What are Phytochemicals?

by Natalie on August 29, 2012

Phytochemical is a scientific way of saying “plant chemical”. Phytochemicals are powerful substances found in plants very important for cancer prevention. Here is what phytochemicals can do for you:

  •  Improve your immune function
  • Stop toxic substances from becoming carcinogens in your body
  • Protect and repair your DNA
  • Reduce inflammation
  • Normalize hormone levels
  • Slow the growth of cancer cells (if any are present)

Phytochemicals give plants their unique colors, odors, and flavors. Deep colors and strong odors indicate higher levels of phytochemicals in the plant.

You will receive more phytochemicals in your diet if you eat a large, and varied amount of fruits and vegetables.

Here is a list of common phytochemicals, their functions, and what foods you can find them in.

  • Carotenoids. Found in: red, orange, and green fruits and vegetables. Think carrots, bell peppers, melon, spinach, lettuce, oranges, and sweet potatoes. Carotenoids work as antioxidants, and help improve our immunity.
  • Flavanoids. Found in: apples, citrus, onions, coffee, and tea. Flavanoids reduce inflammation and may reduce tumor growth. They also help the body detoxify.
  • Indoles and Glucosinolates. Found in: broccoli, cabbage, collards, kale, cauliflower, brussels sprouts, and radishes. These help the body detoxify, regulate hormones, and block carcinogens.
  • Polyphenols. Found in: green tea, grapes, berries, citrus, apples, whole grains, and peanuts. Polyphenols prevent cancer formation, inflammation, and work as antioxidants.
  • Terpenes. Found in: cherries, and rosemary. Terpenes help protect cells from turning cancerous, improve immunity, and work as antioxidants.

As you can see, you don’t need to go out of your way to get phytochemicals. They are found in many everyday foods. Some of my favorite foods on the list are berries, broccoli, and sweet potatoes.

Want to learn easy ways to incorporate more plants into your diet. Check out this previous post: “36 Ways to Add Fruits and Vegetables to your Meals”.

Question: How can you add more  healthy “plant chemicals” to your diet? Leave your response in the comments box below.







photo by: SweetOnVeg via Flickr

Amie Johnson March 26, 2013 at 5:31 pm

That you for your informative website. I wanted to ask you about the natural sugars found in fruit. My mom-in-law has breast cancer and is concerned that if she eats too much fruit that the sugars in the fruit will be bad for her. This seemed to go against what I have learned, but I am not the expert. Is there any backing to her concern?

Natalie March 28, 2013 at 11:11 am

Hi Amie, thank you for your comment. I do think her concern is somewhat valid. It’s hard to address the whole topic in this reply to your question, but I will try to give you a “nut-shell” answer. Fruit does contain sugar. It is not as potent as sugar from sweets and desserts, but it is still sugar. When you eat sugar, your body releases a hormone called insulin. When you eat a lot sugar, your body has to release large amounts of insulin to deal with it. Insulin can act as a tumor growth promoter, so that is why its smart to be healthy about sugar intake when you have cancer or when trying to prevent it. However, it really all depends on the totality of what she is eating. Sugar is found in all carbohydrates such as grain, bread, milk and starchy vegetables, so this has to be taken in consideration too. She should not avoid fruit because it is a very healthy food and high in powerful antioxidants. She might consider focusing on eating lower glycemic fruits such as berries, cherries, apricots, peaches, apples, pears, and grapes.

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