Why Phytochemicals are Important in your Diet: Cancer Prevention

Phytochemicals Broccoli

Phytochemicals are special compounds that are produced by plants. These amazing chemicals are found in vegetables, fruits, seeds, nuts and all manner of edible and inedible plants which of some are thought to protect cells from free radical damage.

Phytochemicals are a key property that could result in reduction of getting cancer by as much as 40%. And of course, the common thread with all our nutritional information is to eat PLENTY of vegetables and fruits (in this order) to benefit from all the nutritional goodness that plants have to offer, and these include high doses of Phytochemicals for prevention against a wide range of diseases.

Phytochemicals come in a whole range of different compounds some of which are:

  • Polyphenol which is an antioxidant that is common in green tea, brightly colored fruits and berries.
  • Beta carotene and other carotenoids in fruits and vegetables. High concentrations are found in berries such as Goji Berry.
  • Isothiocyanates in cruciferous vegetables members of the cabbage family that include Bok Choy, collards, broccoli, kale and cauliflower.
  • Resveratrol in grapes and red wine. This does not give you the excuse to consume outrageous amounts of red wine! Grapes have larger amounts of Resveratrol concentration, of which the most is present within the seeds.
  • help stop the formation of potential cancer-causing substances (carcinogens)
  • help stop carcinogens from attacking cells
  • help cells stop and wipe out any cancer-like changes

The benefits of Phytochemicals

Phytochemicals are present within almost all fruits and vegetables and this is why it is so crucial to incorporate these types of foods to your diet. There are supplements in the market right now which promote Phytochemicals being used in a pill from, however this does not substitute the added benefit of eating whole fruits and vegetables. Again, it’s as easy as creating a smoothie or juice from high nutrient dense green leafy vegetables with addition of some fruit for sweetness or as simple as eating more salads. Juicing has the greatest and fastest effect on the body due to it’s lack of fiber. Fiber requires digestion which slows down the nutrient absorption rate.

There are several main groups of health-promoting phytochemicals:

Flavonoids are found in lots of seeds, vegetables, and fruits.

Antioxidants protect your body’s cells from free radicals — which are unstable molecules created during normal cell functions. Pollution, radiation, cigarette smoke, and herbicides also can create free radicals in your body. Free radicals can damage a cell’s genetic structure and may trigger the cell to grow out of control. These changes may contribute to the development of cancer and other diseases.

Antioxidants are found in:

  • Blueberries
  • Pomegranates
  • Goji Berries
  • Acai Berry
  • Camu Camu
  • Kale
  • Broccoli
  • Tomatoes
  • Sweet potatoes
  • Oranges
  • Spinach
  • Nuts
  • Seeds
  • Fish oil
  • Strawberries
  • Green tea

The above mentioned are types of superfoods to a certain extent, to a larger extent berries have a higher concentration of anti-oxidants, that of which the top 3 are Acai berry, Camu Camu and Goji Berries. As a rule of thumb, the darker coloured fruits and vegetables contain the largest amount of antioxidants and therefore larger amounts of Phytochemicals to combat free radical damage.

Carotenoids, which give, sweet potato, rock melon, carrots, egg-yolks and Goji Berries the orange colour. Foods with orange colouration normally have an extremely high Carotenoid content.  Carotenoids rich foods are often orange in colour and this is a great way to pick highly concentrated vegetables and fruits.

Anthocyanins, which give grapes, blueberries, cranberries, and raspberries their dark color, have been shown in the laboratory to have anti-inflammatory and anti-tumour properties.

Sulfides: These are mostly in bulbous vegetables such as garlic and onions, sulfides also strengthen the immune system.

Much of the evidence so far on the effects of phytochemicals comes from observing people who eat mainly plant-based diets. These populations have been observed to have lower rates of cancer and heart disease.

We hope that this post gives you an idea of how important phytochemicals are in your diet.

Let us know what high anti-oxidant foods you are enjoying at the moment in the comments below.

To your health and wellness.

 

 

Photo Credit: Francesco Crippa
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