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Phytonutrients – Another Major Reason to Eat Your Fruits and Vegetables

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Phytonutrients (phyto = Greek for plant) are specific, organic components found in plants believed to promote health benefits. They are officially categorized as non-nutrients and unlike vitamins are not considered essential due to the fact that no known nutritional deficiencies occur without intake. Even though phytonutrients are considered nonessential, there are several means by which they are believed to protect human health. These mechanisms include serving as antioxidants; enhancing immune system function; enhancing cell-to-cell communication; altering hormonal balance (such as estrogen metabolism); converting beta-carotene into vitamin A; eradicating cancer cells; and repairing DNA damage caused by smoking or other toxic exposure. The numerous types of phytonutrients can be divided into different classes. The common classes include carotenoids, flavonoids (or polyphenols), isoflavanoids, inositol, lignans, isothiocyanates, phenols and cyclic compounds, saponins, sulfides and thiols, and terpenes. Carotenoids and polyphenols are currently the most understood and have received the greatest deal of attention in research.

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