The Secret Superheroes in Your Food: Exploring the Benefits of Phytonutrients
In the quest for better, more vibrant health, we often look for the next best diet, supplement, or wellness practice. And something often overlooked is the incredible power of phytonutrients.
Phytonutrients (also called phytochemicals) is the collective name for the active compounds found in all plant foods responsible for the vibrant colouring of the plant. These compounds also give the plants their natural immunity and disease-fighting properties!
Plants produce thousands of these natural chemicals as an adaptive response to help them maintain an evolutionary advantage in reaction to their environments, such as to protect plants from germs, fungi, bugs, and other threats. These protective benefits appear to transfer over to human health when we consume these colourful plant foods!
Phytonutrients are not (yet) considered essential to life like the macronutrient groups carbohydrates, fat, and protein, and the micronutrients (vitamins and minerals). However, phytonutrients have been shown to reduce inflammation, support detoxification processes, and protect against oxidative stress and cell damage. These three important processes are essential for human health and longevity, plus they play a key role in disease prevention and progression, including cancer.
With over 25,000 known phytonutrient compounds available in plant foods (and counting), we may not yet know the full extent of their potential health benefits.
New, promising evidence is always emerging
The therapeutic power of plant foods is being studied continuously and new evidence is always emerging. An interesting paper from research in 2021 shows that phytochemical compounds may be able to support anticancer treatment, by way of inhibiting cancer cell replication and growth, and exerting antioxidant and anti-inflammatory effects.
Understanding some phytonutrient compounds names and groups
As mentioned above, there are over 25,000 identified phytonutrient compounds so far, and they are classified into different groups based on their chemical structure. Some examples of these groups, just to name a few, include:
This is a large group of phytonutrients that includes compound names such as flavonoids, phenolic acids, lignans, resveratrol, isoflavones, quercetin, ellagic acid, anthocyanins, and anthocyanidin. Polyphenols are found in many plant foods and are known for their antioxidant and anti-inflammatory properties.
Another large group of plant pigments that include flavones, isoflavones, flavanols, rutin, apigenin, quercetin, hesperetin, and anthocyanins. Flavonoids are responsible for plant colours such as yellow, orange, and white. They have many and varied functions in plants, including protection from UV rays and pigmentation, and defence against pathogens and other bugs that may eat the plant. They are known for their antioxidant and anti-inflammatory properties.
These are water-soluble compounds belonging to the flavonoid family that are responsible for the red, purple, and blue colouring in plants. They play a role in attracting pollinators and seed dispersers. Anthocyanins are known for their antioxidant properties and anti ageing properties, and have been linked to cardiovascular health and cancer prevention.
These are pigments responsible for the red, orange, and yellow colouring of a wide range of fruits and vegetables. Carotenoid examples include beta-carotene, lycopene, lutein, zeaxanthin and beta-cryptoxanthin. Carotenoids are potent antioxidants that have been particularly associated with eye health and protection against certain cancers. Lutein and zeaxanthin are the most common compounds in dark green leafy vegetables such as kale, spinach, chard, and broccoli. They act as accessory pigments in photosynthesis, where sunlight is captured and transferred into chlorophyll molecules.
This is the green pigment responsible for photosynthesis in plants. It has antioxidant, anti-inflammatory properties and detoxifying effects in the body.
Similar in structure to cholesterol, phytosterols can help reduce cholesterol absorption in the gut, which can be heart health protective.
Thiols and Sulphides
These compounds are commonly found in garlic (as allicin), onions (as quercetin), and cruciferous vegetables (as isothiocyanates) and may exert anti-cancer and cardiovascular benefits.
These are aromatic compounds found in various herbs and spices. They contribute to the distinct flavours and scents we find in such plants and have been associated with health benefits such as antimicrobial and anti-inflammatory effects.
Eating the Rainbow
Below is a (non exhaustive) list of fruits, vegetables, herbs, spices, and whole-grains by colour category, to help you start to map out how you can increase your intake of colourful plants across the entire colour spectrum!
Peppers (bell, chilli sweet)
Blood oranges and pink grapefruit
Raspberries, Strawberries, Cranberries, Cherries, Goji berries
Beans (adzuki, kidney)
Nectarine, Orange, Tangerine
Pumpkin, Squash (acorn, buttercup, butternut, winter)
Dark green leaves (rocket, watercress, spinach, beet leaves, chard/swiss chard, kale, lambs lettuce..)
Herbs (parsley, coriander, basil, chives, mint, sage, rosemary, thyme..)
Green beans, mange tout
Berries (blue, black, boysenberries)
Purple sprouting broccoli
Red and black grapes
Black or purple rice
Whole grains (barley, brown, rice, oat, quinoa, rye, spelt, wheat)
Seeds (flax, hemp, pumpkin, sesame, sunflower)
Legumes (chickpeas, lentils, beans)
Nuts (almonds, cashews, pecans, walnuts)
Tahini (sesame seed)
Tea (black, white)
Here are our top tips for getting more phytonutrients and increasing variety!
Aim to eat 20-30 different plants everyday
This is actually easier than you might think! A typical serving is half a cup of cooked vegetables, one cup of raw leafy greens, or a handful of berries. Remember, herbs, whole grains, seeds, nuts, chillies, and spices also count! Aim to have about 5-10 servings of plant foods each meal and you’ve hit your goal!
Here’s an example of ten colourful plants in one meal:
Salad base of watercress, rocket and spinach, with chopped red chilli, yellow bell pepper, basil, red onion, tomato, grated beetroot, and olives.
Add in some chickpeas, lentils or quinoa and top with pumpkin seeds and you’ve got yourself another two plants, making it 12 in one meal!
Include your favourite vegetables in different shades
Love Potatoes? Vary your types so you’re not only eating regular white potatoes. Use sweet potatoes as well and look out for purple sweet potatoes or white potatoes with red skin, and (wash and) eat the skin! And how about adding yam, jicama, carrots or squash with your potatoes whether mashed, boiled or roasted?
Love cabbage? Shred purple cabbage into your salads, saute green cabbage with your evening meal, and shred white cabbage into your stir fries.
Love bell peppers? Make sure you’re not favouring one colour, eat the red, yellow, orange and green ones!
Love rice? Why not alternate between red, black rice and brown rice rather than only brown.
Junius drinks for your daily dose of phytonutrients
In our 7 colour-coded pillars you will find juices and shots containing an array of different colour plants to help you increase your intake of phytonutrients. Here’s a breakdown of the phytonutrient foods in each of the 7 pillars:
Our Starter (mixed) Box is ideal because it’s our full range of juices inside one bumper box delivered to your door each week. A week’s supply contains 14 drinks; 1 juice and 1 shot per each of the 7 colour-coded pillars. This way you can benefit from the full spectrum of nutrients inside every one of our nutritionally designed award-winning juices and shots.
We believe in nourishing the roots of health. We start with the science and build the recipe.
The Blue Zones are regions in the world known for having a high concentration of centenarians (people who live to be 100 years old or more) and lower rates of age-related diseases. While various factors contribute to the health and longevity of people in Blue Zones, such as lifestyle habits and sense of community, phytonutrients found in their diets are a big part of the equation. People living in the Blue Zones consume a variety of colourful, locally grown vegetables, berries, herbs, spices, nuts, seeds and whole grains, ensuring a diverse intake of phytonutrients.
Let’s be more like the Blue Zones and increase phytonutrient foods! We hope this blog has provided you with knowledge as well as practical tips and ideas on how to achieve it!