Micronutrients

Vitamins and minerals are needed in minute quantities by the body but are essential for normal growth, muscle response, health of the nervous system, digestion, production of hormones, and metabolism of nutrients. Vitamins often act as coenzymes and minerals are constituents of bones, teeth, soft tissue, muscles, blood, and nerve cells. There are two kinds of vitamins: water-soluble—B complex, C, the bioflavonoids, and beta carotene—that are easily eliminated from the body; and fat soluble—A, D, E, and K— that can accumulate if an excess is ingested. Vitamins and minerals can be supplied by a varied diet of fresh fruits and vegetables, whole grains, legumes, nuts and seeds, fish, and low-fat animal products.

Phytochemicals are a recently discovered compound that shows the importance of eating a nutrient-dense whole foods diet, for it is inevitable that more nutrients are yet to be discovered. These elements are powerful antioxidants that protect the body from the oxidative effects of, for example, environmental pollution, and contain protective properties against illnesses including cancer and coronary heart disease.

The pigments in fruits, vegetables, and some beans and grains contain a group of phytochemi-cals called polyphenols; polyphenols are also found in olive oil. The red and purple pigments called anthocyanins and proanthocyanidins found in such foods as grapes, cherries, berries, plums, and red cabbage act to prevent degenerative diseases of the heart, blood vessels, and lungs. The carotenoids in yellow and orange fruits and vegetables and, invisibly, in dark green leafy vegetables have strong anticancer properties. Lutein and zeaxanthin are protective of the eyes and help prevent macular degeneration and cataract formation; and lycopene lowers the risk of prostate cancer. Polysaccharides are another group of phytochemicals found in plants, especially the mushrooms, shiitake, oyster, enoki, and maitake, that improve the effectiveness of the immune system. Phytoestrogens found in plants like soybeans and flax interrelate with estrogen receptors on the cellular level and are beneficial for women during menopause and may help prevent breast cancer; and for men in reducing the risk of prostate cancer; and for both in preventing coronary heart disease.

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