Tag Archive for: essential nutrients

Hydration is typically approached one glass of water at a time. You aren’t wrong to try that when tracking your liquid intake. Drinking plenty of plain water really is the best way to attain healthy hydration. But you can also easily add several hydrating foods to your daily menu to help out.

It’s important to do everything you can to stay properly hydrated because it’s essential for good overall health. Healthy hydration helps your body remain in the state of homeostasis it craves. And the combination of liquids and water-rich foods will help your body experience the benefits of proper, healthy hydration. Those include supporting:

  • healthy, normal cognition and focus
  • circulation (since water makes up a big portion of your blood)
  • healthy-looking skin that appears plump
  • your immune system’s germ fighters
  • healthy bones and properly lubricated joints
  • the functions of your vital organs to literally keep you alive

Maximize Your Hydration Mix with Water-Rich Foods

Your body—from head to toe—needs water. The sources you tap for that healthy hydration is up to you. Studies have found a wide range for total water intake that comes from food. Variations by culture, age, and other factors account for anywhere between 20 and 40 percent of water coming from food.

Your target percent is up to you, but having flexibility is good. Maybe water isn’t your go-to beverage and you think it’s kind of boring. Your other liquids count, too. Broth, skim milk, and coconut water are great hydrating options. Even coffee and tea help—despite the myths about caffeine-containing beverages adversely impacting hydration.

Or would you rather maximize your diet by loading up your plate with hydrating foods throughout the day? You’re in luck. There are obvious options you’ll find on any list of water-rich foods—watermelon, cucumber, citrus fruit, a variety of berries, celery, lettuce, squash, tomatoes, and grapes.

There are also some foods that could be real surprises to you. Scroll through the list of eight common grocery store items you might not reach for first while filling your cart with hydrating foods.


From the ocean to your table, this popular seafood item is packed with water. Its moisture content falls somewhere between 70 and 79 percent, depending on processing. Protein sources—from chicken breasts to beef tenderloin—shouldn’t be overlooked as an avenue for adding hydration to the diet, as well. Shrimp are a delicious place to start.


These colorful root vegetables, on first glance, don’t appear to be a juicy option for hydration. But the truth is that carrots contain about 88 percent water. That might be one of the reasons they’re so popular with people who make their own juice.


You’d think it would be the water content (over 80 percent) that has yogurt on a list of hydrating foods. That’s certainly part of the appeal. But potassium and the other electrolyte minerals in this fermented dairy product provide an enhanced hydration boost.

Cottage Cheese

By weight, cottage cheese is about 80 percent water. Couple that with protein and lots of nutrients and the creamy curds become a hydrating—and filling—addition to any meal.

Cruciferous Vegetables (Broccoli, Cauliflower, and Cabbage)

Maybe you could have guessed cabbage is full of water—it does look like lettuce on steroids after all. Broccoli and cauliflower, though? They don’t seem like hydrating, water-rich foods. Cauliflower has a water percentage in the low nineties, and broccoli clocks in around 88 percent. Keeping these vegetables as close to raw as possible will help them remain moisture-packed options.

Boiled Eggs

At 75 percent water, chicken eggs aren’t as flooded with moisture as some foods on this list. But you might think boiling an egg would ruin it’s hydrating potential, right? The fact is, that 75 percent water content remains and combines with high protein levels and a bounty of essential nutrients to make boiled eggs another hydrating addition to a salad.


Hidden beneath that bright yellow peel is a healthy, hydrating snack. Bananas are about three quarters water (75 percent), with a lot of fiber and potassium. That makes bananas an appealing addition to your list of hydrating foods.

Boiled or Baked Potatoes

Potatoes grow underground, soaking up all the water and nutrients the soil has to offer. When they’re harvested—and even after cooking—these popular tubers still sport a water content percentage in the high seventies.

Fill Up on Hydrating Foods to Help Buoy Your Health

Humans don’t have the option to go waterless. You don’t live very long without water. Even if you don’t take in enough each day, you’ll experience a parched and arid existence.

But satisfying your thirst isn’t exactly the same as keeping yourself properly hydrated. That’s because the mix of hydrating foods and beverages requires thinking outside the glass when it comes to water intake.

Luckily, you have a raft of healthy and delicious, water-rich foods from which to choose. They’re also easy to incorporate into your weekly meal planning. Just remember that cooking some of these hydrating foods will impact their final moisture content. So, plan on preparing them in a way that maximizes their hydrating benefits.

Omega-3. Omega-6. Perhaps you’ve heard these terms bandied about, yet they’re still shrouded in mystery. Maybe they’re military call signs, social media slang, or something else entirely? Their cryptic names don’t give any hints. But fear not! You’ve come to the right place to learn more about omega-3 and omega-6 essential fatty acids.

What are Essential Fatty Acids?

The world of dietary fats can be a bit confusing. Fad diets and conflicting information can make understanding fats difficult. This is especially true considering that “fat” is a catch-all term for a wide variety of compounds that can work for and against you.

There’s the healthy unsaturated cis fats that provide a good source of energy. And they help you keep your cholesterol in check (as long as it’s already in the normal range), and maintain normal, healthy blood sugar.

Then there are the trans and animal-based saturated fats. These can mess with internal processes like metabolism, blood flow, and hormone functionality. Steer clear of trans fats, and limit your intake of saturated fats. To expand on these points and refresh your memory, review this myth-busting article about dietary fat.

After that little detour, hopefully you’re in the know about fats and how they impact your body. So, let’s move onto the essential fatty acids you can’t live without.

You may have learned that polyunsaturated fats are beneficial for the human body. This is broadly true. But there are specific polyunsaturated fats called essential fatty acids (EFAs).

EFAs are a family of fat compounds that play important roles in your body. They’re called essential because, unlike other fats, your body can’t synthesize them. Instead, you get them from the foods you eat—like nuts, seeds, and fish (more on this later). There are two classes of essential fatty acids: omega-3 and omega-6.

Let’s take them on one at a time, starting with omega-3s.

Go In-Depth on Omega-3 Fatty Acids

Omega-3 fatty acids are necessary for normal development and function, especially within the brain. More specifically, there are omega-3s that keep your body functioning well. These are eicosapentaenoic acid, docosahexaenoic acid, and alpha-linolenic acid. Alpha-linolenic acid is the only essential fatty acid of the three, but each play important roles in the body. (Eicosapentaenoic and docosahexaenoic acids are considered conditionally essential.)

Eicosapentaenoic Acid (EPA)

EPA is very important throughout your life. That’s because it’s a major component of your body’s cell membranes. It gives these membranes structure that also lends a protective quality. This protection happens in a few ways.

First, it inhibits cholesterol formation within the membrane, which optimizes membrane permeability to protect the cell.

Second, EPA helps protect the cell from damage by free radicals. Lipid peroxidation is an oxidative process that denigrates fats. It also creates damaging free radicals. This important fatty acid maintains cell health by keeping the membrane from undergoing this harmful process.

A recent study showed EPA-treated cells were stabilized in the presence of the fatty acid, even when other factors were thrown into the mix. For instance, the stability held under increasing temperatures, a condition that mimicked bodily processes. Additionally, in the presence of increased cholesterol levels—and therefore increased permeability—the same was true.

EPA-treated cells withstood the varying harsh conditions. So, researchers concluded that EPA’s impact on cell membrane structure and fluidity indicates an important role in maintaining cardiovascular and endothelial (cells that line blood vessels) health.

EPA has other ties to supporting cardiovascular health. One byproduct of EPA is an eicosanoid subgroup called prostaglandins, which are known for their positive effect on vasodilation. That’s a lot of big words. But it basically means one of the components of EPA helps support healthy dilation (widening and narrowing) of blood vessels.

Docosahexaenoic Acid (DHA)

DHA is arguably the most concentrated type of omega-3 essential fatty acid found in your body. One study notes that DHA represents 97 and 93 percent of all omega-3s in the brain and retina of the eye, respectively.

