Do you have any food and drink morning rituals?
I love to start each day with a cup of the prettiest, frothiest, creamiest matcha. Divine, green goodness packed with phytonutrients (also known as phytochemicals or polyphenols) delivering that signature matcha lift: clear, calm alertness and incredible focus. ✨
We get a clue from the root of the word, 'phyto', which means 'of a plant', or 'relating to plants'. Thus, phytonutrients and phytochemicals are literally plant-based micronutrients. The reason we want to have loads of them in our diet is because they have powerful antioxidant activity, countering the effects of free radicals.
The problem with free rads
Free radicals are atoms with a missing electron that arise in the body as natural by-products of everyday chemical reactions, such as metabolism for example. The problem with these atoms is that electrons like to be in pairs. Consequently, free rads scavenge the body, looking for electrons to nab so that theirs can become a pair. This causes damage to cells, proteins and DNA, which in turn drives the ageing process and plays a role in the development of many major chronic conditions, including:
- Certain cancers
- Cardiovascular disease
- Neurodegenerative diseases, e.g. Alzheimer's and Parkinson's
- All inflammatory diseases (for example, Type-2 diabetes, arthritis and lupus)
- Macular degeneration
- And even gut health, which we know is central to, like, everything!
Antioxidants to the rescue
Enter antioxidants. Antioxidants have an electron to spare, which they donate to free radicals without becoming destabilised themselves, thus halting the free rad chain reaction of damage.
Richest dietary sources of phytonutrients
Our body produces some antioxidants on its own, but not enough. Phytonutrients have potent antioxidant capacity, which is why it’s super important to get plenty in your diet!
Phytonutrients are found most abundantly in:
- Herbs and spices
- Cocoa powder and dark chocolate
- Berries of all sorts, but especially darkly coloured ones (aronia, elderberries, blueberries, blackcurrants and brambles, in that order)
- Certain nuts and seeds (particularly flax, chestnuts, walnuts, hazels, pecans and almonds )
- Olives, particularly black
- Coffee, black tea, green tea (especially matcha) and red wine
- Colourful fruits and vegetables.
The giveaway is always bright or intense, deep colour. The more colour, the higher a food's polyphenol content.
The phytonutrient power of matcha
Wondering why matcha is so much more nutritious that other teas? I asked Antony at Matcha Factory, one of my fave UK matcha houses. He said,
Basically, we get a much more concentrated dose of phytonutrients from matcha than other tea, because we consume the WHOLE leaf rather than infusing it. Way to go!
Bioavailability of phytonutrients
A diet that contains a wide variety of phytonutrient-rich foods will help to protect you from premature ageing and reduce your risk of many of the major diseases of the western world (check out that list above).
But here's a very interesting, lesser known fact about phytonutrients: they're FAT SOLUBLE! This means you should eat them alongside fats to allow your body to absorb as much of them as possible, something we nutritionists refer to as 'bioavailability'.
That's why I always drink my morning matcha with some form of healthy fat! Plus, that makes it taste even more delicious and gives it the most incredibly creamy texture! Win:win:win!!
How to make the perfect matcha latte
Dr Mercola. Polyphenols - What they are, and why you need them. 14th December 2015. Available from: https://articles.mercola.com/sites/articles/archive/2015/12/14/polyphenols-benefits.aspx [Accessed 22nd August 2018].
Liu, RH. Health benefits of fruit and vegetables are from additive and synergistic combinations of phytochemicals. The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition. 2003;78(3):517S–520S. Available from: https://academic.oup.com/ajcn/article/78/3/517S/4689990 [Accessed 22nd August 2018].
Szalay J. Live Science. What are free radicals? 27th May 2016. Available from: https://www.livescience.com/54901-free-radicals.html [Accessed 22nd August 2018].
Pérez-Jiménez J, Neveu V, Vos F, Scalbert A. Identification of the 100 richest dietary sources of polyphenols: an application of the Phenol-Explorer database. European Journal of Clinical Nutrition. 2010;64:S112–S120. Available from: https://www.nature.com/articles/ejcn2010221 [Accessed 22nd August 2018].
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