• BREAKING NEWS ABC shows live and on-demand -- Download the WATCH ABC app!

'Super nutrients' in food help fight disease

April 8, 2010 12:00:00 AM PDT
By now, most of us have heard about lycopene, lutein, and beta carotene. All are colorful chemicals found in foods that provide plants protection. That protection gets passed on to us when we eat them. Scientists are discovering more and more of these "Super nutrients," or phytonutrients. So where can you find more of these super substances?

Nutrition author and dietitian Elizabeth Somer says plant chemicals found naturally in food also do a body good.

"We know that fruits and vegetables are loaded with vitamin, minerals, fiber and are super good for you, but that's just the tip of the iceberg," Somer said.

Researchers have identified almost one million phytonutrients. Somer describes them as compounds Mother Nature put there to protect plants from disease.

While we may not remember their scary-sounding names, here are some of the best new discoveries:

  • Alliin, Allicin, Ajoene (Garlic)
    Found in garlic, they fight the common cold and flu, along with more serious diseases
  • D-Limonene (Skin of citrus)
    Studies performed on D-limonene -- found in the skin and oils of citrus -- appears to lower cancer risk to the breast, liver, lung, stomach and pancreas through known cancer-killing enzymes. Experts suggest grating a lemon or orange peel into salad or pilaf.
  • Anthocyanidins (Berries and cherries)
    Berries and cherries produce offer powerful anthocyanidins, which are more potent than vitamin C, four times as potent as vitamin E, and have an anti-inflammatory effect in addition to their antioxidant effects, according to Somer.
  • Ellagic Acid (Berries, nuts and pomegranates)
    Another tasty way to fight cancer and help clear arteries is with berries, nuts, pomegranates and tart cherries containing ellagic acid.
  • Polyphenol Resveratrol (Peanuts and red grapes)
    Polyphenol resveratrol shows promise in protection against heart and brain damage. While wine lovers are pleased, it's also found in peanuts and red grapes.
  • Curcumin (Curry powder)
    Along with produce, remember spices provide more than a kick to your dish. Curcumin in curry powder is a strong anti-inflammatory found mainly in Indian food that may support reducing heart disease to dementia.

What's really important to note, it's the combination of the phytonutrients that work together that provides these benefits, and not simply extracting one in supplement form. So eat a wide variety of brightly-colored produce to get what your body needs.