The Top 6 Phytochemicals Found in Food
There’s quite a bit of buzz around phytochemicals in food. Phytochemicals, also known as phytonutrients, are naturally occurring chemicals found in plants (hence the phyto-).
They are the compounds that give fruits and vegetables their vibrant variety of colors, smells, and tastes. With the rainbow of vegetables, you see regularly, you can imagine how many types of phytochemicals there are!
There are literally thousands of phytochemicals out there. Scientists are busy studying their potential benefits. Since you aren’t a plant, the only way to reap the benefits of phytochemicals is to eat a diet full of a variety of types of fruits and vegetables.
There are 6 phytochemicals scientists have spent the most effort researching:
1. BETA CAROTENE is found in orange-colored and dark green leafy vegetables. Beta-carotene is critical for eye health and also plays a key role in maintaining a healthy and strong immune system.
2. LYCOPENE is the red pigment found in tomatoes, pink grapefruit, watermelon, raspberries, and strawberries. It’s a powerful antioxidant and is linked to reduced prostate cancer risk. Lycopene is better absorbed after it’s been cooked, such as in tomato sauce.
3. LUTEIN is found in green leafy vegetables, such as kale and spinach, as well as in cruciferous vegetables, such as Brussel sprouts and broccoli. Like beta-carotene, lutein is critical for eye health and may help prevent macular degeneration.
4. RESVERATROL has been making the news with its antioxidant properties for the prevention of cardiovascular disease and decreasing overall systemic inflammation. Have you heard how dark chocolate and red wine are healthy? That’s because they’re good sources of resveratrol.
5. ISOFLAVONES block estrogen from entering cells, possibly lowering the risk of ovarian and breast cancer, as well as protecting against heart disease by reducing blood clotting and cholesterol levels. Soy foods are high in isoflavones, but they’re also found in other legumes.
6. ANTHOCYANIDINS are the deep red and blue-purple pigments in blueberries, blackberries, red onions, and radishes, to name just a few. Anthocyanidins help maintain a healthy circulatory system.
Some lesser-known phytochemicals include:
• Saponins: Interfere with DNA replication, preventing cancer cells from multiplying. Found in beans, legumes, garlic, oats, and asparagus.
• Flavonoids: Inhibit the aggregation and adhesion of platelets in the blood; inhibits the oxidation of LDL. Found in orange and grapefruit juice, tea, onions, soy, and red wine.
• Allyl sulfides: Stimulate enzymes that detoxify cancer-causing substances; cholesterol-lowering and anti-hypertensive heart health functions. Found in vegetables in the onion family, such as onions, garlic, leeks, chives, and shallots.
• Indoles: Increase the conversion of estrogen to its inactive form, possibly reducing breast cancer risk. Found in brassica vegetables: broccoli, cauliflower, kale, Brussels sprouts, cabbage, kohlrabi.
• Quercetin: Acts as an anti-inflammatory and can relieve allergies and fight infection. Found in tomatoes, oregano, apples, onions, and lettuce
You probably don’t need even more scientific research to tell you a diet rich in a variety of fruits, vegetables, and legumes is the best bet for good health, but phytochemicals are another reason to ensure you’re eating a wide variety of different foods. So get out there and feed your body with phytochemicals!
Bonnie R. Giller helps chronic dieters and people with medical conditions like diabetes. To break free from diets and food rules so they can make peace with food and change their relationship with food and their bodies forever. She does this by creating a tailored solution that combines three essential ingredients: a healthy mindset, caring support and nutrition education.
Bonnie is a registered and certified dietitian nutritionist, certified diabetes educator and certified intuitive eating counselor. Learn more about Bonnie and her nutrition services at http://www.BRGHealth.com.
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Author *Bonnie R Giller
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