Powerful Phytochemicals Can Protect Us

Powerful Phytochemicals Can Protect Us

We commonly refer to phytochemicals as antioxidants. These naturally occurring substances in plants have numerous health benefits, especially when we consume the recommended number of servings of fruit and vegetables daily.

Summer is the most wonderful time of the year! The freshest produce appears in the stores and the farmer’s markets. We are dazzled with the vibrant colours and flavours. Our actual intake of daily fruit and vegetables will probably increase overall during these prime months. If we are lucky, we may be reaping the harvest of our own gardens.

Increasing our consumption of fruit and vegetables has many advantages to our health including: fibre, vitamins and minerals, and phytochemicals. You may be wondering, what are phytochemicals? You will be amazed at discovering the science of plants.


Phytochemicals are beneficial substances produced naturally by plants.

Common Names for Phytochemicals

Antioxidant - Most phytochemicals have antioxidant activity and protect our cells against oxidative damage and reduce the risk of developing certain types of cancer. Phytochemicals with antioxidant activity: allyl sulfides (onions, leeks, garlic), carotenoids (fruits, carrots), flavonoids (fruits, vegetables), polyphenols (tea, grapes).
Oxidation happens when oxygen reacts in our bodies to produce harmful substances called free radicals. These free radicals damage artery walls, making it easier for cholesterol to build-up and leads to atherosclerosis (narrowing of the arteries). Anti-oxidants help to prevent and repair damage done by free radicals in the environment.

Antioxidants help to slow down and prevent atherosclerosis by reducing the build-up of cholesterol, thus lowering your risk of heart attack and stroke. A diet rich in antioxidants may also enhance immunity and lower the risk of cancer.

No single antioxidant alone can protect the body.

Antioxidants include some vitamins (such as vitamins C and E), some minerals (such as selenium), and flavonoids, which are found in plants. The best sources of antioxidants are fruits and vegetables. Most people should eat 7 to 10 servings of fruits and vegetables each day.

Some of the well-known phytochemicals are lycopene in tomatoes, isoflavones in soy, and flavonoids in fruits.

Lycopenes is a carotenoid, a natural pigment made by plants. Lycopene is found in a number of fruits and vegetables, including apricots, guava, and watermelon, but the majority of lycopene consumed is from tomato-based products. The bioavailability of lycopene is greater in processed tomato products, such as tomato paste and tomato puree, than it is in raw tomatoes.
Flavonoids are compounds in plants that provide their color. Flavonoids are well-known antioxidants -- substances that may prevent or delay some types of cell damage. You can find flavonoids in fruits, red wine, and teas.

Polyphenols: Spices, herbs, and essential oils are rich in polyphenols and show antioxidant potential: clove, cinnamon, oregano, turmeric, cumin, parsley, basil, curry powder, mustard seed, ginger, pepper, chili powder, paprika, garlic, coriander, onion and cardamom. Typical herbs are sage, thyme, marjoram, tarragon, peppermint, oregano, savory, basil and dill weed.

Deeply pigmented fruits like cranberries, blueberries, plums, blackberries, raspberries are a good source of polyphenols. Typical cooked vegetables rich in antioxidants are artichokes, cabbage, broccoli, asparagus, avocados, beetroot and spinach. Nuts are a moderate source of polyphenol antioxidants. Typical nuts are pecans, walnuts, hazelnuts, pistachio, almonds, cashew nuts, macadamia nuts and peanut butter.

Did You Know?
Researchers estimate there are up to four thousand phytochemicals. Scientists have identified thousands of phytochemicals, but only a fraction of them have been studied closely.
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