Phytonutrients? It’s not Greek to Me!

What Sounds Complicated is Actually Simple

Unless you have your healthy head in the sand, you have probably heard of Phytonutrients or Phytochemicals. What in the world does that mean? Phyto is Greek and means plants. So, Phytochemicals or Phytonutrients are words to describe healthy ingredients in plant-based foods. See, it’s simple. And it’s more than that.

They’re Good for You!

Eat your vegetables! Yeah, I know you’ve heard that before – probably from your mother encouraging you to eat your greens as a child. Nope, you’re not a child anymore, and you are hopefully a healthy adult faithfully eating your greens since you know how important it is to have those nutrients in your diet. What Mom may not have told you is that you can get important nutrients from veggies and other plant-based foods that are not greens. In fact, many of them are white. How about that?

Linda Armada is a Registered Dietitian and Certified Diabetes Educator with The Diabetes Center of North Florida Regional Healthcare.

Linda Armada is a Registered Dietitian and Certified Diabetes Educator with The Diabetes Center of North Florida Regional Healthcare.

Lessons from Linda

Linda Armada, a registered dietitian and certified diabetes educator at the Diabetes Center at North Florida Regional Medical Center, offers some great insight into why phytochemicals are so important to our diet. She explains that these compounds can help increase the body’s ability to fight infections and cancer; some may even lower cholesterol and blood pressure. Armada also explains that these important compounds are often found in white fruits and vegetables. A few phytochemical-rich foods include cauliflower, onions, bananas, garlic, potatoes, pears, corn and squash.

Phyto Advice

Here are a few thoughts just to get you going.

  • Start your day with a cup of hot green tea and some mixed berries-strawberries, blueberries and raspberries. They are a great combo, and all are rich in antioxidants, a type of phytochemical.
  • Try making a quinoa salad with white beans, corn and chopped onions, which can be served cold or hot.
  • For dinner, try grilled chicken and onions, a tossed salad, sweet potatoes and cauliflower.

If you’re interested in more information about phytochemicals, click here. Next time you’re reaching for a healthy snack, don’t forget that it doesn’t have to be green!

Vitamin D Fortified Foods For Bone Health

We’ve come a long way from the early days of the 20th century when nutritional deficiencies caused a lot of health problems. Rickets, in particular, caused weak and deformed bone structure in children due to a lack of vitamin D. Vitamin D is a necessary nutrient to help the body absorb calcium that is necessary to build strong bones and teeth. However, with the introduction of fortified foods and particularly vitamin D fortified milk, rickets has all but been eradicated in children.

Since sunlight is another way to provide vitamin D to our bodies, there has been a rise in vitamin D deficiencies as more media has focused on the detrimental hazards of sun exposure. Studies have shown that in addition to weakening your bones, vitamin D deficiency may be associated with conditions like cancers, asthma, cardiovascular disease and autoimmune diseases that can affect the function of your thyroid. In children, vitamin D deficiencies brought about rickets while bone weakening in adults is called osteomalacia. The benefits of vitamin D to our bodies is the way it helps overall bone health and decreases the mortality rate for old women.

Vitamin D is a necessary part of our whole nutritional health. Fatty fish, fish-liver oils and eggs are the few foods that naturally contain this essential nutrient. Fortified foods provide most of the vitamin D in the American diet, as it is difficult to get the necessary amount of vitamin D from just eating the food that provides it naturally. Ready-to-eat breakfast cereals often contain added vitamin D, as do some brands of orange juice, yogurt, margarine and other food products. The U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Nutrient Database Web site lists the nutrient content of many foods. It also provides a comprehensive list of foods containing vitamin D.

Follow carefully any diet program your healthcare professional recommends. If you think you are deficient in some vitamins and minerals and would like to pursue a richer, Vitamin-fortified diet or take additional vitamin supplements, be sure to work closely with your healthcare provider and follow their recommendations for appropriate foods and vitamin dosages, as getting too much vitamin D can conversely lead to Vitamin D toxicity. You may be at greater risk if you have health problems such as liver or kidney conditions or if you take some diuretics.

The recommended daily allowance of vitamin D is 600 international units (IU) for children and most adults. The recommendation for adults over age 70 is 800 IU daily. Above 4,000 IU a day the risk of adverse effects increases. Finally, keep in mind that doctors may recommend higher does of vitamin D for a short time to treat an underlying medical problem such as vitamin D deficiency. However, such doses should always be under the care of a doctor.