Phytonutrients: Defend Your Body With Plant PowerAuthor: Israa Alia, RDN, MBA Date: May 01, 2019
Phytonutrients are power-packed natural additions to your diet. These natural chemicals are what give plants their color, odor, and flavor. Plants also use phytonutrients to defend themselves against predators, and we can use them to defend against illness, inflammation, heart disease — and even cancer.
Common phytonutrients include chemicals called polyphenols, flavonoids, and carotenoids.
Phytonutrients Can Help You:
- Reduce inflammation
- Remove free radicals (unstable molecules that can damage cells and DNA)
- Maintain cell health
- Boost immunity
- Regulate estrogen and insulin
- Fight heart disease
How do phytonutrients help fight cancer?
Research shows that phytonutrients can help prevent and fight cancer by:
- Blocking substances from becoming carcinogens (cells that can cause cancer)
- Repairing mutated genes that might otherwise become cancerous
- Slowing tumor growth
- Promoting cell death (the process that removes abnormal cells)
Can I take supplements during cancer treatment?
Some experts think phytonutrients can protect healthy cells from the damaging effects of chemotherapy. But others believe they actually shield cancer cells from treatment. Talk with your doctor before adding a supplement to your diet.
How can I get phytonutrients without affecting treatment?
Eat whole foods — including fruits, vegetables, spices, legumes, and edible flowers. There’s no evidence that consuming antioxidants through foods causes harm.
How to Get Phytonutrients: Eat the Rainbow
Brightly colored fruits and vegetables are packed with phytonutrients. Their color depends on the dominant phytonutrient. To make the most of nature’s nutrients, eat the rainbow.
Choose 10 servings each day (1.5–2 cups of fruits and 2–3 cups of vegetables) from the list below.
How to “Eat the Rainbow”
Different-colored foods have different helpful phytonutrients. In the articles below, we explain how each color helps you — and we give you tasty recipes to try, too.
The Linus Pauling Institute
The Linus Pauling Institute
Conklin, K.A., “Dietary Antioxidants During Cancer Chemotherapy: Impact on Chemotherapeutic Effectiveness and Development of Side Effects,” Nutrition and Cancer, 2000.
Ladas, E. and K.M. Kelly, “The Antioxidant Debate,” Explore: The Journal of Science & Healing, 2010.
Norma, H.A. et al., “The Role of Dietary Supplements During Cancer Therapy,” Journal of Nutrition, November 2003.
Greenlee, Heather et al., “Antioxidant Supplement Use After Breast Cancer Diagnosis and Mortality in the LACE Cohort,” Cancer, April 2012.
The Centers for Disease Control
U.S. Department of Health and Human Services and U.S. Department of Agriculture