Phytochemicals (phytonutrients) from the greek word phyto (meaning "from plants") are neither vitamins nor minerals. Phytochemicals (phyt onutrients) are natural chemical compounds such as beta-carotene that occur naturally in plants that are believed to have positive benefits on health.
Researchers presently estimate that there are 30,000 to 50,000 of these phytochemical (phytonutrients), although only about 1,000 have been isolated so far. Of these, a mere 100 have been analyzed and tested. Some of the well-known phytochemicals (phytonutrients) are lycopene in tomatoes, isoflavones in soy and flavanoids in fruits.
Phytochemical (Phytonutrient) Health Benefits
For many years, researchers have recognized that diets high in fruits, vegetables, herbs, grains, seeds, nuts and legumes prevent diseases such as heart disease, diabetes, cancer and high blood pressure. They once believed that it was the vitamin, mineral, fiber and enzyme contents of these plant-derived foods that were preventing malnutrition and disease.
However, in the 1990s, phytochemicals (phytonutrients) compounds were discovered and modern science began acknowledging disease-protective elements of phytochemicals (phytonutrients). It is now believe that phytochemicals (phytonutrients) can protect the our 100 trillion cells, tissues, membranes, mitochondria, bloodstream, skin, organs and immune functions from the onslaught of synthetic chemicals, toxins, bacteria, pesticides, viruses, fungi, yeast, microbes, mutagens, food additives, pollution, free radicals, aging and the onslaught of many degenerative diseases. This ever increasing body of research that has brought phytochemicals (phytonutrients) the forefront of serious worldwide nutritional research.
How Phytochemicals (Phytonutrient) Work
There are many phytochemicals and each works differently. These are some possible actions:
- Antioxidant actions - Most phytochemicals have antioxidant activity and protect our cells against oxidative damage and reduce the risk of developing certain types of cancer. Phytochemicals with antioxidant activity: allyl sulfides (onions, leeks, garlic), carotenoids (fruits, carrots), flavonoids (fruits, vegetables), polyphenols (tea, grapes).
- Anti-bacterial action - The phytochemical allicin from garlic has anti-bacterial properties.
- Hormonal action - Isoflavones, found in soy, imitate human estrogens and help to reduce menopausal symptoms and osteoporosis.
- Interference with DNA replication - Saponins found in beans interfere with the replication of cell DNA, thereby preventing the multiplication of cancer cells. Capsaicin, found in hot peppers, protects DNA from carcinogens.
- Stimulation of enzymes - Indoles, which are found in cabbages, stimulate enzymes that make the estrogen less effective and could reduce breast cancer rsik. Other phytochemicals, which interfere with enzymes, are protease inhibitors (soy and beans), terpenes (citrus fruits and cherries).
- Physical action - Some phytochemicals bind physically to cell walls thereby preventing the adhesion of pathogens to human cell walls. Proanthocyanidins are responsible for the anti-adhesion properties of cranberry. Consumption of cranberries will reduce the risk of urinary tract infections and will improve dental health.
Phytochemicals (Phytonutrients) Sources
Some of the most well-known phytochemicals (phytonutrients) are lycopene in tomatoes, isoflavones in soy and flavanoids in fruits. Other sources of phytochemicals (phytonutrients) include:
- bee pollen
- dark colored berries (e.g., bilberry, blackberry, blueberry, cherry, cranberry, elderberry, hawthorn, loganberry and raspberry and strawberry etc.)
- dark plums
- pink grapefruit
- purple grapes
- red grapes
- red oranges
- Collard greens
- Red beets
- Red peppers
- Non-GMO (non genetically engineered) soy sprouts
- Soy beans
- Non-GMO fermented soy (miso, natto, tempeh)
- Sweet potatoes
- Turnip greens
Nuts, seeds and grains
- Raw nuts (e.g., peanuts)
- Raw seeds (flax seeds, pumpkin seeds etc.)
- Whole grains (e.g., wheat, flax, rice bran)
- Black pepper
- Ginkgo biloba
- Grape seed
- Grape skin
- Green tea
- Milk thistle
List of Phytochemicals (Phytonutrients)
- Ellagic acid
- Gallic acid
- Rosmarinic acid
- Tannic acid
- Phytic acid