Color My World – Phytochemicals in Fruits Good for You
November 06, 2009
By S. L. Baker
Phenolics. Flavonoids. Carotenoids. Quercetin. Phloridzin. What do these scientific names have in common? They are all types of phytonutrients, also called phytochemicals, found in fruits, vegetables, grains, legumes, nuts, and teas. And they may decrease the risk of not only minor illnesses like colds but also many of the major killers on the planet — including cancer and heart disease. Scientists have only identified a few of the suspected vast number of these natural compounds in foods that protect and build health. But two facts are clear. First, most Americans don’t get enough phytonutrients in their daily diet for optimum health and, second, there’s an easy strategy to boost your phytonutrient intake — simply eat a mix of more naturally colorful foods.
The recently released Phytonutrient Report, sponsored by the supplement company Nutrilite, used National Health and Nutrition Examination Surveys (NHANES) and USDA data to analyze what people in the U.S. typically eat each day. Because the same compounds that give plant foods various colors are related to phytonutrient content, the report divided consumption into five categories of colors — green, red, blue/purple, yellow/orange and white.
For example, the phytonutrients, isothiocyanate, lutein and isoflavones are known to be abundant in green foods such as spinach and broccoli and lycopene and ellagic acid are found in red fruits and vegetables like watermelon and tomatoes. White plant foods like onions and garlic are rich in allicin and quercetin. Anthocyanidins and resveratrol are found in purple and blue foods like grapes and blueberries while alpha-carotene, beta-carotene, hesperitin and beta-cryptoxanthin are most often in yellow/orange foods such as carrots and oranges.
The Phytonutrient Report concludes there is a phytonutrient gap in every color classification. Specifically, 88% of Americans are eating too few foods in the blue/purple category, 79% are missing out on an adequate intake of yellow and orange foods, and 78% don’t have enough red veggies and fruits in their diets. In addition, 69% lack enough daily green plant foods and 86% lack enough white plant foods.