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Smarter eating: get more phytonutrients

Smarter eating: get more phytonutrients

By Julia Scott, National Dietitian, Arvida Group

‘Phytonutrient’ is a term that describes thousands of natural chemicals found in plants. So when you eat fruit and vegetables, you are eating a variety of phytonutrients. Of the 25,000+ phytonutrients out there, carotenoids and flavonoids are two of the most useful for humans, especially people over 65.

Most people think of fruit and vegetables as sources of vitamins, minerals and fibre. However, the phytonutrients they give us are just as important – especially for long-term good health. When you make the recipe described below (Sweet & Sour Chicken), there will be valuable carotenoids and flavonoids in the capsicum, carrots, broccoli and spring onions.

What are the benefits of carotenoids?

Carotenoids have antioxidant, cancer-fighting and anti-inflammatory properties. They produce the bright yellow, orange, red and purple colours that make your salad interesting.

Long-term consumption of carotenoids can help reduce your risk of getting atherosclerosis (the build-up of plaque in your arteries that leads to narrowed blood vessels). They’re also helpful for defending your skin against UV damage and skin cancer. What’s more, studies suggest carotenoids help with bone health, immunity and avoiding cognitive decline.

What are the benefits of flavonoids?

Flavonoids have anti-oxidative, anti-inflammatory, anti-mutagenic and anti-carcinogenic properties. Like carotenoids, they produce pigments – red, purple, blue, white and pale yellow. Flavonoids are helpful for preventing heart disease, assisting bone formation, preventing cancer and preventing obesity. They may also help with maintaining muscle mass as you get older.

How do you get enough phytonutrients every day?

‘Eat a rainbow’ is the best philosophy for ensuring you get a range of phytonutrients. Across all the meals you eat in a day, try to eat lots of bright colours. Keep cooking times short or eat your veges raw in a salad.

​Sweet and Sour Chicken

Serves four


  • 1 tbsp olive oil
  • 2 tsp minced garlic
  • 1 tbsp minced ginger
  • 500g chicken breast, diced
  • 1 x 425g can pineapple pieces in juice, drained (juice saved)
  • 2 tbsp cornflour
  • 2 tbsp soy sauce
  • 2 tbsp tomato sauce
  • 2 tbsp white vinegar
  • 1 broccoli, chopped into florets
  • 2 carrots, thinly sliced
  • 1 capsicum, thinly sliced
  • 2 spring onions sliced
  • 1 tsp sesame seeds (optional)


  1. Heat oil in a frying pan over medium heat.
  2. Add the garlic and ginger and stir-fry for 2 minutes.
  3. Add the chicken and cook, stirring occasionally, for 5-10 minutes.
  4. Whisk the pineapple juice and cornflour together in a small bowl until smooth. Stir in the soy sauce, tomato sauce and vinegar. Set aside.
  5. Add the broccoli, carrots, capsicum, sauce and pineapple pieces.
  6. Turn up the heat to bring to the boil, then reduce slightly and simmer for 10-15 minutes or until the vegetables have softened and the chicken is fully cooked.
  7. Divide mixture between bowls and garnish with spring onions and sesame seeds if using.
  8. Serve with brown rice if desired.
Tip: divide into portions and store in the fridge for two days or in the freezer for one month.

Check out our recipe for Broccoli Salad with Almonds & Feta.