Chemicals are something that most people generally try to avoid. Even so, phytochemicals are something that everyone needs, as they provide a number of important health benefits. What are phytochemicals and why does your body need them? Here is some information we think you will find very useful.
What are Phytochemicals?
Derived from the Greek word “phuton” which means plant, phytochemicals are chemical substances naturally produced by plants. Scientists believe there are actually tens of thousands of different phytochemicals, but have only identified and studied a fraction of them. Some examples of phytochemicals include:
- Carotenoids, which are plant pigments responsible for providing color to fruits and vegetables. According to a study published in the Journal of the American College of Nutrition, carotenoids have powerful antioxidant properties.
- Flavanols, substances shown by a University of Illinois study to reduce the risk of cardiovascular disease.
- Indole-3-carbinol (I3C), which is found largely in cruciferous vegetables. A study from Oregon State University showed I3C promotes the development of healthy cells and prevents damage to DNA.
- Lingans, phytochemicals found mostly in grains, seeds, and berries. Some research indicates that lingans may provide anti-carcinogenic effects to help ward off cancer.
Phytochemicals are responsible for everything from the smell emitted by cabbage to the spice in chili peppers. Many phytochemicals can even affect the way food tastes. Although they are non-essential nutrients, some research suggests they may be responsible for sustaining life, and should therefore be included as part of any balanced diet.
Different from Phytonutrients
Phytochemicals are often confused with phytonutrients, or substances that are beneficial to the body. The two are technically not the same thing, since phytochemicals can have either a positive or negative effect. For example, nicotine is a phytochemical produced by the tobacco plant. As such, all phytonutrients are actually phytochemicals even though some phytochemicals may not necessarily be phytonutrients.
While some phytochemicals are harmful, the majority are very helpful, and actually provide some amazing health benefits that cannot be achieved through other sources. For the purpose of this article, the term “phytochemical” refers to positive plant-based chemicals.
Purpose of Phytochemicals
Registered dietician Beth Fontenot remarks that phytochemicals are responsible for protecting plants from pollution, predators, and the elements. She claims that when we consume foods containing phytochemicals, we in turn realize the benefits of these protective compounds. The advantages of consuming lots of fruits, vegetables, and grains, (which are notoriously high in phytochemicals) has been touted by The American Journal of Clinic Nutrition, as well as in studies performed by the National Cancer Institute.
Consuming More Phytochemicals
After finding out the benefits of phytochemicals, you may be wondering how to add more of them to your diet. Including more whole grains is one way, as Fontenot states that fewer than five percent of Americans eat the recommended number of servings per day. In addition to more grains, she also advises consuming at least five helpings of fruits and vegetables daily and being generous with spices when cooking.
What are phytochemicals? Nutritionists and scientists alike hail them as “miracle” compounds that provide a number of useful benefits to the human body. Include as many phytochemical-rich foods as possible in your diet to enjoy greater health and prevent the onset of harmful diseases.