What Are Phytochemicals?
Underlying the all-time saying “Don’t forget to eat your vegetables” and the joy that many of us find in marketplace aisles of vibrant colors is a common understanding: regular consumption of whole foods is associated with reduced health risk.
However, why exactly are fruits, vegetables, whole grains, and plant-based foods such capable defenders of our health?
These food groups contain chemicals called phytochemicals. Phytochemicals are commonly found in plants that are actually protective mechanisms for the plants themselves against bacteria, viruses, and fungi. They are found in brightly colored fruits and vegetables (yellow, orange, red, green, white, blue, purple), intact grains, and beans all contain phytochemicals. And when phytochemicals are taken up by us, they may decrease the risk of developing certain cancers as well as diabetes, hypertension, and heart disease.
Availability in Whole Foods vs Supplements
Moreover, these phytochemicals often work in synergy to prevent or reduce the risk of health risks. That means that the same health benefits may not be conferred when people turn to supplements for nutrients, since supplements provide nutrients in isolation. Thus, the benefits of phytochemicals and nutrients are best acquired through eating plant-based whole foods.
Benefits of Various Phytochemicals
While the action of phytochemicals varies by color and type of the food, many have antioxidant abilities that can prevent oxidative stress related diseases – from cancer and diabetes to cardiovascular diseases. Let’s get into a few examples of plant-based whole foods and the phytochemicals they contain:
|Phytochemical Type||Sources||Possible Benefits|
|Allicin||Onions and garlic||Lowers blood pressure in hypertensive individuals and stimulates the immune system|
|Anthocyanins||Red and blue fruits (raspberries, blueberries, and vegetables)||Helps to prevent cardiovascular diseases and possess antidiabetic, anticancer, anti-inflammatory effects|
|Indoles||Broccoli, bok choy, cabbage, kale, brussel sprouts, and turnips||Prevents certain types of cancers, such as breast, prostate, and colon cancer|
|Lutein||Leafy green vegetables||Improves eye health|
|Lycopene||Tomatoes||Slows the growth of cancers, such as breast and prostate cancer|
|Phenolics||Citrus fruits, fruit juices, legumes, and oilseeds||Fights inflammation and neurodegeneration, slowing the aging process|
In addition to the list above, soy nuts, soybeans, pears, celery, carrots, olives, lentils, cantaloupe, apricots, seeds, green tea, and apples are also high in phytochemicals!
With every meal of phytochemicals being an opportunity to improve your body’s health defenses, only one question remains: isn’t that a revolution worth biting into?
By: Helena Zhang, BS
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