You may have heard the term phytochemicals tossed around in various nutrition articles or maybe on food labels. It sounds like a science-y word but these little structures are important parts of our diets and I find it fascinating that they are all found in plant foods! I’ve said it before and I’ll keep saying it, but plants are full of life-sustaining nutrients beyond those we commonly think of like vitamin C, potassium, or iron.
The latin word phyto means plant! I want to share several phytochemicals and where you can sneak them into your diet.
Allyl sulfides/organosulfides are found in garlic, onions, and leeks and may help lower lipids and blood pressure.
Saponins are found in garlic, onions, licorice, and legumes and act as natural antibiotics and may have anticancer properties.
Carotenoids are found in orange/red/yellow fruits and vegetables and have antioxidant properties that are involved in cancer and heart disease protection as well as enhanced immune function.
Monoterpenes are found in oranges, lemons, grapefruit and rosemary and they have antitumor properties
Capsaicin is the active ingredient in hot chili peppers which acts as a vasodilator and is a common addition to pain-releaving creams
Lignans are found in plant compounds such as flaxseed, berries and whole grains and can protect against cancers-especially those that are hormone-sensitive like breast, uterine and prostate cancers
Indoles are in cruciferous vegetables like broccoli, cabbage and kale and possess protective anticancer properties
Isothiocyanates are also found in cruciferous vegetables like broccoli. These phytochemicals help neutralize carcinogens, reduce their poisonous effect and stimulate the release of other substances that help combat them.
Phytosterols are found in a wide variety of plants like soybeans, legumes, cucumbers and other fruits and vegetables. They offer many health benefits including lowering cholesterol.
Flavonoids can be found in citrus fruits, pinions, apples, grapes, wed wine, tea, chocolate and tomatoes, to name a few sources. They have anticancer, antioxidant and antiallergy properties. Over 4,000 flavonoids have been identified!
Isoflavones are found in soybeans and other legumes and can help ease menopause symptoms as well as fight cancer with their antioxidants.
Catechins are found in green tea and cinnamon and can inhibit the activity of free radicals and in turn aid in cancer prevention.
Ellagic acid is present in strawberries, raspberries, grapes, cherries, apples, bananas and nuts. It has been shown to be anti carcinogenic and antimuagenic, inhibiting tumor grown.
Anthocyanins are found in red, blue and purple plants like eggplant, blueberries, cherries and red cabbage. They improve vision and grain function, guard against macular degeneration and help relieve inflammation.
Fructooligosaccharides are found in onions, bananas and oranges and are useful for good gut bacteria. They are also known as prebiotics.
Stilbenoids (e.g., resveratrol) are found in blueberries, grapes, peanuts and red wine and are associated with anti-aging effects, reduced risk of cardiovascular disease and lower cancer risk.
Go on, eat those gorgeous and colorful plant foods to reap the benefits in your health!
Sources: The 150 Healthiest Foods on Earth by Jonny Bowden/Wardlaw’s Perspectives in Nutrition