I've been reading a lot about nutrition lately and I keep coming across the word phytonutrient (also called phytochemical). I admit, I thought it was just a fancy way to say vegetable. It turns out that it is a little more complicated than that.
While it literally means nutrients derived from plants - phyton is Greek for plant, it has evolved to have a more limited definition. Phytonutrients are the compounds in plants that keep the body healthy and help fight off disease, similar to vitamins. They differ from vitamins since they are not considered an essential nutrient, meaning without them you will not perish of some nutritional deficiency.
In plants, phytonutrients seem to help create a protective shield against the environment, including preventing diseases. They may do similar things for us, like repairing damaged cells and helping to build our immune systems. Many of these phytonutrients are also antioxidants and they give out fruits and veggies their vibrant colors.
Fit's Tip: Make yourself a rainbow salad to ensure you are getting a wide variety of phytonutrients. Plus your colorful salad will be pretty too.