have probably heard of. That’s a big thing right now in the food and nutrition world. You may have also heard them referred to as phytochemicals. And what they are is they’re naturally or occurring organic compounds that is found in all plants. They’re actually the pigments that make-up the color in fruits and vegetables. So there are different phytonutrients that make up the orange in carrots and the red in tomatoes and the green in spinach. They’re still being studied. This is a relatively new area in the world of food science. So it’s still being studied and actually the public interest in phytonutrients is out-pacing the scientific studies on them. So the people are very interested in them, and the scientific community can’t move fast enough to get them studied.

However, they’re thought to protect human health and many have been … scientific studies have suggested that they prevent cancer. They’re found in all fruits, vegetables, legumes and greens; so pretty much all plant based foods. And it’s pretty easy if you’re eating a wide variety of fruits and vegetables, and legumes, and greens; it’s pretty easy to get tons and tons of phytonutrients into your diet. For example just one carrot contains more than a hundred different phytonutrients or phytochemicals. And it’s important to eat a variety of colors of fruits and vegetables every single day. In this way, you can get a wide selection of phytonutrients in your diets.

I just want to give a couple of examples of some phytonutrients that many of you may have heard of. One is lycopene and it’s found mostly in tomatoes, grapefruits and watermelon. And it’s been found to help prevent a few different cancers but especially prostate cancer is one that has been found to be beneficial for. And also broccoli contains a really exciting phytonutrient called sulforaphane. And it’s been found to prevent breast cancers. So this is a really exciting field of study – - the phytonutrients.

So as I said, eat a variety of colors of fruits and vegetables to get a wide selection of the phytonutrients in your diet. We like to say color your plate and for eating three to four or more different colors of fruits and vegetables every single day. You could have for example an apple with your breakfast, some carrots and celery as a snack, a green salad for lunch and then maybe some purple eggplant with your dinner and you would have gotten a wide selection of phytonutrients in your diet.

Stan: Interesting, yeah. That’s really good stuff. Very interesting. I’ve heard about tomatoes certainly and I’ve heard certainly a lot of things about broccoli. I didn’t know that those were related to phytonutrients, so…

Angela: Yes.

Stan: And I’m curious too that that was really good stuff. May I ask what’s the difference … there are vitamins and phytonutrients and the phytonutrients as you mentioned too are responsible for giving fruits and vegetables color and there seems like that they’ve got some great benefits. Is there much of a difference between a vitamin and a phytonutrient? Is that are they basically the same thing or not really or?

Angela: They are actually not the same at all. Vitamins include things like Vitamin A,D,E and K; Vitamin B, and Vitamin C, and those vitamins have been heavily studied. We know that they’re absolutely necessary for health in the human population whereas the phytonutrients, they’re still not considered by all to be absolutely necessary for health in the human population. So we know that we need vitamins absolutely for health and the phytonutrients we think that we need them for health, but we’re still figuring all of that out.

Stan: Okay, but as you mentioned there are some that have been studied to the extent to show a reduction in …

Angela: Yeah.

Stan: … as you mentioned prostate cancer with the one that’s found in the tomato,

Angela: Lycopene, yeah.

Stan: Lycopene, okay thanks, and then the other phytonutrient that was found in broccoli too… Okay.

Angela: And just a quick tip on lycopene. Recently a study was done and they found that there’s actually more, well the lycopene in orange tomatoes is easier for our body to use than the lycopene found in red tomatoes. And it has to do with the chemical structure of it. So if you have the opportunity to pick an orange tomato over a red tomato, it has a little bit more lycopene for you.

Stan: Interesting. Very good. That’s great. Very good stuff.

Well, that concludes this segment. And once again I’m Stan Starsky from Peace Love and Snacks and I am with Angela Hermes. She is a Registered Dietitian in Portland, Oregon. You should check out her website at www.nourishingtransitions.com.

She specializes in chronic illness, vegetarian and vegan diets. Thank you.

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