While there are many phytonutrients that have been identified, there are probably thousands more that remain to be discovered.
The best known phytonutrients are carotenoids, flavonoids, and isoflavones. Carotenoids include yellow, orange, and red pigment in fruits and vegetables. Dark, green, leafy vegetables are rich in the carotenoid, beta carotene, but the usual yellow color is masked by the chloraphyll, the green pigment in the vegetables. Flavonoids are reddish pigments, found in red grape skins and citrus fruits, and isoflavones can be found in peanuts, lentils, soy, and other legumes. You're familiar with vitamins, now we have "phytomins," which are less familiar, but equally important, health-promoting substances in food.
Phytonutrients are also known as phytochemicals.
Researchers are busily uncovering a host of beneficial compounds in plant foods. While these phytonutrients aren't essential by traditional definitions, they apparently reduce risks of diseases of aging.
For example, the isoflavones in soy products may reduce the risk of heart disease, osteoporosis, and several types of cancer. Certain flavonoids in blueberries may actually reverse nerve cell aging. And a wide array of compounds in fruits and vegetables may protect cell components against oxidative damage as well as vitamins C or E.
Phytonutrients have provided the impetus for plant and nutrition scientists to work together because foods will continue to be the primary source of these compounds.
While nearly all plant foods contain health-promoting phytochemicals, the following are the most phyto-dense food sources:
- Flax seeds
- Citrus fruits
- Melons: cantaloupe, watermelon
- Pink grapefruit
- Sweet potatoes
- Chili peppers
- Legumes: beans, and lentils
Honorable mention: green tea, red grapes, papaya, carrots, kale, nuts and seeds, eggplant, artichoke, cabbage, brussel sprouts, onions, apples, cauliflower, dried apricots, pumpkin, squash, spinach, mangos, and shiitake mushrooms.