What are Phytonutrients

From the Greek word Phyto meaning "Plant", Phytochemicals are found throughout plant life and is used to refer to the general nutritional composition of plants. There are estimated to be as many as 10,000 different chemicals, however the focus should remain on foods eaten.

You will find them commonly in Fruits and Vegetables, with other foods including whole grains, Nuts and Beans.

Such nutrients may:

  • Provide antioxidants to the body.
  • Quicken immune responses to disease.
  • Increase cell to cell communication in the body.
  • Help the body to repair from damage done by smoking or other carcinogens.
  • Activate Cytocrome P450 and Phase 2 enzyme systems, used to detoxify the body.

Phytonutrients are not essential in keeping the body alive unlike specific Vitamins but they are shown to prevent diseases in the body and keep it working effectively. They can be found in the majority of plant based foods and there are many studies still in progress to assess the many benefits the provide to the human body.

Important more common phytonutrients to remember and that you can find in your food every day;

  • Carotenoids
  • Ellagic Acid
  • Flavonoids
  • Glucosinolates


Antioxidants for the body, used to fight harmful free radicals, highly reactive chemical bonds in the body. Over 600 carotenoids can be found in Fruit and Vegetables as they provide the yellow, orange and red colouring.

Alpha and Beta - Carotene for example which are found in yellow and orange foods can be converted into Vitamin A, used in the immune system and is essential for good ocular health.

In red and pink foods such as Watermelon or Tomatoes, you will find Lycopene, a Carotenoid which has links to reducing the chance of cancer.

Ellagic Acid

Ellagic Acid can be found in berries;

  • Strawberries
  • Raspberries
  • Pomegranates

These Acids will aide in the protection from Cancers, it can cause certain cancerous cells to die and help the liver to neutralise chemicals with cancer-causing side effects.


Flavonoids cover a large amount of phytonutrients and are found in a variety of plant based foods. There are different types of Flavonoids, that will reduce certain cancers, risk of asthma and coronary heart disease.

The common types include;

  • Catechins - Found in green teas.
  • Hesperidin - This is turned into antioxidants and is common in citrus fruits.
  • Quercetin - Well studied and shown to provide great benefit to the body can be found in Apples, Grapes and Onions.


Glucosinolates, under heavy study as cancer inhibitors, are organic compounds containing sulfur and nitrogen. They can be found in most plants but are are highly concentrated in vegetables such as Broccoli, cabbage and cauliflower.