The 6 main phytochemicals found in food
There is quite a bit of buzz about phytochemicals in food. Phytochemicals, also known as phytonutrients, are natural chemicals found in plants (hence phyto-). They are the compounds that give fruits and vegetables their vibrant array of colors, smells, and flavors. With the rainbow of veggies you see regularly, you can imagine how many types of phytochemicals there are!
There are literally thousands of phytochemicals and scientists are busy studying their potential benefits. Since you are not 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 that scientists have put in the most effort to investigate:
1. BETA CAROTENE is found in dark green and orange leafy vegetables. Beta-carotene is essential 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 is a powerful antioxidant and is linked to reducing the risk of prostate cancer. Lycopene is better absorbed after cooking, as in tomato sauce.
3. LUTEIN is found in green leafy vegetables like kale and spinach, as well as cruciferous vegetables like Brussels sprouts and broccoli. Like beta-carotene, lutein is essential for eye health and can help prevent macular degeneration.
4. RESVERATROL has made headlines with its antioxidant properties for the prevention of cardiovascular diseases and the decrease of general systemic inflammation. Have you heard how healthy dark chocolate and red wine are? That is because they are good sources of resveratrol.
5. ISOFLAVONES prevent estrogens from entering cells, possibly reducing the risk of breast and ovarian cancer, and protect against heart disease by reducing blood clotting and cholesterol levels. Soy foods are high in isoflavones, but they are also found in other vegetables.
6. ANTOCIANIDINS are the deep red and blue-violet 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. It is found in beans, legumes, garlic, oats, and asparagus.
• Flavonoids: inhibit the aggregation and adhesion of platelets in the blood; inhibits the oxidation of LDL. It is found in orange and grapefruit juice, tea, onions, soy, and red wine.
• Allyl sulfides: stimulate enzymes that detoxify carcinogens; Cholesterol-lowering and antihypertensive heart health functions. It is 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 the risk of breast cancer. Found in brassica vegetables: broccoli, cauliflower, kale, Brussels sprouts, cabbage, kohlrabi.
• Quercetin: acts as an anti-inflammatory and can relieve allergies and fight infections. It is found in tomatoes, oregano, apples, onions, and lettuce.
You probably don’t need even more scientific research to tell you that a diet rich in a variety of fruits, vegetables, and legumes is the best option for good health, but phytochemicals are another reason to make sure you’re eating a wide variety of foods. So get out there and fuel your body with phytochemicals!