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What Are Phytochemicals & Zoochemicals?

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  • 0:02 Phytochemicals & Zoochemicals
  • 1:13 Phytochemical Benefits
  • 2:20 Phytochemical Examples
  • 3:53 Zoochemicals
  • 4:40 Lesson Summary
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Lesson Transcript
Instructor: Rebecca Gillaspy

Dr. Gillaspy has taught health science at University of Phoenix and Ashford University and has a degree from Palmer College of Chiropractic.

Research on the health benefits of phytochemicals is giving us more reasons to eat our fruits and vegetables. Phytochemicals are natural chemicals found in plant foods that provide health benefits. Zoochemicals are their animal-based cousins.

Phytochemicals & Zoochemicals

Many people are cautious about eating processed foods because they don't want to consume the added chemicals contained in these foods. But did you know that even the freshest foods contain natural chemicals? I'm talking about phytochemicals and zoochemicals. Unlike man-made food compounds, these nature-made chemicals provide your body with many health benefits.

The prefix 'phyto' means plants, so it's not surprising that the term phytochemicals means natural chemicals found in plant-based foods. And the prefix 'zoo' refers to animals, making this an easy term to recall as well. Zoochemicals are natural chemicals found in animal-based foods. These food components are not the traditional nutrients we think of when we study nutrition. They're not vitamins, minerals, carbohydrates, proteins or fats. However, like the traditional nutrients, phytochemicals and zoochemicals benefit our bodies. In this lesson, we will learn about these natural compounds and the health benefits that come from consuming them.

Phytochemical Benefits

Let's start by looking at phytochemicals. Phytochemicals are not only pleasing to your body; they're also pleasing to your eye. They're the compounds that give fruits and vegetables their rich, vibrant colors. For example, anthocyanins are phytochemicals that give strawberries, cherries, blueberries and plums their rich colors; and carotenoids give carrots their orange color. We see from these examples that different colors are produced by different phytochemicals. We also know that brighter colors tend to mean more phytochemicals are contained in the food. So, it's a good idea to eat a rainbow of plant-foods every day.

The research into phytochemicals is somewhat new, so the full extent of their benefits might not yet be recognized. However, it is generally thought that phytochemicals act as antioxidants, which protect the body from free radical damage. They also provide protection against cancer, heart disease and other chronic diseases.

Phytochemical Examples

There are thousands of different phytochemicals. Let's take a look at a couple of examples and the foods that contain them. We already identified anthocyanins as the compounds that give certain fruits their rich red and blue colors. They belong to a group of phytochemicals known for their antioxidant properties, called flavonoids.

You might have heard that flavonoids are found in red wine. This revelation has caused some people to declare red wine a modern-day health food. Flavonoids can also be found in a variety of plant foods, such as berries, spices, certain vegetables and darker beans, like black and kidney beans. Their antioxidant activity slows the aging process and prevents inflammation caused by free radical damage.

We also mentioned carotenoids, which are a group of phytochemicals that include beta-carotene, lycopene and lutein. The word carrot is hidden in the name carotenoid, so it's easy to remember that they provide the vegetable with its orange color, but carotenoids also brighten up other fruits and vegetables. For example, carotenoids are found in red, green and orange fruits and vegetables. Tomatoes have gotten some attention for the carotenoids they contain, specifically for their high lycopene content. Lycopene and the other types of carotenoids are thought to help protect against heart disease and cancer.

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