DHA has been widely studied and its benefits are far-reaching. Decades ago, researchers studied a group of individuals from an Inuit population in Greenland and compared their diets and health issues to individuals from Denmark. The Inuit diet depended largely on fish rich in omega-3 fatty acids.

The study showed evidence in the Inuit group of maintained cardiovascular and joint health not found in the group from Denmark. Many of those outcomes have been attributed to the mechanisms of DHA working to support normal, healthy immune responses in the body.

Alpha-linolenic Acid (ALA)

It’s kind of surprising alpha-linolenic acid is essential. That’s because it doesn’t do much in the body in its native form. But once ingested, this acid can convert itself to EPA and DHA, the more active forms of omega-3 fatty acids. This conversion process isn’t highly efficient, so it’s important to consume enough ALA. Eating foods rich in alpha-linolenic acid, like walnuts, will help ensure at least a small boost in the other essential fatty acids.

Because the conversion from ALA to other omega-3s is rather low, researchers have instead focused their investigative efforts on the impact of EPA and DHA in the body. But some suggest ALA’s impact may have been underestimated in studies in favor of looking more closely at EPA and DHA. Nonetheless, because of its close relation to EPA and DHA, ALA is still widely seen as a beneficial fat that should be included in your diet.

Omega-6 Fatty Acids, Twice as Good?

Not exactly. Just because the number goes from three to six, it doesn’t mean omega-6 fatty acids are any better. In fact, they have similar properties to those of omega-3 fatty acids. They’re just in different forms. Two most common omega-6s are linoleic acid and its derivative, arachidonic acid (ARA).

Linoleic Acid

If you’re seeking the main polyunsaturated fat found in vegetable oil, seeds, and nuts, you’re looking for the essential fatty acid called linoleic acid.

Like EPA and DHA, linoleic acid plays an important role in maintaining a healthy heart. Researchers based this conclusion on studies that swapped saturated fat for an alternative that’s high in linoleic acid. The result was that subjects saw optimized healthy, normal cholesterol levels.

Since vegetable oils are commonly used, it is easy to add this essential fatty acid to your diet. However, you should take a careful look at your intake before you make more substitutions to boost linoleic acid. As you’ll find in a moment, consuming too many omega-6s can have an undesirable effect.

Arachidonic Acid (ARA)

ARA plays many roles in the body. Structurally, thanks to its multiple cis double bonds, ARA is curved like a hairpin. This shape gives your cell membranes their flexibility. As you’ll recall, EPA gives cells structure. But, fluidity and flexibility within that structure is equally important. This flexibility allows for selective permeability, allowing important substances into the cell and keeping others out. Additionally, this characteristic allows ARA to play a role in cellular signaling and regulating ion channels.

When arachidonic acid is metabolized, it gets broken into prostaglandins. These metabolites, which you read about above, can help engage your body’s immune system to support normal, healthy function.

Keeping the Balance Between Essential Fatty Acids

While omega-6 fatty acids are important and have benefits, they only lend those benefits to a certain point. If omega-6s are ingested in high quantities, they no longer help your cells. In fact, if their concentration too far eclipses that of omega-3, they are associated with negative health outcomes.

Don’t be mistaken. Omega-6s aren’t bad for you. Remember, they are necessary, after all. So, you need them. But focusing on balancing your intake with omega-3s is a good idea.

Most scientists agree that the ideal ratio for omega-6s to omega-3s is around 4:1 or 5:1. The trouble is that the typical Western diet is two- to 10-times higher (between 10:1 and 50:1). So, make sure to keep your fat intake—like almost everything in life—in balance.

Putting the Fat Back into Your Food

Deficiency in these essential fats is not common. But boosting your levels of omega-3 fatty acids (ALA, EPA, and DHA) is always a good idea. Below, you’ll find tips on how to enrich your diet with these friendly fats.

  • Cold-water fatty fish are rich in omega-3 fatty acids. The next time you’re at your local market, ask specifically for herring, mackerel, salmon, and tuna. Here’s a clearer picture of what each type of fish provides:

(3 oz/85 grams)





Herring 0.77 0.94
Mackerel 0.43 0.59
Sea bass 0.18 0.47
Salmon (wild) 0.35 1.22
Salmon (canned) 0.28 0.63
Tuna (canned in water) 0.20 0.17
Yellowfin tuna 0.01 0.09
  • Nuts and seeds are a great option for getting a boost of alpha-linoleic acid. Both are great options for an afternoon snack. You can also reach for these for a fun addition to an existing meal, like a salad.
Nuts or seeds

(1 oz or 28 grams unless otherwise noted)



Chia seeds 5.06
Black walnuts 0.76
English walnuts 2.57
Flaxseeds (1 tbsp) 2.35
  • For a boost in ARA, look to chicken and eggs. While it is present in other meats and seafood, chicken and eggs pack the biggest punch.
  • Vegetable oils are a smart substitute for butter and lard if you’re trying to get more essential fatty acids into your diet. When you’re pan-frying or sautéing a meal, reach for a veggie-based oil versus the saturated-fat options.
  • If the above options aren’t realistic for you based on dietary restrictions or preference, you can always lean on supplements to boost your intake of essential fatty acids. Fish oil supplements, like BiOmega, deliver a healthy helping of omega-3s EPA and DHA.

Mystery Solved

Now that the shroud has been lifted, you’re equipped with the essential knowledge on the essential fatty acids. With this knowledge, you can make educated decisions when it comes to your diet. So, start planning a few meals and snack substitution to balance the fat in your diet. Your cells, brain, and heart will be very happy with you for embracing essential fatty acids.

About the Author

Jenna Templeton is a health educator and freelance science writer living in Salt Lake City, Utah. After receiving a bachelor of science degree in chemistry from Virginia Tech, Jenna spent five years as a research scientist in the nutritional industry. This work fueled her interest in personal wellness, leading her to pursue a graduate degree in Health Promotion & Education from the University of Utah. Outside of work, Jenna enjoys live music, gardening, all things food, and playing in the Wasatch mountains.

It could be a yawn or an eyelid droop. But it might as well be an alarm blaring the message “Help! Send energy! SOS!” It’s a sure sign a jolt of something stimulating is needed to keep your energy level high enough to take on your task list. You can try to push through the meeting or chore you’re trying to conquer. That doesn’t always work, though. What you really need is an effective energy source.

The next questions become important: Which source is the best? What ingredients pack the most support for your energy level? What energy source will save you from the oncoming malaise and push you through your frenetic, frantic life?

Luckily, these questions have scientific answers. Ultimately, your choice of energy source is personal and has to work for you. But the information to make a good decision is below.

So, take the time to learn about plant sources (like ginseng and guarana), amino acids (like taurine and l-carnitine), and the most popular option—caffeine (coffee, green tea, black tea, or man-made energy drinks). Then you can make the decision for yourself. And hopefully avoid the energy alarm and finally glide through your to-do’s with energy to spare.

A Few Words About Energy

The most basic unit of energy is the calorie. Your body turns food’s calories into energy. It’s happening all the time. That’s because after food is broken down, energy is created inside your cells from ATP (adenosine triphosphate). There’s a great story about that cellular energy production if you want to know what ATP is and how cells use it to keep you going. But you don’t need to be a scientist to understand the energy discussion below.

Keeping your body properly fueled with nutritious, varied foods is important. Without the calories in food, you won’t have the energy to do anything. And you also need a healthy amount of sleep to refresh and rejuvenate your body.

Diet and sleep are certainly the cornerstones of solid energy levels. But life throws a lot at you. And you probably find yourself outmatched occasionally and reaching for something more. For many, that’s an energy drink (could be coffee or tea, too) to help them tackle the seemingly endless flow of tasks.

So, let’s talk about compounds that keep you alert, focused, and feeling energized mentally and physically. Those are the energy sources that stimulate your body and brain to fuel your productivity when you need it most.

