Immunity Series: Antioxidants and Phytonutrients

Antioxidants and phytonutrients are big scary words, but really they are just the names for natural compounds that can only be found in fruits, vegetables and whole grains like quinoa and oats. This is why nutrition professionals everywhere scream from the rooftops that people need more fruits and vegetables due to the critical role these compounds play in keeping us healthy and getting rid of inflammation in the body. Whenever social media talks about “detoxes” don’t listen. All you need to keep your body’s natural detoxifying processes running efficiently are fruits and vegetables. 

When the body is able to fight inflammation, it gets rid of free radicals. Free radicals are harmful compounds in the body that come from a variety of lifestyle and environmental factors like physical inactivity, a poor diet, and smoking. When your body is able to get rid of free radicals efficiently, its defenses against disease are stronger. This is where antioxidants and phytonutrients come in. They are what give fruits and vegetables their vibrant color and each color represents a different phytonutrient or antioxidant with a different health benefit to the body. This is why it is important to “eat the rainbow” or make sure you are eating a variety of colors and fruits and vegetables to ensure you are getting a wide range of antioxidants.

Carotenoids (antioxidant) – This antioxidant is a derivative of Vitamin A which, as was mentioned in the vitamins and minerals article in this series, has been proven to make mucus membranes in the body stronger. The difference between carotenoids and Vitamin A is that supplementing carotenoids is much safer than Vitamin A. However, the safest and most healthful method of obtaining this antioxidant is through food. Carotenoids can be found in pumpkin, oranges, sweet potatoes, carrots and kale. 

Flavonoids (phytonutrient) – Although this phytonutrient is not directly associated with immune health, it is a very powerful antioxidant that fights harmful inflammation in the body and has been found to help the prevention of cancer and heart diseases. Flavonoids can be found in green tea, ginger, apples and coffee. 

Resveratrol (antioxidant) – Red wine drinkers are familiar with this one! Resveratrol has shown potential to boost the immune system in moderate amounts. However, it can have negative effects on immune health if consumed in excess. You can find this antioxidant in grapes, berries and dark chocolate. 

Glucosinolates (phytonutrient) – This phytonutrient has a demonstrated role in preventing cancerous compounds from developing in the body due to its role in destroying harmful cells.  By helping to clear the harmful cells from the body, glucosinolates can help to keep the body less vulnerable to diseases. You can get this glucosinolates in cruciferous vegetables including broccoli, brussels sprouts, cabbage and bok choy.

Bottom line? Celery juice isn’t the answer to every one of your health prayers. There is no one magic fruit, vegetable or secret grain to keep you healthy and your immune system strong. 

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