Many generally available supplements make claims about how the compounds contained in the supplement can prevent a variety of diseases. Because of the wide variety of these supplements, it can be difficult to understand what is contained in each one and how they can benefit health. Phytonutrients is a blanket term for certain kinds of supplements.
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The term phytonutrient breaks down, etymologically speaking, into "nutrients from plants." These nutrients are an important part of the diet, particularly because they cannot be made by the body or obtained from animal products. Phytonutrients are often distinct from other nutrients such as vitamins, minerals, proteins, fats and carbohydrates, AskDrSears.com notes
Some of the best known phytonutrients belong in the carotenoid, isoflavones and flavonoid families. Isoflavones can be found in soy products, the Agricultural Research Service explains, and may be able to help prevent heart disease and some kinds of cancer. Flavonoids are pigments found in citrus fruits and grape skins. Carotenoids are chemicals found in green leafy vegetables. Although there is no conclusive evidence that proves these compounds can help prevent disease, many of these chemicals have been linked with a lower risk of cardiovascular disease, diabetes, arthritis and other chronic disorders.
A phytonutrient supplement is a product containing several different phytochemicals. These supplements typically come in pill or capsule forms, though they can also be sold as powders or liquids. Because the term "phytonutrient" encompasses many different chemicals, phytonutrient supplements can contain a mixture of many different plant-derived compounds.
One of the main advantages of phytonutrient supplements is that they help increase the amounts of these valuable nutrients in people who don't otherwise consume enough fruits and vegetables. Many people don't eat enough fruits and vegetables as a part of their daily diet, which means they are consuming lower amounts of phytonutrients.
One of the main problems with phytonutrient supplements is the lack of regulation in the products. The labeling and advertising is not as tightly controlled as most medications. People who take phytonutrient supplements also are not receiving all of the fiber, vitamins and other important compounds found in fruits and vegetables, BioPharmasci.com notes. This means that phytonutrient supplements may not be able to completely replace the benefits of eating fruits and vegetables, though they're better than nothing.