Phytonutrients: Protecting Your Health with the Power of Plants

Phytonutrients (literally “plant nutrients”) are good-for-you compounds found in fruits and vegetables. They are also called phytochemicals. There are several categories and thousands of types of phytonutrients. Although only a small percentage of phytonutrients have been studied, many of them have been found to contain anti-cancer activity and other health benefits. A number of them can even help to reduce your risk of developing complications that are common in people with diabetes.

In deciding which phytonutrients to include in your diet, the key is to choose the ones that are low in sugar and carbohydrates. Although phytonutrients are healthy, it is important that they do not get in the way of maintaining good blood glucose control. Let’s take a look at the low-sugar, low-carb phytonutrients that can help protect you from diabetes complications.


Many subgroups of Carotenoids offer several forms of diabetes protection. They are usually found in vegetables.

    • Lutein and zeaxanthin may help reduce your risk of macular degeneration and cataracts.
      Best sources: spinach, kale, turnip greens, collard greens
    • Beta carotene is converted to vitamin A in the body. It may reduce your risk of heart attack by lowering blood pressure and by preventing the cholesterol in your blood from becoming oxidized, which can lead to inflamed arteries.
      Best sources: carrots, pumpkin, spinach
    • Lycopene is a red pigment that provides protection against arteriosclerosis (hardening of the arteries).
      Best sources: tomatoes (especially when cooked), red peppers, watermelon

Phenols and Flavanoids

These compounds are often red or purple in color and are found in both fruits and vegetables.

    • Anthocyanins have been shown to improve insulin sensitivity and reduce inflammation and blood glucose levels in people with Type 2 diabetes.
      Best sources: raspberries, blueberries, blackberries, red grapes
    • Gallic acid may lower blood glucose levels and help repair any heart damage.
      Best sources: raspberries, strawberries, blackberries, cranberries
    • Quercetin may help to improve your blood glucose levels and reduce your risk of heart disease.
      Best sources: broccoli, scallions, onions, kale, apples, berries
    • Resveretrol supports your heart’s health by reducing inflammation and improving blood flow through your arteries and veins. It may also help reduce pain associated with peripheral neuropathy.
      Best sources: grapes, blueberries, cranberries
    • Lignans. Early research on lignans suggests that they are anti-inflammatory and may help to reduce your risk of heart disease.
      Best sources: flaxseeds, sesame seeds, kale, broccoli


These phytochemicals typically have a strong odor due to the sulfur they contain.

    • Allicin provides benefits to the cardiovascular system and may help lower blood glucose levels.
      Best sources: garlic (Allicin is destroyed by heat, so it is best to consume garlic raw.)
    • Sulforaphane may help reduce blood pressure and blood cholesterol.
      Best sources: broccoli, cauliflower, cabbage, kale


Saponins can prevent your body from absorbing some of the cholesterol in the food you eat, which may be beneficial for heart health.
Best sources: beans, peas, lentils, peanuts, soybeans, turmeric

Don’t worry if you can’t pronounce the names of some of these phytonutrients or if you forget which types are in found in which foods. Just make sure you get a good variety of colorful fruits and vegetables in your diet. But remember to keep an eye on portion sizes and try to stick to the ‘healthier’ phytonutrients that pack all the punch of health benefits while containing minimal carbs and sugar.

How many servings of phytonutrients can you get in every day?

A Day’s Worth of Phytonutrients

Meal Phytonutrients contained

  • Omelet made with spinach and red peppers
  • Blueberries topped with yogurt and chopped walnuts
lycopene, lutein, zeaxanthin,
anthocyanins, resveretrol

  • Chinese Chicken Salad made with cabbage, slivered carrots, sesame seeds, sesame oil, vinegar, and garlic
  • Apple
sulforaphane, quercetin, lignans,
allicin, beta carotene

  • Chili made with kidney beans and cooked tomatoes
  • Mixed green salad with olive oil and vinegar
  • Raspberries topped with ricotta cheese
lsaponins, lycopene,
gallic acid, anthocyanins


(5 Articles)

Franziska Spritzler, RD CDE is a Registered Dietitian and Certified Diabetes Educator who believes in a Low-Carbohydrate Lifestyle. She has several published articles on the benefits of low carb diets in relation to Diabetes and has a blog called ’Low Carb Dietitian’ at

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