Phytochemicals and your Gut

Ever heard that chocolate is good for you (or hoped)? Well, this is at least in part true, due to its fantastic disease-fighting phytochemical content!

What are phytochemicals?

Phytochemicals are a group of tens of thousands of plant chemicals (with likely more not yet discovered). They are not necessarily essential to your body’s day-to-day functions (like eating protein is, for example) – but they are certainly key to optimising your health.

Polyphenols are one of the most well researched classes of phytochemicals. There are many subgroups within this group. You may have heard of flavanols, found in chocolate, isoflavones, found in legumes, or anthocyanins – which give berries their beautiful red, purple and blue colours!

What do phytochemicals have to do with your gut?

The majority of polyphenols are not absorbed in your small intestine (due to their complex structures) – so they make it to the microbiome in the large intestine. Our friendly resident bacteria then turn them into other potentially beneficial compounds – that our body can absorb and use. These compounds are linked with cancer and diabetes prevention, heart, brain and mental health – to name a few! If you’ve been following along with the gut health trend – you will know all of us have a different microbiome make-up (the trillions of microorganisms in your gut)! It seems that metabolism or processing of the polyphenols in your large intestine depends on what kind of bacteria you have.

What’s more – while the gut microbiota have an effect on the polyphenols – the polyphenols can also modify the microbiota composition, growth and activity with a ‘prebiotic-like’ effect.

Where can you get them?

In a wide range of plant based foods – fruit, veg, grains, nuts and seeds, coffee, tea, cocoa, olive oil, herbs and spices! It should not be surprising that the highest intakes of phytochemicals are consumed by those that eat the recommended amount of fruit and vegetables (2 and 5!). The more colour and variety in your diet the better!

Some simple tips to up your intake:

  • Drink tea + coffee (if you enjoy it). Don’t ditch them because of the latest ‘bikini body challenge.’
  • Add flaxseeds and berries to muesli & yoghurt for breakfast.
  • Add berries, olives, hazelnuts, pecans and almonds to fresh salads!
  • Snack on dark coloured plums, grapes, prunes, cherries and apples – and a variety of other fruit.
  • Eat a range of colourful vegetables – include greens, oranges, yellows, purples and reds!

Lastly, ditch the supps – foods are associated with the best outcomes.