Without further ado, find out more about popular energy drink ingredients that can help you maintain your energy levels.

Ginseng to Get the Job Done

Turning to ginseng for an energy boost isn’t new. It’s been part of ancient traditions for hundreds of years.

Asian ginseng is most known for its energizing properties—of the 11 types of ginseng growing around the world. Regardless of species, the real energy source in all types of ginseng is a compound called ginsenoside (a plant steroid).

Ginseng and its active compounds have been shown to benefit:

  • mood
  • energy (specifically fighting fatigue)
  • antioxidant activity
  • cellular energy production

Research about how ginseng helps fight against mental and physical fatigue exists, but isn’t robust. It’s theorized that ginseng’s mental effects come from increased levels of certain brain chemicals and its impact on aerobic energy production in the brain. Physical mechanisms have been harder to nail down. And the conclusions are best described as theories right now. That’s because more study is needed to figure out exactly how the stimulating root works in your body.

In fact, some research has struggled to show significant results to back up the effectiveness of ginseng on reducing fatigue and boosting physical performance. A meta-analysis (a study of existing studies) suggested more and better studies—large, randomized, controlled trials—should be done on ginseng’s effectiveness.

That’s the consensus of modern science. But it doesn’t take into account the centuries of usage in traditional applications.

The good news for someone looking to test out ginseng as an energy source is that it’s safe and readily available. Just make sure to consult your physician or pharmacist for possible drug interactions. And also research has shown that cycling ginseng (two or three weeks on and a week off) is a more effective way to use it as an energy supplement.

Turning to Taurine to Tame Tiredness

Usually an amino acid would lead to a discussion of protein structures. But taurine isn’t a typical amino acid. You can find it in your diet in meat and fish, and all over your body—in your heart, brain, eyes, and blood platelets. That’s because your body makes taurine and needs it.

But if you’ve heard about taurine at all, it was probably in a discussion about energy drink ingredients. The amino acid has been popping up in popular drinks since these energizing beverages started hitting store shelves.

Why is taurine turned to so often to boost energy levels, though? The answer probably has something to do with the amino acid’s role in energy metabolism. It also may act like an antioxidant, and it helps with hydration and cellular electrolyte balance, too.

The research on taurine as an energy source is mixed. When combined with caffeine and B vitamins (in a popular energy drink brand), studies have found promising results. That includes suggested benefits related to fighting fatigue among drivers, impacting attention in adolescents, and countering sleepiness.

But it’s hard to pin those promising results directly on taurine instead of the combination of energy drink ingredients. Taurine by itself has slim evidence for improvements in energy. And one study showed taking the amino acid before exercise didn’t help overall performance.

Taurine has been shown to be possibly safe at reasonable doses—with no major side effects found. But it’s hard to be too bullish on taurine as a standalone energy supplement.

Are B Vitamins Your Energy Answer?

You need B vitamins. These essential vitamins are, well, essential to your survival. But claims made about B vitamins increasing energy levels are more suspect.

The fact is, without B vitamins, energy production in your body doesn’t operate properly. Each B vitamin works differently, but they generally help facilitate the complex conversion of foods into energy. So, in one way, B vitamins are all about energy.

But taking extra B vitamins isn’t a direct solution for those seeking energy sources. To feel any fatigue-busting effects, you would need to be deficient in one of the B vitamins. And you don’t want to be in that situation to begin with.

So, be wary of products claiming energy boosts from B vitamins. But don’t disregard the importance of these essential nutrients to your overall health. Here’s a useful guide to each of the B vitamins to boost your nutrition knowledge.

Your Guide to Guarana

The world’s energy drinkers are discovering what tribes of the Amazon have known for a long time. Guarana has a quite a kick.

The seeds of this Amazonian climbing plant have been used therapeutically for centuries. It contains a big punch of caffeine—about four to six times more than you find in coffee beans.

But caffeine isn’t the only thing guarana has going for it as a source of energy. Other compounds in the seeds (theophylline and theobromine) could make the stimulating product more potent than caffeine alone. That’s because they are also caffeine-like stimulating substances.

Guarana also sports a green-tea-like antioxidant profile. One of the Amazonian seed’s most potent antioxidant compounds is catechin. This plant phenol (type of plant chemical) is one of the main connections between the antioxidant possibilities of guarana and green tea.

What does the research have to say about the combination of energy sources found in guarana? Not much because it’s pretty limited. One study aimed to discover whether guarana’s mix of stimulating compounds was more effective than just caffeine. Researchers found that lower doses of the energizing mix in guarana did stimulate in the short-term. But the study also called for more research on the effectiveness of guarana in boosting energy levels.

Research on the safety of the seeds has been positive. It has been found to have low toxicity in reasonable doses. And it’s widely available—both as a standalone product and in energy drinks. But people who are sensitive to caffeine, pregnant women, adolescents, and children should be cautious about how much they consume.

Getting to the Meat of L-Carnitine’s Energy Benefits

Since it was first isolated from meat, l-carnitine got a very fleshy sounding name. But this derivative of an amino acid (lysine) has more to do with energy production than muscle building.

L-carnitine helps chauffeur fatty acids into the power plants of your cells (the mitochondria). Without hitching a ride with l-carnitine, fats you eat couldn’t efficiently be used for energy production. And fat—which, don’t forget, is one of the essential macronutrients—is full of potential energy.

The research done on l-carnitine is promising. Usage for 30 days was found to positively impact fatigue—both mental and physical. But doses over three grams per day—about triple what would be recommended—were found to cause a variety of gastrointestinal issues.

Caffeine is the King of Energy Sources

You or someone you know has almost certainly turned to caffeine for a pick-me-up. As long as you’re reading this during the day, you know someone who has had caffeine in the last hour. It’s that popular.

And there’s good reason for caffeine’s ubiquity. It works. Consuming caffeine is a well-established way to fight fatigue naturally. It doesn’t even matter the source.

You might feel like caffeine has a magical ability to power you through your day. But the way it works is pretty established science. Caffeine cranks up your metabolism and supports naturally stimulating chemicals in your body. It also exhilarates your central nervous system, starting with a handy trick it plays in your brain.

Caffeine fits into a receptor in your brain for a compound called adenosine. When adenosine clicks into its receptor, it usually helps you relax. But when caffeine takes its place—effectively blocking the adenosine—your brain and nervous system do the opposite. And that’s how caffeine revs up your central nervous system. It’s why it helps you feel alert and energized.

But you don’t want to overdo it with caffeine. Otherwise, too much caffeine can make you overly anxious and even shaky. It is potent, and a healthy adult shouldn’t consume more than three to four hundred milligrams per day. Some people—including pregnant women, adolescents and children—are more sensitive to caffeine and will need to limit their intake even more. And remember that high doses of caffeine can lead to a hard crash. So, you may want to spread out your caffeine consumption in smaller amounts throughout the day.

For most, the question about caffeine isn’t whether it works on energy levels. Instead, it’s which source is best and how much caffeine each beverage contains? The following table can help you answer those questions.

Beverage Type Amount of Caffeine Antioxidant Activity? Other Important Compounds Fun Fact
Brewed Coffee (non-decaf, non-espresso) 85–165 milligrams (mg) per eight ounces (237 milliliters) Yes Phenolic compounds (like chlorogenic acids), ferulic acid, and magnesium The more roasted the coffee bean, the less caffeine remains in your cup. So, light roast packs the biggest caffeine punch.
Black Tea (freshly brewed, not bottled) 25–48 mg per eight ounces (237 mL) Yes L-theanine (an amino acid that could impact brain chemicals), flavonoids, catechins, and tannins Black tea comes from the same plant as green tea, but is fermented, which accounts for the color difference.
Green Tea (freshly brewed, not bottled) 25–29 mg per eight ounces (237 mL) Yes Similar to black tea: L-theanine (an amino acid that could impact brain chemicals), flavonoids, and catechins (including EGCG, or Epigallocatechin Gallate) Green tea (and black tea and matcha) all come from a bushy plant (Camellia sinensis) that’s native to China.

