Phytonutrients: Nature’s Preventative Medicine
Regardless of your diet, pumping up your consumption of fruits and vegetables has some incredibly positive health benefits. For example, cherries alone are a good source of potassium, which is great for muscle contractions, and Vitamin C, which is necessary for the growth, development and repair of all body tissues, formation of collagen, absorption of iron, boosting the immune system, wound healing, and the maintenance of cartilage, bones, and teeth.
To name just a few of their benefits, diets generally high in fruits and vegetables:
● decrease obesity
● prevent heart disease
● protect against certain cancers
As if that’s not enough, fruits and vegetables are also packed with fiber, vitamins, minerals, and numerous phytonutrients. Phyto-what? Unlike vitamins and minerals, these non-nutritive chemicals found in plants are not essential to sustain life. They are, however, valuable in the prevention of disease and may optimize other aspects of human health. You might call them Mother Nature’s preventative medicine. Currently, thousands of
phytonutrients have been identified, and their benefits range from positively effecting hormonal processes to acting as antioxidants and reducing the risk of disease. Some phytonutrients you may have heard of before include: carotenoids, flavonoids, phytoestrogens, sulfides and thiols, phytosterols, and isothiocyanates. One of the phytonutrients most touted in the media today is resveratrol, which is found in peanuts, grapes, and red wine. Popular for its anti-aging benefits, resveratrol is also linked to antioxidant, antibiotic, antitumor, anti-inflammatory, and cardio-protective effects.
Each fruit or vegetable has its own unique concoction of phytonutrients. For example, carrots, citrus fruits, and dark green leafy vegetables are high in carotenoids; berries, grapes, and broccoli are high in flavonoids. With that in mind, a greater variety of plants in your diet will contribute to a wider spread of phytonutrients, and thus an increased range of health benefits. Though phytonutrients may be added to increase health benefits, animal products do not contain phytonutrients—only plant foods do.
To introduce more plant diversity into your diet, try the recipe below for a healthy and satisfying serving of phytonutrient-rich vegetables. This recipe also uses the commonly discarded portions of vegetables (the green tops and skin) for added phytonutrient and ecological benefits!
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Carrot and Bean Veggie Burgers
(Makes approximately 16, 2-ounce patties)
1 can garbanzo beans, drained
1 shallot, diced
1 clove garlic, chopped
½ teaspoon turmeric
1 teaspoon curry powder
½ teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon pepper
3 tablespoons olive oil plus 3 tablespoons olive oil, divided
1 pound carrots of mixed colors (we found some at Whole Foods), diced
½ cup cooked brown basmati rice
½ cup quick cooking oats
Preheat the oven to 350 degrees.
Drain the garbanzo beans and put them into a food processor. Add the shallots, garlic, turmeric, curry powder, salt, and pepper. Blend until the ingredients are roughly mixed and incorporated. Add 3 tablespoons of the olive oil, carrots, brown rice, and quick cooking oats and blend again until mixed well.
Form the completed mixture into approximately 16 2-ounce patties. Drizzle the remaining 3 tablespoons of olive oil in a sauté pan and place it on the stove at medium heat. When the oil is hot, add the veggie burgers and fry them until they become golden brown. Flip the patty and brown the other side.
Remove the patties from the sauté pan and place them on a baking sheet. Cook the patties at 350 degrees for 15 minutes. While they are cooking, begin preparing the Carrot Top Pesto (below). Once the patties are cooked, remove them from the oven and set them aside to cool. Garnish with Carrot Top Pesto or your choice of toppings as desired and enjoy! (Bonus: These taste great chilled too!)
Carrot Top PestoIngredients
Carrot tops from 1 pound of carrots
1 clove garlic, roughly chopped
1 tablespoon fresh lemon juice
1 cup olive oil
Remove the carrot top greens from the stem. Rinse and dry the carrot top greens, then add them to a food processor. Add the garlic, lemon juice, and olive oil. Blend all of the ingredients together until they are smooth. Serve the pesto on top of the patties or on the side as an accompaniment.
1.Edelstein, S. (2014). Food science: An ecological approach. Burlington, MA: Jones & Bartlett Learning
2.Fruit and Vegetable Nutrition. (2015). Retrieved May 27, 2015 from