Despite the availability of a wide range of foods that contain phytonutrients, many Americans are getting phytonutrients from a relatively small number of specific foods, which are not necessarily the most concentrated sources, according to a new study supported by the Nutrilite Health Institute. Top food contributors for several key phytonutrient families in the diet include oranges, orange juice, carrots, grapes, garlic, tomatoes, strawberries, prepared mustard, tea and various soy products, according to the study, which was presented at the Experimental Biology Meeting in April.
“Americans could improve their phytonutrient intake by choosing to eat more concentrated sources of phytonutrients as well as a wider variety,” said Keith Randolph, PhD, technology strategist for Nutrilite. “For example, grapes are the top contributor of the phytonutrient family of anthocyanidins in most Americans’ diets, but blueberries actually contain higher amounts of this phytonutrient. Research suggests anthocyanidins support heart health.”
It’s widely believed the health benefits that phytonutrients may offer come from the pigments in fruits and vegetables that give these foods their vibrant reds, yellows, greens and other rich colors. Certain fruits and vegetables contain higher levels of these compounds, making them more concentrated and potentially more effective sources of phytonutrients.
One key finding of the study concluded that, on average, Americans who consume the recommended amount of fruits and vegetables generally get two to three times more phytonutrients in their diet as compared to people who do not meet fruit and vegetable recommendations. This was true for all but two of the phytonutrients studied.
Although only one in 10 American adults eats enough fruits and vegetables, new research finds older adults are consuming higher levels of carotenoids, flavonoids and other phytonutrients found in fruits and vegetables that are thought to support healthy aging.
Specifically, the new findings suggest that, calorie for calorie, intakes of carotenoids are 20% higher, flavonoids 40% higher and ellagic acid 80% higher among older adults compared to younger ones.
Phytonutrients, which are plant-based compounds found naturally in fruits and vegetables, may be associated with protective health benefits. For example, carotenoids such as lycopene and beta-carotene may offer breast, ovarian and other health benefits for women, while flavonoids such as quercetin and anthocyanidins may support brain health. Ellagic acid, found in foods like pomegranates, strawberries and walnuts, may help ward off some cancers, including breast and prostate.