Select Your Stimulating Beverage Carefully

You know the energy level you need to maintain to tackle your to-do list. And now you understand a little more about energy sources that can help you cross the finish line. But don’t forget to pay attention to the calories and sugar content of whatever beverage you choose.

Getting too much sugar will wind you up only to trigger a big crash. Plus, all the extra calories in sugary sodas, energy drinks, and fancy coffees might slow down your weight-management efforts.

So, next time your energy alarm goes off, you know what to do. Turn to the energy source that will work best for what you need. And then bask in a wave of energy that can wash away your to-do list.

You want to eat right and don’t know where to start. So, you find yourself surfing the web for examples of “good” and “bad” foods. A list of healthy options is essential for paving the road to a healthy diet. But lists do little to educate you on why good foods are, in fact, good for you.

You can pick better ingredients for healthier meals if you understand how the food you eat creates usable energy in your body. The glycemic index can be just the tool you need to build a better understanding of how food works in your body.

You already know that the food you eat becomes energy. But learning how to use the glycemic index can illuminate just how much energy you can derive from certain foods. It can also teach you about the quality and dependability of that energy.

Glucose—Derived from Food to Fuel the Body

The energy currency for your body is glucose. This simple sugar is an abundant carbohydrate in your diet. Not all of the carbohydrates you consume are in the form of glucose. But they can be transformed to provide this fuel. Throughout digestion, complex carbs are broken down into single glucose molecules to be used for energy or undigested and used to help remove waste.

Glucose—once it’s in this pure form—travels through the blood stream. It provides cellular energy that can be harnessed immediately. But not all energy is needed right away. Sometimes this energy is stored in the liver and muscles as glycogen instead.  The pancreas helps your body make decisions about when to use or store glucose.

These decisions are important. Keeping blood sugar levels in a healthy, normal range makes it easier for your body to manage all the energy it gets from your diet.

Glycemic Index

The glycemic index (GI) provides a way to help you predict the blood-glucose-raising potential of a food. It’s a way of measuring the rate at which carbohydrates are broken down and appear in blood as simple sugars. In general, the more refined and processed the food, the faster it is broken down and the higher the GI.

Some foods can pump a lot of sugar into the blood stream in a short period of time. Foods that increase blood glucose levels quickly are called high-glycemic foods. Others let go of small amounts of glucose over the course of several hours. These are low-glycemic foods.

Let’s look at how glycemic index is calculated. The standard for comparison is glucose itself. It has a glycemic index of 100. The fact that the GI of glucose is 100 is incredibly significant. It represents how quickly food can be converted to blood glucose.

To find the glycemic index of all other foods, they must be compared to the GI of glucose. A pancake, an orange, and a handful of peanuts have very different GIs. That is because they are digested at different rates and cause different blood sugar responses.

Food Glycemic Index (GI)
Glucose 100
Pancake 67
Orange 42
Peanuts 18

(For a more comprehensive chart, there are a few good options you can turn to: The University of SydneyLinus Pauling Institute, and Research Gate.)

When you eat a pancake, orange, peanuts, or any other food, your blood sugar increases. A medium-sized pancake creates a blood-glucose response that’s 67 percent of the response to pure glucose. An orange, is 42 percent of that glucose response. And peanuts influence blood glucose very little when compared to glucose—only 18 percent.

Basically, when you know the GI of any food, you know how it will generally impact blood-sugar levels relative to glucose. Glycemic index tables list hundreds of foods. Some with high, moderate, and low GIs. Here’s how the categories break down:

  • High GI >= 70. Potatoes, cornflakes, jelly beans, watermelon, and white bread are all high GI foods.
  • Moderate GI 56-69. Rice, banana, honey, and pineapple are moderate GI foods.
  • Low GI < 55. Lentils, carrots, apples, oranges, and pears are all low GI foods.

The glycemic index has a lot of strengths. It highlights the ability of foods to raise blood sugar; and allows blood-glucose response comparison between foods. But the glycemic index doesn’t consider the quantity of the food being consumed.

GI values remain the same for all foods, no matter how much you eat. But that doesn’t mean that eating a lot of a high-glycemic food has the same effect on blood sugar as eating only a little bit. In fact, the opposite is true.

So, how can you use the glycemic index to make smart eating choices? It is hard to judge the difference in quality of foods when pretzels, white bread, and crackers have similar GIs to watermelon and pineapple. Luckily, there’s a solution.

Glycemic Load

Cue glycemic load. A robust, qualitative, and quantitative way to use information from the glycemic index to understand how food affects blood sugar.

Glycemic load (GL) accounts for the quantity of the food in question. GL reflects the blood-glucose-raising potential of how much of a certain food you eat. You can calculate glycemic load for any given food by dividing the GI by 100, then multiplying that number by the amount of available carbohydrates in a serving.

GLfood = (GIfood / 100) x (grams of carbohydrates – grams of fiber)

* Remember, fiber is the material in food that isn’t fully digested by your body. So, when figuring out how many available carbohydrates are in your favorite snack, subtract the grams of fiber from the total grams of carbohydrates.

The values associated with glycemic load are much smaller than glycemic index:

  • High GL >= 20.
  • Moderate GL 11-19.
  • Low GL < 10.

GL takes into consideration the amount of digestible carbohydrates in each serving of food. This is important because sometimes foods with similar GIs have dramatically higher carbohydrate counts.

To demonstrate how glycemic load accounts for carbohydrate content, let’s look at an example. A cup of watermelon and a cup of cornflakes have very similar GIs. They are both high-glycemic foods. But cornflakes and watermelon have very different GLs.

The GL for a cup of cornflakes is 20, making it a high-glycemic-load food. The watermelon’s GL is only eight. These numbers tell you that there are a lot more carbohydrates in one serving of cornflakes than there are in watermelon. To be exact, one cup of cornflakes has 26 grams of carbs. The same amount of watermelon has only 11.

Since watermelon has fewer carbs, it also has fewer calories per serving. Watermelon is a better choice than cornflakes when you’re looking for a quick snack. It’s less calorie dense but just as effective at providing the energy you need to make it to your next meal.

What if instead of one cup of watermelon, you ate two cups? GL reflects the size of your portion of food. It can tell you that the amount of food you eat also influences your blood sugar.

Generally, low GL foods have fewer calories than high GL foods. So high calorie foods aren’t the only option when you need a boost of energy. Low-glycemic-load foods are equipped to provide fuel for your body with a lower risk of overeating and weight gain.

Using GI and GL to Shape a Healthy Diet

You already know that high GI foods act rapidly to influence blood sugar, providing quick energy. However, this energy is usually short-lived and hunger soon returns. This could potentially lead to overeating and weight gain.

Low glycemic index foods affect blood sugar more slowly and steadily. These foods provide greater satiety and longer lasting, more consistent energy. That makes eating less (and maintaining weight) easier.

Spotting high GI/GL and low GI/GL foods takes practice. Luckily, there are easy rules to follow that can set you up for success.

  1. Create meals with lots of low and moderate GI/GL foods. Limit high GI/GL foods because they are high in calories and cause blood-sugar highs.
  2. Look for non-starchy veggies and fruits. Apples, berries, pears, beans, broccoli, and cauliflower are low GI/GL foods. They will provide plenty of energy over a sustained period of time due to their high fiber content.
  3. When in doubt, reach for whole grains. Oats, brown rice, barley, and whole wheat are great choices. Again, lots of natural fiber means longer lasting energy.
  4. Avoid packaged and processed foods that are low in protein, fiber and fats. These types of foods are typically high in simple carbohydrates while low in other important macronutrients giving them higher GI/GL values.
  5. Moderation matters. Regardless of GI/GL, eat mindfully. Try your best to listen to your body and its signals. When you feel tired and need some energy, eat a healthy snack. When you are full, end your meal and get up and move.

