The importance of phytonutrients


By Lucy Postins


There’s more than a visual difference between the brown food pellets many pets eat, and fresh, colorful foods. Phytonutrients, the pigments that give fresh foods their vibrant hues of red, green, yellow and orange, contain powerful antioxidant properties. Many fruits and vegetables are suitable for dogs to eat, and contain compounds that help provide protection against many ailments and diseases to which domestic canines are prone.

Despite the fact that most phytonutrients are officially considered “non-essential” (most aren’t included in AAFCO nutrient profiles or other references many vets are familiar with), phytochemicals do seem essential for deep-seated good health, well being, immunity — and probably longevity.

Some of the health benefits of phytonutrients in colorful foods include enhanced immune system activity, protection against cancer, support of eye and heart health, improved communication between cells and repair of DNA damage. Antioxidants also help slow down the signs of aging by cleaning up the by-products of oxidation within the body’s cells.

The powerful health properties of phytonutrients are thought to play an especially important role in cancer prevention. While the majority of the research is being done on humans, it’s likely most of the benefits being demonstrated also apply to animals, including domesticated pets.

Researchers have identified hundreds of different phytonutrients. Some of the best known are carotenoids (such as beta-carotene, lutein, lycopene and Zeaxanthin) and flavonoids (such as isoflavones, anthocyanins and flavones).

Lucy Postins is the co-founder and CEO of The Honest Kitchen pet food company, which makes dehydrated natural dog and cat food, treats and supplements. Lucy has long been interested in the benefits of home cooked and raw food for pets and started researching healthy nutrition for dogs and cats after adopting a Rhodesian ridgeback puppy in 2000. She began formulating pet food products a year later and launched The Honest Kitchen in 2002.