Definition of Phytochemicals
Plants use phytochemicals as a defense against potential threats which may include bacteria, viruses, and fungi. When we consume these plants as fruits and vegetables, these defenses are passed along to us in order to fight off threats to our health. Brightly colored fruits and vegetables contain the highest concentrations of phytochemicals, and may help us fight off diseases such as cancer and heart disease.
While hundreds of phytochemicals have been identified, research on this subject is still in the early stages. It is currently hypothesized that phytochemicals interfere with the processes that cause chronic diseases. For example, phytochemicals may prevent carcinogens, which are cancer-causing agents, from forming.
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Foods Containing Phytochemicals
Fruits, vegetables, grains, and beans contain phytochemicals. The actions of phytochemicals vary by color and type. Let's talk about some phytochemicals, where they are found, and how they benefit health:
- First, there are anthocyanins and these are found in red and blue fruits (such as raspberries and blueberries) and in vegetables. Anthocyanins help to slow the aging process, protect against heart disease and tumors, prevent blood clots, and fight inflammation and allergies.
- Next, there are carotenoids, and these are found in carrots, tomatoes, and tomato products. Carotenoids may help to neutralize free radicals that cause cell damage.
- Then, there is lutein, and this is found in leafy green vegetables. Lutein may prevent macular degeneration and cataracts as well as reduce the risk of heart disease and breast cancer.
- Next is lycopene, and this is found primarily in tomato products. When tomatoes are cooked, lycopene appears to reduce the risk of cancer and heart attacks.
- And last there are phenolics, and these are found in citrus fruits, fruit juices, cereals, legumes, and oilseeds. Phenolics are thought to be extremely powerful and are studied for a variety of health benefits including slowing the aging process, protecting against heart disease and tumors, and fighting inflammation, allergies, and blood clots.
Benefits of Phytochemicals
Evidence suggests that a diet high in fruits and vegetables can help prevent chronic diseases, which include heart disease, cancer, and diabetes. While research has yet to officially connect this protective effect to phytochemicals, it may be contributing factor along with vitamins, minerals, fiber, and other nutrients. Since research on phytochemicals is limited, no recommended intake has been established. For this same reason, supplementation of phytochemicals has not been studied and is not generally recommended.
Phytochemicals are one of our best defenses against chronic diseases. To gain the protection phytochemicals may offer, individuals should eat a variety of fruits and vegetables, especially those with bright colors. Anthocyanin, carotenoids, lutein, lycopene, and phenolics are all examples of phytochemicals.
Medical Disclaimer: The information on this site is for your information only and is not a substitute for professional medical advice.
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What Are Phytochemicals? - Definition, Foods, Benefits & Examples
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