There are lots of ways to make healthy eating choices. Being aware of how the food you eat could affect your blood sugar is just another way to maintain good nutrition and good health.

About the Author

Sydney Sprouse is a freelance science writer based out of Forest Grove, Oregon. She holds a bachelor of science in human biology from Utah State University, where she worked as an undergraduate researcher and writing fellow. Sydney is a lifelong student of science and makes it her goal to translate current scientific research as effectively as possible. She writes with particular interest in human biology, health, and nutrition.

Hanger (a combination of hunger and anger) is a very real emotional response for some. It rears its ugly head when you’re hungry and food isn’t forthcoming. If you’ve ever experienced hanger, you know the power food has over your mood.

But the impact eating has on your attitude is about more than keeping your belly full. There are important ties between specific nutrients and mood. Those connections deserve exploration. That’s because nutritional remedies can pair well with healthy habits, self-care, professional recommendations, and lifestyle adjustment to help manage your mood.

You can design a diet that keeps you satisfied and helps your body maintain the conditions for a bright mood. And it will help you keep the hanger at bay.

The Basics of Food, Nutrients, and Mood

If you’re wondering why food is important to your mood, blame your brain—mostly. Your body’s command center deals with the demands of running your body. But it’s also pretty demanding, too.

Your brain churns through a lot of energy. It also is a bit of a hedonist—valuing pleasurable reward over almost anything. Food is the key to caloric contentment and also provides pleasure for your brain. Eating triggers the release of important brain chemicals (called neurotransmitters) with ties to mood—especially endorphins, serotonin, and dopamine.

It’s not just your brain, though. The nutritional needs of your whole body can impact how you feel. Even small nutrient insufficiencies can have major consequences. A lack of some micronutrients can start a chain reaction. Enzymes (helper proteins in your body) don’t work as well without vitamins and minerals to aid their activity. When enzymes aren’t in tip-top shape, your mood—and other aspects of your health—can suffer.

That’s probably why adequate nutrition (including supplementation) has been shown in many studies and meta-analyses to support your mood. One specific double-blind experiment tested large doses of nine vitamins against a placebo. After a year, males and females both reported being more agreeable.

Science backs up the ties between food, nutrients, and mood. So, how can you use this knowledge to your advantage? What nutrients and foods should you target? The answers await in this list of mood-supporting nutrients and compounds.

Magnesium for Your Mood

Your whole body needs magnesium. That’s why it’s an essential mineral. But it goes above and beyond, acting as a helper for over 300 enzyme systems in your body. With that widespread impact, there have to be some crossovers with mood management, right?

One such connection between magnesium and mood happens in your brain (no surprise). The mineral acts as a buffer for important receptors in nerve and brain cells. This protective action helps keep these cells healthy.

Magnesium also plays a role in stress responses. It acts as a triple-pronged check on stress responses in your body:

  • In the brain, it helps maintain normal stress-hormone levels.
  • Atop the kidneys, magnesium supports the adrenal glands’ normal response to a hormone that activates cortisol and adrenaline production, which helps support healthy levels of these stress hormones.
  • In the bloodstream, it can act as a blood-brain barrier to maintain a healthy interaction between stress hormones and the brain.

To top it all off, magnesium has ties to maintaining normal, healthy serotonin levels in the brain. Serotonin is your master mood maintainer and is tied to feelings of happiness.

Find magnesium in green leafy vegetables, whole grains, nuts, meats, and milk. Even some hard water contains variable amounts of this mineral.

Zinc is an Amazing Mood Metal

Like magnesium, zinc is a helper in over 300 enzymes. But the biggest stock of zinc is in your brain’s hippocampus—a major mood center.

Zinc also aids in brain health through its role in cell growth, differentiation, and neural function. It participates in fine-tuning stress responses in your brain and body. Zinc is even important to cell signaling and various brain chemicals.

Studies about memory, learning, and mood have found links between optimal zinc levels and supporting brain health and normal mood maintenance. Don’t miss out on this mineral. You can find zinc in meat, liver, eggs, oysters, and seafood.

In the Mood for B Vitamins

If you get overwhelmed trying to understand the differences between all the B vitamins, there’s a solution. Take a variety of these eight essential vitamins. It won’t help you keep them straight, but many of the B vitamins have been shown to support your mood. So, at least you’ll feel OK about it.

B vitamins are critical in the production of brain chemicals that impact your mood—particularly dopamine and serotonin. Both of those brain chemicals have ties to happiness and pleasure. If you don’t have enough B vitamins (especially B6 and B12) to make adequate amounts of the neurotransmitters, you can start to feel it.

Several B vitamins also help keep your nerves healthy. That’s important for good communication, which plays a role in your overall state of mind. Thiamin (B1) has also been show in studies to support mood.

The B vitamins are scattered throughout the dietary landscape. Find thiamin in brown rice and squash. Riboflavin is in dairy products, spinach, almonds, and broccoli. Beans, bananas, potatoes, meat, and nuts contain vitamin B6. For folate, turn to legumes, asparagus, fortified breakfast cereals, and spinach. And B12 is abundant in seafood, beef, fish, and eggs.

Omega-3s: In Mood, Fat is Your Friend

Your brain is about 60 percent fat. It’s just a fact, because fat—especially essential fatty acids like omega-3s—is what your brain is mainly made out of. And since your brain is largely responsible for your mood, fat has ties to how you feel.

The fatty makeup of your central nervous system is crucial to proper signaling. Omega-3s make up about 20 percent of your brain cell membranes and your nervous system is also composed of a lot of fat. So, keeping those membranes stocked with essential fatty acids help maintain healthy membranes, which helps promote healthy signaling and support a balanced mood.

Your body can’t make enough of the important omega-3s (DHA and EPA) you need. That’s why they’re so important. You’ll have to turn to your diet. Adding more fatty, cold-water fish (think mackerel, salmon, herring, and anchovies) to your meals is a great way to get more omega-3 DHA and EPA.

Caffeine Can Elevate More Than Energy

You don’t want to talk to some people before they’ve had their morning coffee. Blame caffeine.

The world’s most popular natural stimulant has big effects on energy and mood. It revs up the body’s central nervous system and has been doing so for centuries all around the world. The popularity and longevity of this mood-affecting substance says a lot about the power and effectiveness of caffeine. But how does it actually work?

The long explanation involves a lot of brain chemicals and receptors. The short answer is that caffeine supercharges your brain and nervous system. It supports your naturally stimulating chemicals, which helps you stay alert and feeling better about the day.

Make sure to manage your caffeine intake so it doesn’t overstimulate anxieties or throw your sleep schedule out of whack. You can find caffeine in coffee, green and black tea, and chocolate.

Dark Chocolate, Lighter Moods

Reaching for chocolate when you feel down is natural. That’s because it’s the king of mood foods. And turning to dark chocolate has well-studied mood benefits, and is much better for you than milk chocolate.

The more cacao (or cocoa) in the chocolate, the more mood-supporting compounds you’ll find. Anandamide is one. This fatty acid acts as a neurotransmitter that can affect mood. Another, phenylethylamine, is an organic compound that acts like a mood-supporting brain and nervous system chemical.

Be careful with this semi-sweet treat. You’ll still get sugar and lots of fat. But darker chocolate (the higher the percent of cacao or cocoa, the darker the product) has a better balance of beneficial and unhealthy components.

Nutrients and Mood: Other Emerging Compounds

Researchers are constantly evaluating new connections between specific nutrients and mood. They’re picking out different plant compounds found in the diet and throughout world history to explore how they support a healthy, normal mood.

Here’s just a few compounds that have been around for a long time, but have new, emerging research about mood maintenance:

  • Saffron: a vibrant spice made from the saffron crocus flower.
  • Ashwagandha: an important herb used as an herbal preparation in India for thousands of years.
  • Lemon Balm: a common herb in the mint family.

