Phytochemical are the reasons that fruits and veggies have color and smell. There are 1000 known phytochemicals, with an estimate of over 10,000 different ones potentially able to affect diseases. These chemical compounds are thought to have a big affect on health but are not considered as essential nutrients.
Some phytochemicals are antioxidants or have antioxidant activity and they have shown that they may reduce the risk of cancer. They have been proven to have anti-inflammatory effects. And now many doctors and scientists are starting to acknowledge the link between chronic inflammation in the body and disease. So — to me — anything that can safely help with inflammation in the body is a good food to eat.
The Linus Pauling Institute at the Oregon State University has a list of phytochemicals. Under each type listed there is a further breakdown of names of the specific phytochemical, here are just a few highlights
Carotenoids are found in red, yellow, or orange vegetables and fruits. As with a lot of nutrients, fat helps with absorption. So using a little bit of healthy oil can help with availability of the nutrient to the body.
Chlorophyll & Chlorophyllin are responsible for the green in veggies.
Curcumin is what gives turmeric its deep yellow color. Turmeric is considered an anti-inflammatory.
Fiber is a group of different compounds. Different kinds of dietary fiber include: Lignin, Cellulose, Beta-Glucans, Hemicelluloses, Pectins, Gums, Inulin, and Resistant starch. Research is showing that people with diets high in fiber have less risk of disease. Fiber helps keeps the body’s digestive system moving things out.
Flavonoids in the case of the phytochemicals are thought to be better helpers in cell-signalling then in antioxidants. While flavonoids have shown to help with curbing the free radicals, they really seem to shine when it comes to the cell signaling pathways. They’ve shown themselves to be great at regulating the flow of information in the communication pathways of the cells. There are different classes of flavanoids, they can be found in red wine, green, white, and black tea, berries, apples, chocolate, citrus fruits, yellow onions, soybeans, legumes, scallions, kale, and broccoli.
Garlic is thought to have antioxidant properties. Garlic and its Organosulfur Compounds are thought to help fight cardiovascular disease and inflammation in the body. (And some are now saying that it is inflammation that causes cardiovascular disease.)
Indole-3-Carbinol is found in coniferous vegetables. These types of veggies are thought to help prevent certain types of cancer. Some of the veggies that this phytochemical can be found in is cabbage, broccoli, and brussels sprouts.
Isothiocyanates is also found in coniferous veggies. This one can be found in cabbage, broccoli, and kale.
Lignans (phytoestrogens) are found in plants while Lignan precursors are found in plant-based foods. Eating a variety of seeds, whole grains, and legume along with broccoli, curly kale, cabbage, Brussels sprouts, cauliflower, carrots, green and red sweet peppers, apricots, strawberries, peaches, pears, and nectaries will net you both. (according to Livestrong)
Phytosterols can be found in unrefined vegetable oils, whole grains, nuts, and legumes and inhibit the intestinal absorption of cholesterol.
Resveratrol was found to increase the lifespan of some living organisms. It can be found in grapes, red wine, purple grape juice, peanuts, and some berries.
Soy Isoflavones (phytoestrogens) is one of those things that is good for you, but some evidence says that too much is not. But they are not clear on that or how much “too much” is.
As with much of our food supply harvesting and processing diminishes the nutrients available to us. The amount of phytochemicals actually in our fruits and vegetables after commercial harvesting, processing, and cooking is significantly reduced. Since the nutrients that we actually get from the food we eat seems less than was intended by nature it is a good thing that most fruits and veggies can be eaten in high quantities without adding much fat or many calories to the diet.
Additional information from wiki states that phytochemicals have been used as drugs for millennia. The willow tree leaves were used to reduce fevers and later used as aspirin.
There is much research to be done on phytochemicals. But it is interesting to know that the color and odor causing compound in our fruit and veggies might also protect us or help us combat disease. Seems like if we eat a large variety in addition to large quantities of fruits and vegetables daily will be get a good amount of phytochemicals. One thing I like to think about and try to do is “eat the rainbow”. Sounds silly, but it really is eating all the COLORS in the rainbow.
Do you eat a variety of fruits and veggies? Do you eat the colors of the rainbow?