One of the best things about a Saturday visit to the farmers’ market is the huge array of colorful vegetables. Not only are these vegetables beautiful, they also are loaded with healthy plant flavonoids. These are also sometimes called phytonutrients. They include a wide range of chemical substances from plants that are biologically active, but not a vitamin or mineral. They most often occur as pigments in plants. Some examples include anthocyanins in blueberries, lycopene in tomatoes, and flavones in parsley. Most bright colored fruits and vegetables are loaded with them. I think we are just now beginning to understand the potential health benefits of these plant compounds.
In plants, flavonoids provide the beautiful colors you see in leaves, fruit and flowers. They may also be a part of the plant’s defense mechanisms to help ward off insects, fungi, bacteria, and nematodes. Flavonoids may also provide some antioxidant protection to plants that enables them to survive oxidative stresses such as drought, salt, and heat. It is possible the same antioxidant properties of flavonoids that protect plants, are also part of what makes them so healthy for humans to eat.
There is strong indication that phytonutrients might have important health benefits. In vitro studies indicate that flavonoids may be anti-allergenic, anti-inflammatory, antioxidant, anti-microbial, antifungal, and anti-cancer. There are at least two publications documenting that flavonoid intake reduces the risk of gastric cancer. (González CA, Sala N, Rokkas T (2013) and Woo HD, Kim J (2013)). There are also multiple studies examining the effects on cardiac risk factors such as inflammation, blood lipids, glucose metabolism, and hypertension.
One of the best known examples of the health benefits of flavonoids is blueberries. If you Google “blueberries memory” you will find multiple articles and videos about the brain boosting power of blueberries. The Annals of Neurology published an article stating that eating two or more servings of blueberries a day may delay memory decline in the elderly. It is not the vitamins in the blueberries doing the work here. It is these lesser known plant chemicals! Blueberries aren’t the only super foods. All plants contain some. In general, brightly colored plants contain the most. It is a great idea to make a concerted effort to include bright fruits and vegetables in your diet. Things like berries, beets, dark green leafy vegetables, rainbow colored chard, purple carrots, and many others. You will find them all over the farmers’ market. Make it your goal to search out the most colorful items you can find.
I believe we will begin to hear more and more about the benefits of these phytonutrients. Eating colorful fruits and vegetables very likely has benefits even beyond the healthy vitamins and minerals: phytonutrients!
Eat Your Veggies,