by Melissa Chichester
Within that sweet and tart piece of fruit are many beneficial molecular compounds that support well-being and a nourished body. Researchers have estimated that there are over 4,000 phytochemicals available from plants; however, some of them have been studied for their benefits more than others. Let’s take a look at five powerful phytochemicals, what they can do, and where you can find them!
Carotenoids are yellow, orange, and red fat-soluble pigments that are responsible for giving fruits, vegetables, and plants their color. Carrots, sweet potatoes, and tomatoes are high in carotenoids. Carotenoids can also be found in some algae, fungi, and bacteria. The job of carotenoids in plants is to absorb light for energy use and protect chlorophyll from ultraviolet radiation damage. In the body, carotenoids are present in concentrated amounts near the retina of the eye where it acts as an antioxidant.* Lutein and zeaxanthin are two known carotenoids that contribute to eye health.* Lycopene is another known carotenoid that contributes to heart health and supports the prostate.*
Purple, blue, red, and black plants get their rich pigments from anthocyanins which are water-soluble pigments. Anthocyanins can be present in the fruit, vegetable, and other parts of the plant, including the roots, leaves, flowers, and stem. Raspberries, eggplant, blackberries, and bilberry fruit all contain anthocyanins. Anthocyanins have antioxidant properties and can help fight against cell-damaging free radicals.* Tomato plants use anthocyanins to protect their leaves against the stress of cold.
Good news: It’s time to talk about chocolate! Flavonols are a group of bioactive plant compounds found in a wide variety of foods. Flavonols are pale yellow in color and their production is based on the environment so the light received during growing seasons can impact the number of flavonols in food. Quercetin and myricetin are two prominent flavonols. In the body, flavonols are best known for contributing to overall health and wellness.* Food sources of flavonols include dark chocolate, cocoa, wine, tea, apples, and citrus fruits.
If you’re a woman, there is a good chance you have heard about the benefits of isoflavones. Isoflavones are a plant compound that is a type of phytoestrogen, which is similar in composition to the human hormone estrogen. Soybeans and other soy products like tofu, edamame, soy milk, tempeh, and miso are all sources of soy isoflavones. Isoflavones are known to help menopausal women ease hot flashes.*
Contrary to popular belief, cumin, curcuminoids, and turmeric are not all the same thing. Curcuminoids are active plant pigments that are responsible for giving turmeric its bright orange color, and they provide color to mustard. In the body, curcuminoids act as antioxidants and help fight free radicals.* These free radicals can come from harmful lifestyle habits or from events in daily life, like pollution or stress.