Phytochemicals at the bar!

Phytochemicals at the bar!

Phytochemicals are widely distributed among foods and beverages. Finding healthy food options when dining out can be challenging, and in this article, we aim to give you some tips about how to choose healthy food options rich in phytochemicals.

Firstly, the simplest rule to identify foods rich in phytochemicals is to choose plant-based foods, mainly fruits and vegetables, with bright and deep colours. Some examples are berries, orange, red grape, grapefruit, apple, tomatoe, spinach, carrot, olives, broccoli and cabbage, eggplant, leafy green, lettuce, among others. Other foods rich in phytochemicals are spices, such as cilantro, parsley, turmeric, garlic, ginger, as well as pulses and legumes, nuts and seeds, and whole grain products.

Secondly, choosing healthy fats, particularly extra virgin olive oil, walnuts, or avocado, is a good strategy to increase phytochemical intake. These foods rich in healthy fats can be incorporated into your meals as dressings or toppings for salads, soups, and desserts. The intake of extra virgin olive oil and nuts has been associated with several health benefits, including lower risk of cardiovascular disease, lower blood cholesterol levels, and reduced inflammation [1].

Thirdly, choosing whole grain cereals instead of refined options, including bread, rice, pasta, and derivates is a healthier option, which is lately more available in restaurants. Whole grain cereals are characterized by keeping all the parts from the cereal, including the bran, germ, and endosperm, which increase their nutritional value and nutrient content especially because of  the richness of their outer envelope in phytochemicals . Thus, refined cereals have lower nutrient content, including for fibers, B vitamins, minerals, and phytochemicals. Eating whole grains instead of refined cereals has been associated with a lower risk of cardiovascular disease, type 2 diabetes, some types of cancer, and digestive health [2].

Fourthly, replacing animal protein sources with plant-based protein sources, such as beans, pulses, nuts, and seeds, including chickpeas, lentils, beans, or soy products is a healthy and sustainable choice. Prioritizing plant-based sources of protein has been associated with several health benefits, including body weight management, lower risk of cardiovascular diseases and type 2 diabetes. Additionally, plant-based protein sources are healthier options for the environment, which production is associated with a lower impact on planetary health, including lower greenhouse gas emissions [3].

Fifthly, what should we drink? Coffee and tea are the main food sources of phytochemicals worldwide, including decaffeinated coffee and tea varieties  [4]. Additionally, natural fruit juices are a source of phytochemicals, however, it’s recommended to have whole fruit instead of juice as often as possible, because of the high absorption of sugars with fruit juice. Anyway, fruit juices remain a better option than sugar-sweetened beverages. Among alcoholic beverages, fermented alcoholic options, such as wine and beer, have a significant content of phytochemicals, particularly red wine. However, because alcohol is consistently associated with increased risk for cancer, and overall risk of death, its intake should be very limited. For men, it is generally recommended to limit alcohol intake to two drinks or fewer per day, preferably with meals, while for women, it is advised to limit it to one drink or fewer per day.

Lastly, a meal should be concluded with a dessert. The healthiest options are fresh fruit, fruit salad or options with dark chocolate (>70% of cocoa). Dark chocolate is a source of phytochemicals, particularly (poly)phenols, and its intake has been associated with improvements in cardiovascular indicators, including blood pressure and glycaemic control, as well as improvements in brain function [5].

Enjoy a nourishing meal abundant in phytochemicals!