What is a phytochemical anyways? In short, phytochemical ingredients are plant-derived compounds, which Julie Daniluk, holistic nutritionist and Co-owner of The Big Carrot Natural Food Market in Toronto, says protect the plants from environmental stresses, including insects, and weather ups and downs. Julie Daniluk says “While phytochemicals are not essential nutrients to human life, it is becoming quite clear that they do infer a great number of health benefits to us as well.”
It is apparent that while phytochemicals offer protection to several chronic diseases, diabetes, cancer, heart disease and Alzheimer’s, they also play a part in chemical warfare in a variety of ways.
Basically, the researcher’s evidence show phytochemicals are able to reduce the oxidative damage to our cells, that cause various diseases like cancer. Foods such as grapes, dark chocolate and carotenoids, sweet potatoes and green leafy vegetables are examples of phytochemicals full of antioxidant material which help us to diseases like cancer.
Phytochemicals called allicin, found in garlic, contain antibacterial properties. Many people use garlic for their heart health and to avoid getting colds. Fortunately, those who do not want to have the “garlic breath syndrome”, garlic can be purchased in capsules that do not give off the pungent aroma.
According to Julie Daniluk, various phytochemical have the ability to alter enzyme functioning in a way the helps stave off disease. There is a chemical called indole-3-carbonyl which is found in cabbage, broccoli and kale which stimulates enzymes that reduce the effectiveness of estrogen, thereby reducing the risk of breast cancer.
Daniluk says “Some plant compounds such as isoflavones present in soy, can directly alter how hormones (such as estrogen) behave in the progression of disease.” Isoflavones actually have been found to regulate hormonal action.
Even phytochemicals found in chemicals such as capsaicin, which is found in chili peppers, can interfere in the reproduction of cell DNA to prevent the multiplication of cancer cells.
“The best way to give your diet a phytochemical boost is to load up your grocery cart with more fruits and vegetables”, Daniluk says. She recommends we have at least 10 daily servings of produce will provide us with plenty of these disease fighters. Daniluk recommends that we eat multiple coloured fruits and vegetables, as the different pigment plays host to different chemicals. Think of all the healthy recipes you can create with the abundance of foods in the list below.
According to Daniluk, studies have produced results claiming these 10 phytochemicals are effective in helping us to keep healthy living. Each phytochemical will be named, what it does and where it is to be found.
Beta carotene supports reproductive health, boosts our immunity, and helps fights cancer. It is found in carrots, sweet potato, squash, cantaloupe and mango.
Lutein helps fight age-related vision loss, and is found in spinach, Brussels sprouts, egg yolk, broccoli, and Swiss chard.
Sulforaphane helps reduce cancer risk and inhibits bacterial growth and is found in cauliflower, kale, bok choy, broccoli and broccoli sprouts.
Curcurmin helps diminish inflammation and the spread of cancer cells; evidence has been found that it may slow the progression of multiple sclerosis. Curcurmin is found in turmeric, curry powder.
Lycopene battles prostate cancer and heart disease, and is found in red bell peppers, tomatoes, watermelon, red grapefruit and apricots.
Resveratrol helps to destroy cancer cells, fights back viruses and may even give a benefit to exercise performance. Resveratrol is found in grapes, berries, peanuts and red wine.
Quercetin helps fight cancer, heart disease and respiratory disease. It is found in capers, onion, apples and citrus fruits.
Anthocyanin helps to improve cognitive ability, urinary tract infections and diabetes risk, and is found in berries, eggplant, red cabbage, legumes red and blue grapes.
Epigallocatechin gallate (EGCG)
This phytochemical fights psoriasis and other inflammatory skin conditions as well as boosts memory.
Allicin lowers cholesterol, and is a strong antibacterial/antiviral agent; it is found in leeks, onions and garlic.
Daniluk says that the most important thing is variety of fruits and vegetables. So very many phytochemicals are just being discovered, which makes it difficult to say which is more important. The idea is to fill your kitchen with whole grains, legumes, spices mentioned and more, herbs and nuts and “stay away” from all the processed food that is obviously phytochemical-deficient.
Remember the organic aisle in the grocery store as these items are pesticide free and usually local. This is an interesting concept; Daniluk says that “If the plant does not have to fight off insects, it reduces the need for its own phytochemical defence system.” This is similar to our antibiotic overuse. If we always use antibiotics, soon the so be it, “bugs” become resistant.
All of the phytochemicals mentioned may be difficult to pronounce, but, you will know where to find them after reading this article.
Since phytochemicals have been in the news, they are available for the public to purchase in a supplement form. Talk to your doctor first before taking any form of supplement. Check your refrigerator and cupboard. See what you use and what you need in the form of phytochemicals in your foods. Eating organic foods containing these phytochemicals paints the best picture of the path to healthy living.