Fill up on phytochemicals

Posted by Kris Kim on

Fill up on phytochemicals

Eating a varied diet of colorful plant foods may have benefits that go beyond the power of vitamins and mineral

Whenever you bite into a juicy red apple or crunch a mouthful of dark, leafy greens, you consume more than just vitamins, minerals, and fiber. You also get a power-packed bite of plant substances called phytochemicals. They're not known to be essential for health, like vitamins and minerals, but they may go a long way toward keeping us healthy.

•What are they?

Phytochemicals are literally plant (phyto) chemicals: compounds in plants (fruits, vegetables, whole grains, nuts, seeds, and legumes) that contribute to their color, taste, and smell. They give carrots their vibrant orange hue, Brussels sprouts their bitter taste, and hot peppers their searing bite. Phytochemicals are found in all edible parts of a plant, especially the skin or peel.


Scientists estimate there are more than 5,000 phytochemicals, and we're only beginning to understand what the compounds may do for human health.

The evidence indicates that phytochemicals have promising benefits. For example:

* Carotenoids in red, orange, yellow, and green plants (cooked tomatoes, carrots, squash, and broccoli) may inhibit cancer growth and cardiovascular disease, and boost immunity.

* Flavonoids in berries, apples, citrus, onions, soybeans/beans, and coffee may fight inflammation and tumor growth.

* Anthocyanins in berries, red wine and black beans are associated with lower blood pressure.

* Resveratrol in red wine, grapes, dark chocolate, and peanuts is associated with longevity in some animals.

* Proanthocyanidins and flavanols in grapes, apples, cocoa, and red wine are linked to better function of the lining of the arteries and reduced blood pressure.

* Sulfides and thiols in onions, garlic, leeks, olives, and scallions may help decrease "bad" LDL cholesterol.

* Isothiocyanates (sulforaphane) in cruciferous vegetables

With so many phytochemicals, it could be overwhelming to select specific compounds to try to protect your health. But you don't have to. Most plant foods each contain dozens of phytochemicals (for example, a carrot has more than 100).

So the key is to try to eat a varied plants, the more the better!


**From Harvard Health Publishing

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