Natural chemicals in plants, called phytochemicals or phytonutrients, can have a powerful effect on the human body. These tens of thousands of substances – found in fruits, vegetables, herbs and spices – have been used to treat and prevent diseases since ancient times.
Read on to learn how you can reap the benefits of phytochemicals and why you definitely should.
All About Phytochemicals
Many cultures like the Chinese and American Indians have always looked to plants for healing. Even today, the World Health Organization (WHO) says about 80 percent of the world population use natural medicine, which mostly involves plants.However, modern man’s passion for science and advanced technology has inflated the market for pills and capsules, replacing whole sources of nutrition. That’s why you’ll find a host of supplements in stores and on the Internet offering an easy supply of phytochemicals.
There is very little evidence, however, that these plant chemicals do the same job once you take them out of their original and natural state. This may be due to the fact that the chemicals need other parts of the plant to work properly. Nature is complete in and of itself and artificial means are incomplete substitutes. As always, the best way for you to get the most benefit from phytochemicals is to eat whole foods.Go for a hefty serving of fruits, double the amount of vegetables you normally eat, season your dishes with natural herbs and spices, and plan several meals that contain no meat, but instead consist of only legumes and whole grains. In addition, cook your vegetables lightly since heat destroys many of these natural substances.
Some foods contain literally hundreds of phytochemicals and some specific phytochemicals do more than one kind of job. Here are the most common types you might have heard about or can easily discover with a little research on your part.
Carotenoids – This group of over 600 dyes found in plants, providing color ranging from light yellow to red, includes the well-known beta carotene, lycopene, lutein and zeaxanthin. Studies show that carotenoids acts as antioxidants in your body and boost your immune system. They also lower your heart disease and cancer risk considerably. Food sources include green leafy herbs, spices like paprika and saffron and deeply colored fruits and veggies.
Flavonoids – This group of over 4,000 plant pigments, which give many flowers and herbs their yellow, orange and red color, includes flavonols, flavones and isoflavones. Flavonoids lower your risk for developing heart disease, stroke and cancer. Green tea, beans, red wine and citrus fruits are excellent sources.
Phytosterols – These phytochemicals act like the hormones estrogen and progesterone and keep certain cancers at bay, including breast, ovarian, and prostate – as well as lower your risk for heart disease and osteoporosis. Good sources include soybeans and whole grain.
Organosulfur compounds – Garlic is the most common source of these compounds, which make your immune system stronger, destroy germs and keep carcinogens from forming. They have also been known to fight cancer. Another great food source is cruciferous vegetables like broccoli and cauliflower.
Polyphenols – These phytochemicals also work as antioxidants to fight cancer (especially of the stomach and colon) and heart disease, as well as kill bacteria, fungi and viruses. Green tea, red wine and berries are excellent sources.