The cool morning air signaled the heat wave was finally over. Annie noticed it as soon as she stepped outside for an early morning walk. She paused, looking at a dazzling display of gold, ruby, coral, and amber foliage. The trees’ spring and summer green leaves, a product of chlorophyll, had undergone fall photosynthesis and experienced a boost in anthocyanins, the phytonutrient responsible for producing the bright display. It is the same compound responsible for the deep color of fruits and vegetables like cherries, grapes, blackberries, tomatoes, spinach, eggplant, and corn.

Later that morning, LJ found her in the garden.

“These are our first carrots,” Annie exclaimed as she shook one. The dirt flew in all directions, but she didn’t seem to notice in her excitement.

“I see you love what you’re doing,” commented LJ as he brushed the dirt off her shoulders.

“Why are you so excited about this?”

“Because, sweetheart, what we have here is a rich source of phytonutrients just waiting for us to pick and enjoy.”

“Okay, so what are phytonutrients, and why should I care about them?”

“I’m so glad you asked. Phytonutrients are compounds naturally produced in fruits, veggies, whole grains, and legumes. They have antioxidant and anti-inflammatory properties, protecting and supporting the immune system. You should care because plants experience the same benefits from phytonutrients, such as protection from disease, and are the same benefits we experience when we eat the plants.”

“I get it, food as medicine,” he mused. “I assume carrots are not the only source of phytonutrients?”

“You are correct. There are over 25000 phytonutrients. The most common and important are:

Carotenoids, of which there are over 600 types. Carotenoids are responsible for the bright colors of fruits and veggies. Once ingested, one kind of carotenoid is converted by the body into vitamin A, which is essential for eye health, human growth, and immune system support. Foods high in carotenoids include pumpkins, tomatoes, spinach, kale, oranges, and yams.

Phytoestrogens are a phytonutrient known to help combat heart disease, osteoporosis, and cancer. Women may especially benefit from soy, carrots, oranges, broccoli, and legumes because research shows phytoestrogens mimics estrogen in the body, which could help relieve menopause symptoms. However, during pre-menopause and menopause, it is important to speak with your doctor about phytoestrogens.

Resveratrol is found in red grapes, blueberries, strawberries, and dark chocolate, to name a few. This phytonutrient’s antioxidant abilities appear to protect skin cells from ultraviolet light. Resveratrol also helps protect blood vessels and the heart and is known to halt the progression of eye disease.

Ellagic Acid is a phytonutrient shown to protect against cancer. Its antioxidant and anti-inflammatory properties help lower cholesterol. Natural sources are strawberries, raspberries, blackberries, cherries, and walnuts.

Flavonoids are an umbrella term for many phytonutrients, including flavones, anthocyanins, flavanones, isoflavones, and flavanols. All have impressive anti-cancer and antioxidant properties. Flavonoids help protect against diabetes, heart disease, and the development of cognitive decline. Apples, grapefruit, onions, legumes, and ginger are good sources of flavonoids.

Glucosinolates are phytonutrients found in cruciferous veggies. Cabbage, Brussels sprouts, broccoli, cauliflower, bok choy, and kale are rich in glucosinolates. They have anti-inflammatory benefits that protect against heart disease and help combat colon, prostate, and breast cancer risks.”

“That’s good stuff, Annie. Phytonutrients aren’t the sexiest topic, but an important one. Daily consumption of whole, colorful fruits and vegetables means multiple phytonutrients work synergistically to help prevent disease and maintain our good health.”

“Thanks, sweetheart. And eating foods during their harvest season means we are helping maintain the earth’s health too.”


Annie and LJ are a fictional couple. Their storyline promotes healthy eating and earth-friendly practices.


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