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What are Phytochemicals?

Phytochemicals is the broad name for a wide variety of compounds produced by plants.

They are found in fruits, vegetables, beans, and grains. They are responsible for helping protect plants from fungi, insects, and other external factors. When ingesting these phytochemicals, we also reap the benefits and protect our bodies by reducing inflammation, speeding healing, preventing infection, protecting arteries, curbing cancer, and protecting eyes and skin.

Phytonutrients aren’t essential for keeping you alive, like vitamins and mineral, however, eating or drinking phytonutrients may give your body the extra boost to keep working properly.

More than 25,000 phytonutrients are found in plant foods. Here are six important categories.

  1. Carotenoids
    They act as antioxidants tackling harmful free radicals that can damage tissue in your body. Some examples of carotenoids are Lycopene which gives a pink, red color to tomatoes, watermelon, and pink grapefruit. Studies show that Lycopene helps lower the risk of prostate cancer. Lutein and Zeaxanthin will give a yellow color to your leafy vegetables such as spinach, kale, and collards. They may protect you from cataracts and age-related macular degeneration.
  2. Ellagic Acid
    Although most studies on Ellagic Acid have been done in the lab, scientist believe this phytonutrient may help against cancer by slowing the growth of cancer cells and by helping your liver neutralize cancer-causing chemicals in your system. It is found in strawberries, raspberries, and pomegranates.
  3. Flavonoids
    This is a broad category of phytonutrients. Catechins, found in green tea, helps with certain cancers. Hesperidin, found in citrus fruits, works as an antioxidant to reduce inflammation in the body. Quercetin, found in apples, berries, kale and onions has been extensively studied. They believe it helps reduce the risk of asthma, certain types of cancer, and coronary disease.
  4. Resveratrol
    Grapes, purple grape juice, and red wine contain resveratrol. Research is suggesting that this phytochemical could help reduce the risk of heart disease and certain cancers. It may even help to extend life. More research is needed to establish a clear relationship.
  5. Glucosinolates
    They are found in cruciferous vegetables including brussels sprouts, cabbage, kale, and broccoli. They often have a sharp odor and flavor. In the process of digestion and cooking these phytochemicals can break down into other chemicals. They have an antibiotic-like effect to ward off bacterial, viral, and fungal infection in parts of the digestion system like the intestines. Some studies also suggest they help to prevent heart attack, stroke, and certain types of cancer.
  6. Phytoestrogens
    These phytochemicals can exert estrogen-like effects and may block the effects of your natural supply of estrogen. One type of phytoestrogen is found in soy foods.  Some evidence suggest that soy foods could be linked to a lower risk of endometrial cancer and bone loss in women. Another phytoestrogen is called lignans. Flaxseeds and sesame seeds contain these lignans and they may also help in preventing endometrial cancer and osteoporosis. More research is still needed.

The bottom line:

Fill half your plate with beautiful, tasty, nutrient-packed fruits and vegetables — with space on the plate for grains and protein, too. This will give your body vitamins, minerals, and the added benefits of phytochemicals too!

Article provided by Clara Lawhead

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