Feed Your Mood

Take charge of your temperament. Pack your diet with foods containing these mood-supporting nutrients. And see how diet decisions can do more than stave off the hanger monster. If you struggle fitting these nutrients in your meals, supplementation is a good alternative—especially for those who may have dietary restraints. Whether through a meal or supplementation, it’s time to give “eating your feelings” a new meaning.

Breakfast with coffee, orange juice, croissant, egg, vegetables and fruits

Breakfast with coffee, orange juice, croissant, egg, vegetables and fruits

Breakfast sets the tone for the rest of your day. A healthy breakfast can put you on the path to a day full of healthy decisions. And it can also provide the energy you need to dominate your to-do list.

This healthy breakfast quiz will help you master the art of the healthy breakfast. In only nine questions, you’ll test your ability to pick proteins, carbohydrates, fats, fruits, and beverages.

Finish the last question to see your score and cruise the answer key to see where you went astray. And share the quiz and your score with friends. That way you can claim your breakfast-building bragging rights.


Collagen triple helix molecule

Boosting the quality of your diet checks a lot of boxes for your health. Weight, energy, and proper fuel come to mind first. The health of your skin should be added to that list. Nutritional skincare illuminates the natural radiance of your skin through a proper diet.

Your skin is the largest organ of your body. And its health is easily influenced by what you eat. Skin goes through many cycles of renewal and repair. Proper nutrition supplies your skin with the materials it needs to maintain its beauty and strength.

That means eating a variety of healthy, whole foods that include a wide range of vitamins, minerals, antioxidants, lean proteins, and omega-3 fatty acids. Below, you’ll read about some of the foods rich in important nutrients for your skin. Make nutritional skincare a priority and ensure these nutrients are in your diet.

Vitamin C

Healthy skin requires a good supply of the protein collagen. This peptide is the most abundant protein in your body and is found in connective tissue and skin. Collagen gives your skin elasticity, bounce, structure, and durability.

Your body needs vitamin C to regulate the amount of collagen produced in your skin. Vitamin C stabilizes the genetic blueprints for collagen production and increases the rate at which it is made. This helps keep your skin looking as firm and healthy as possible.

There’s another way vitamin C influences the appearance of fine lines in aging skin. Oxidative stress leads to wrinkled skin. Vitamin C is an antioxidant that acts as a free radical scavenger and maintains healthy levels of toxic oxygen species in cells. So, vitamin C can aid in repairing the oxidative damage done to your skin cells to keep it looking healthy.

This nutrient can also support the production of cells called fibroblasts. Fibroblasts help maintain healthy skin, but their numbers dwindle with age. By recharging your body’s ability to produce fibroblasts, vitamin C gives your skin the tools it needs to maintain a youthful appearance.

Vitamin C is found in many fruits, vegetables, and dietary supplements. Good sources are:

• Oranges
• Apples
• Strawberries
• Spinach
• Broccoli

Eating a diet rich in vitamin C can help protect your skin and reduce the appearance of fine lines and wrinkles. And if you’re looking for another vitamin to pair with it, vitamin E also an important part of nutritional skincare.


This mega molecule does a lot of work to keep your skin in tip-top shape. Glucosamine is an amino sugar necessary for building proteins and lipids in your body. As a precursor to hyaluronic acid, glucosamine is critical to supporting the production of this important ingredient in skin. That’s what makes glucosamine key to nutritional skincare. Because hyaluronic acid is widely known for its effects on skin health and appearance.

Making hyaluronic acid more available to vulnerable areas of skin is one way glucosamine helps maintain a healthy-looking complexion. Here’s how it works. Hyaluronic acid stabilizes and strengthens the tissues that heal minor skin scrapes. By supporting healthy levels of hyaluronic acid, glucosamine has the power to repair and fortify skin. As an added bonus, glucosamine can inhibit the production of a pigment called melanin. This works to reduce the appearance of age related dark spots.

Increasing the amount of hyaluronic acid in your body makes glucosamine a key part of your nutritional skincare. Look to this important molecule to help support normal pigmentation, and skin repair.

Glucosamine is most often obtained through nutrient supplementation, since dietary sources are scarce. Seafood, namely shellfish, can contribute significantly to the dietary sources of glucosamine. But if you want to incorporate it into your diet at optimal levels—those shown by research to be effective—supplementation is your best option.

Lutein and Zeaxanthin—A Powerful Pair for Nutritional Skincare

Lutein and zeaxanthin are known to support healthy eyes. And evidence suggests these nutrients could be an important part of your nutritional skincare, too. By working together to filter blue light, lutein and zeaxanthin help protect your eyes and skin from the effects of the sun.

High-energy visible light (HEV, or blue light) is emitted by the sun, your laptop computer, cell phone, and LED lights. Your skin’s defense against the barrage of blue light is filtering it out. Lutein and zeaxanthin are some of those filters.

Both behave as antioxidants and help keep free radical damage from blue-light exposure in check. These nutrients are not produced by your body, so it’s important to include them in your diet.

Lutein and zeaxanthin are carotenoids—plant pigments. Other carotenoids, like beta carotene, can support your skin’s appearance, too. You’ll find these carotenoids in yellow and oranges foods. Cantaloupe, carrots, orange and yellow peppers, egg yolks, and salmon are all rich sources of zeaxanthin and lutein. They’re also found in green, leafy vegetables like spinach, kale, broccoli, peas, and lettuce. Including these foods in your healthy diet can pay off in clear eyes and healthy-looking skin.

Alpha-Lipoic Acid

Known as the “universal antioxidant,” alpha-lipoic acid (ALA) is great at fighting off free radicals. ALA is active in both lipid layers of the skin and water-filled skin cells. Its primary role in the body is protecting cells from oxidative damage. Alpha-lipoic acid binds to oxidants and diffuses potential damage.

Oxidative damage causes wrinkles and fine lines. So, ALA is an important component of nutritional skincare that can help you achieve healthy-looking skin. ALA can also support even skin tone and minimize the appearance of redness and blotchiness. Wrinkles are kept at bay because antioxidant compounds like ALA protect the structure of your skin from oxidative stress.

Another function of ALA is the regulation of nitric oxide production. Levels of nitric oxide in your body influence the amount of blood flow to your skin. Increased blood flow helps your complexion transform from a dull and pale appearance to vibrant and glowing one.

Alpha-lipoic acid can also regulate the synthesis of a molecule called glutathione. Glutathione is an antioxidant, as well—one of the most powerful in your body. The antioxidant benefits of glutathione run the gamut, and with the help of ALA regulation, your skin is a benefactor.

One more function of ALA is its role in energy production. Alpha-lipoic acid serves as an essential cofactor in the biochemical cycle that turns macronutrients (your food) into energy. This cycle (citric acid cycle) produces the majority of the energy your cells need to function.

Your body creates very small quantities of ALA. There are a few food sources of this compound, but their bioavailability is limited. These foods include: kidney, heart, liver, broccoli, spinach, and Brussels sprouts. It’s most readily available to your body in the form of nutrient supplements. Increasing the amount of usable ALA in your body supports free-radical scavenging and provides antioxidant benefits.


Curcumin is another pigment that should play a role in your nutritional skincare. This phytonutrient is derived from turmeric, a spice used in preparing vibrant, tropical cuisine. Turmeric (and curcumin) comes from the root Curcuma longa and belongs to the ginger family. Adding turmeric to a meal gives it a beautiful bright yellow color.

But curcumin doesn’t just brighten up your plate. It has demonstrated considerable ability to help reduce the appearance of puffiness and swelling. By blocking the biochemical steps that produce the look of red and irritated skin, curcumin helps your skin tone look smooth and even.


Nutritional skincare doesn’t have to be hard. Probably the simplest thing to do to help your skin is drink water. And lots of it.

Hydration is crucial for the appearance of healthy and supple skin. Drinking plenty of water throughout the day provides your skin with an ample supply of moisture and helps flush out toxins.

Water helps fill out your skin to provide a smooth appearance. It also helps your skin look plump. You can maximize the effectiveness of topical moisturizers by making sure your skin is well hydrated.

Cell Signaling and Nutritional Skincare

Your skin is only as healthy as the cells that make it. And your diet has a big impact on your cellular function—including cellular communication or cell signaling.

Cells work together by communicating through chemical and electrical impulses. Cellular communication is the foundation for skin health, and the vitality of all your overall health.

So, you need to watch what you eat to ensure your skin cells are a well-oiled machine and fit for duty. Because promoting your cells’ natural ability to communicate helps your body (and skin) look good and feel great.

Your Skin, Your Choice

Nutritional skincare—and supporting your overall health—starts with your choices. When selecting nutritional supplements and shopping for food, look for items that provide a wide range of vitamins (especially C and E), minerals, omega-3s, and healthy proteins.

And think about what you can do to support healthy cellular communication. That include consuming foods and supplements that have plenty of antioxidant activity, are good sources of essential vitamins and minerals, and contain plenty of phytonutrients.

What you choose not to eat is also important. Limiting sugar and refined carbs can be helpful for your skin. So, next time you reach for a snack, think about how it might feed into the beauty of your skin.

About the Author

Sydney Sprouse is a freelance science writer based out of Forest Grove, Oregon. She holds a bachelor of science in human biology from Utah State University, where she worked as an undergraduate researcher and writing fellow. Sydney is a lifelong student of science and makes it her goal to translate current scientific research as effectively as possible. She writes with particular interest in human biology, health, and nutrition.



  • These statements have not been evaluated by the Food & Drug Administration. This product is not intended to diagnose, treat, cure, or prevent any disease.
fruits vs vegetables


Introduction to Plant Compounds

Plants are a large portion of a healthy diet. Fruits, vegetables, and whole grains provide your body with essential nutrition and nourishment. Loaded with vitamins and minerals, these food groups play an active role in keeping you healthy. But your favorite produce has more to offer than meets the eye. Plants are packed with powerful compounds called phytonutrients.

These plant chemical compounds can promote and maintain good health. But your body can’t make these important nutrients. So it needs a reliable source of these plant compounds. Eating a variety of plant-based foods can help supplement your diet with the phytonutrients your body needs.

A well-rounded diet can provide you with dozens of phytonutrients. And each performs a specialized role in the plants they’re derived from—and in your body. Antioxidant ability is one of the most important functions of phytonutrients. These plant compounds also help protect your eyes, maintain a healthy immune system, and help facilitate cell signaling. Phytonutrients are interesting, important, and valuable to your health.

Important Terminology

Understanding how phytonutrients work in the body requires a grasp of some new vocabulary. Learning the following terms will help you understand the importance and value of phytonutrients to your health.

  • Phytonutrient: A chemical compound found in plants that has positive impacts on human health and nutrition. Phytonutrients can also be referred to as phytochemicals.
  • Free Radicals: Any molecule containing an unpaired electron. Free radicals are very reactive and can trigger oxidation.
  • Oxidant: These molecules contain oxygen and are highly reactive. They easily react with other molecules changing their chemical nature. These changes can ultimately become toxic to the cell.
  • Antioxidant: A molecule that slows or reduces the damage done to an organism by free radicals and other oxidants. Antioxidants help prevent a chemical reaction called oxidation from occurring. They do this by neutralizing unpaired electrons on potentially dangerous molecules.
  • Carotenoids: A class of naturally occurring plant pigments. Carotenoids produce red, orange, and yellow color in fruits and vegetables. These phytonutrients protect plants from oxidative damage.
  • Polyphenols: These phytonutrients are concentrated in the leaf tissue of plants. They deter predators and help keep plants healthy. Polyphenols are the largest class of antioxidants in your diet.
  • Bioflavonoids: Bioflavonoids are a subcategory of polyphenols. They share the same function in plants, but differ in chemical structure. Bioflavonoids contain unique chemical signatures, like ketones and alcohol groups (carbon-oxygen double bond and oxygen-hydrogen single bond, respectively).

Phytonutrient Function in Your Body

In plants, phytonutrients act as pigments, giving fruits and vegetables their vibrant color. They also protect, fortify, and strengthen healthy plants. But these compounds can also play a role in helping maintain your health.

Phytonutrients act as antioxidants, helping protect your body from free radicals. Your body needs to maintain a balance of oxidants (free radicals, etc.) and unreactive molecules. When this balance shifts in favor of oxidants, damage can be done to your healthy cells.

These plant compounds help neutralize oxidants and help maintain that healthy balance. They do this neutralizing unpaired electrons on potentially dangerous molecules. This chemical interaction stabilizes the oxidant and keeps oxidative damage from taking place.

Classes of Phytonutrients


Below, you’ll find information about some of the major classes of phytonutrients and examples of each. Although they may differ in structure, each phytonutrient works for the same goal: reducing oxidative damage and protecting your health.


Photosynthetic bacteria, algae, and plants produce more than 750 pigments called carotenoids. Carotenoids help protect the plant from harmful wavelengths of light so plants can use the sun for energy. These pigments also protect the photosynthetic portions of plant cells.

This class of phytonutrient is the source of the bright red, orange, and yellow colors of fruits and vegetables. Carotenoids are powerful antioxidants and are critical in protecting your eye health and helping facilitate smooth cellular communication.


Beta-carotene is probably the most well-known carotenoid and phytonutrient. It is a precursor to vitamin A. Since your body can’t make vitamin A, you need a provitamin like beta-carotene in your diet. So your body can turn it into vitamin A when it needs.

Beta-carotene is converted to vitamin A in the body and supports healthy eyes. This conversion is accomplished in the duodenum (the first part of your small intestine) when intestinal enzymes split beta-carotene into two active vitamin A molecules called retinal. That’s the usable form of vitamin A in the body. And it’s involved in many complex processes in your body.

Lycopene, Lutein, and Zeaxanthin

These three carotenoids also help maintain eye health. But they work differently than beta-carotene.

Light entering your eye is focused on the retina and filtered by cells in your eye called rods and cones. The chemical structures of lycopene, lutein, and zeaxanthin allow them to absorb light, too. These pigments specifically absorb blue light, which has been shown to cause light-induced oxidative damage.

But that’s not all these phytonutrients do. Carotenoids like those listed above help your body’s cell signaling be more efficient and reliable. How do they do it? Carotenoids stimulate the manufacture of proteins called connexins. These proteins help neighboring cells exchange information, faster.


Polyphenols have a distinctive shape and a name that describes their chemical makeup. To understand them a bit more, let’s dive deep into the chemistry.

Chemical compounds come in all shapes and a variety of unique organizations. The order and placement of atoms in each molecule determine its function. Polyphenols are made primarily of two kinds of atom patterns: benzene rings and alcohol groups.

Benzene rings are cyclical chemical rings made of carbon and hydrogen with alternating double bonds. Alcohol groups consist of oxygen and hydrogen attached to another atom, like carbon. Together, one benzene ring plus one alcohol group equals one phenol. When multiple phenols are strung together, polyphenols are born. This chemical shape is important because it literally lets polyphenols absorb and neutralize extra electrons.

Polyphenols are the most numerous antioxidants in your diet. They are known to promote cardiovascular health. Two polyphenols, resveratrol and curcumin, are especially important in a healthy diet and are key ingredients in dietary supplements.


Resveratrol is an antioxidant polyphenol found commonly in your diet. You can find it in peanuts, berries, grapes, and red wine.

The positive effects of resveratrol have only recently been uncovered. In the 1990s, scientist stumbled upon resveratrol while studying the health benefits associated with red-wine consumption.

For many years the diets of French people had been under scrutiny. The French regularly eat foods high in saturated fats, yet they have healthy hearts and blood vessels. They also consume large amounts of wine. This phenomenon is referred to as the “French paradox.” After resveratrol was discovered in red wine, researchers took a closer look to see if it could help explain these paradoxical observations.

By itself, resveratrol is great at tackling free radicals and other reactive oxygen species. But it also supports the function of other important molecules. Glutathione, one of the most ubiquitous molecules in your body, pairs up with resveratrol to help protect your cells from oxidative damage, which helps maintain healthy cell function.

Grape Seed Extract


Since grapes contain both resveratrol (found primarily in grape skins) and grape seed extract, the function of these two phytonutrients are very similar. Grape seed extract comes from, you guessed it, grape seeds. It is a powerful antioxidant and supports cardiovascular health.

Circulatory system benefits come from the phytonutrient’s ability to help the body maintain healthy blood pressure already in the normal range. This is done by supporting the healthy function of venous pumps, which help blood return to the heart.


If you enjoy tropical cuisine, get excited. Because some of your favorite foods are loaded with phytonutrients. Curcumin is a polyphenolic compound making waves in human nutrition. This phytonutrient has demonstrated the ability to support healthy brain and joint function.

Curcumin is found in turmeric, a spice derived from the roots of the tropical plant Curcuma longa Linn. Turmeric adds bright yellow-orange color to cooking. This vibrant polyphenol has been used for medicinal purposes in India for centuries. And new scientific research is adding credence to its ancient claims.

A lot of the benefits come from curcumin’s ability to behave like an antioxidant. But it also disrupts the route of cytokines and enzymes like cyclooxygenase. That’s how curcumin helps maintain healthy joint function.

The brain-health support provided by curcumin is achieved in a different way. As a result of aging, memory can be effected by the build-up of “junk” or “plaques” in the brain. Plaques are clumps of protein that stick to brain tissue and interrupt cell signaling. Curcumin has been shown to help dismantle those plaques and makes it harder for them to form. This phytonutrient has also been show to support brain-cell growth and maintain healthy cognitive function and memory.

Green Tea Extract

Green tea is enjoyed by millions of people every day. But there is more to the drink than a natural energy boost. Green tea extract may help maintain a healthy weight.

Green tea extract is natural source of caffeine and it’s full of polyphenols. This phytonutrient has been shown to increase the energy your body uses every day. And using more energy makes reaching a healthy weight more manageable.

Here’s how it works. Green tea extract supports the action of norepinephrine, the neurotransmitter that regulates heat production and fat oxidation. The polyphenol also oxidizes fat cells and increases the rate at which your body uses energy. This increase in metabolism creates heat and burns fat—all without significant impact on your heart rate.

Olive Fruit Extract


Olive fruit extract and other olive-derived compounds work primarily as antioxidants. They protect the body from unhealthy oxidation. That’s how olive fruit extract reduces the toxic chemicals that lead to redness and irritation.

Glutathione function is also stimulated by olive fruit extract. Olive fruit extract and glutathione work together to destroy free-radicals and keep oxidative stress at bay.

This polyphenol also promotes healthy circulation which also helps supports heart function. That’s because healthy arteries help maintain normal blood pressure and promote general well-being.


Bioflavonoids (also known as flavonoids) are a special category of polyphenols. They are further categorized by their chemical structure. And there are hundreds of plant-derived bioflavonoids that work to keep you healthy and strong.

Like other phytonutrients, bioflavonoids are primarily antioxidants. But they can also help protect the liver, maintain brain health, and more. In addition, bioflavonoids can be useful in maintaining normal hormone levels.

Quercetin and Rutin

Quercetin and rutin belong to a group of bioflavonoids called flavonols. This category of bioflavonoid is unique because of the position of alcohol groups in its chemical structure.

Flavonols—like quercetin and rutin—interrupt signals between hormones and promote normal hormone interaction. Quercetin and rutin also provide support to your liver. They work together to assist in a natural process that promotes toxin excretion in the urine.


Hesperidin falls into the bioflavonoid category of flavanones. These compounds are distinguished by the oxygen-carbon double bond in their chemical arrangement.

Hesperidin and other flavanones act as antioxidants that protect the brain. These antioxidants function like curcumin—which is mentioned in the polyphenols section above. Hesperidin can help preserve brain function by fighting against plaque formation. These protein build-ups interfere with brain cell communication. By optimizing brain health and protecting against age-related memory loss, hesperidin and other flavanones help maintain healthy cognitive function.

Flavanones have also demonstrated abilities to support your immune system and help keep you healthy.

Other Antioxidants and Important Plant Compounds

Your body needs adequate amounts of phytonutrients to maintain its fitness. But there are other important molecules and chemical compounds necessary for health that can be found in a proper diet. For detoxification and healthy digestion, the following compounds are critical.


Cysteine is an amino acid necessary for building that all-important detox molecule, glutathione. Getting cysteine in your diet is easier than your think. It’s available in a lot of animal protein. But there’s several plant sources. So all you have to do is just add garlic.

Whole garlic cloves are brimming with a molecule called alliin. It contains the cysteine needed to help produce the glutathione your body needs. But alliin is trapped inside. Crushing, chopping, and chewing garlic releases alliinase.

The protein alliinase frees alliin making it available for our bodies to absorb. Once absorbed, our bodies release the cysteine from alliin making it available for use. One use is glutathione production. Cysteine increases the concentration of glutathione in the body and puts it to work detoxing foreign chemicals and cleaning up free-radical damage.

Alpha-Lipoic Acid

Glutathione relies on alpha-lipoic acid for help in the detoxification process. But your body also needs this antioxidant for helping to maintain normal blood sugar—provided it’s already in the normal range to begin with. Alpha-lipoic acid does this by increasing glucose’s sensitivity to insulin. This helps maintain your metabolic health.

Dietary Fiber


Fiber is crucial for healthy and comfortable digestion. Plants are full of fiber and carbohydrates geared towards making digestion easier.

Increasing fiber can help your body make better use of the sugars in your food. Fiber also softens stool and can help relieve occasional constipation—one of the more uncomfortable side effects of poor digestion.

Growing evidence suggests that high-fiber diets help in weight control. Fiber-rich foods can prolong the feeling of fullness after a meal. This full feeling keeps the need for mindless snacking in check and can lower the amount of unhealthy food consumed.

High-fiber foods also generally provide more nutrition than their low-fiber counterparts. By filling your belly with a fiber-rich meal, you can get better nutrition to your body and help maintain a healthy weight.

Powerful Produce – Sources of Essential Phytonutrients

Phytonutrients are already in your diet. Your just need to know where to look. Colorful fruits and vegetables are excellent sources of carotenoids. Dark green and leafy veggies are rich in bioflavonoids. Phytonutrients are also hiding in some of your favorite beverages—namely red wine and green tea.

This list of phytonutrient-dense foods can help you make sure your body gets these important plant compounds. This is by no means comprehensive, but it’s a good place to start:

  • Red, orange, and yellow peppers
  • Tomatoes
  • Carrots
  • Squash
  • Berries
  • Oranges
  • Broccoli, cauliflower, kale
  • Dark, leafy, green vegetables
  • Nuts and nut oils
  • Olive oil
  • Red wine
  • Chocolate
  • Turmeric, ginger, and garlic
  • Whole grains high in fiber

And even the best diets may fall short. So use your healthy diet as a foundation of phytonutrients and consider adding supplementation to get everything you need to live your best, healthiest life.


About the Author

Sydney Sprouse is a freelance science writer based out of Forest Grove, Oregon. She holds a bachelor of science in human biology from Utah State University, where she worked as an undergraduate researcher and writing fellow. Sydney is a lifelong student of science and makes it her goal to translate current scientific research as effectively as possible. She writes with particular interest in human biology, health, and nutrition.