Some phytochemicals have either an antioxidant or hormone-like action, and there is some solid evidence pointing to a diet that is rich in fruits and vegetables with whole grains reduces the risk of certain strains of cancer and other diseases. Researchers are currently studying these looking for those specific compounds in those foods that may be responsible for the beneficial properties to us. The scientific evidence however does not support claims that taking any photochemical supplements is as beneficial as getting them from the fruits, vegetables, beans and grains themselves.
Currently, phytochemicals are being promoted for use in the prevention and treatment of many health conditions such as heart disease, diabetes, high blood pressure, and even cancer. There is evidence that links certain phytochemicals to the prevention of the formation of potential carcinogens, which are substances that cause cancer, and block those carcinogens from their targeted tissue or organs, or simply to act on cells to subdue cancer development. Most experts in the filed agree that people with a diet full of a plentiful supply of fruits, vegetables, and other foods from plants with phytochemicals in them can significantly reduce their risk of getting cancer.
Groupings of Phytochemicals
Polyphenols: Polyphenols include a large subgroup of chemicals which are known as flavonoids. These flavonoids are plant chemicals found in a wide array of fruits, grains, and vegetables. These are currently being researched to discover whether or not they can actually prevent chronic diseases such as cancer and heart disease.
Isoflavones: Isoflavones are found in foods and supplements such as soy products, red clover, garbanzo beans and licorice, along with the lignans found in flaxseed and whole grains may mimic the actions of the female hormone estrogen. The estrogen-like compounds produced by these plants are referred to as phytoestrogens, and may play a significant role in the development of and protection against some hormone dependent cancers such as breast and prostate cancer.
Antioxidants: Although this is a somewhat large category, some of the other polyphenols, including some of the flavonoids, act as antioxidants. These antioxidants are believed to cleanse the body from harmful molecules commonly referred to as free radicals, which have been shown to be responsible for the damage of a cell’s DNA, which can trigger some forms of cancer and other chronic diseases. These substances are typically found in vegetables that we all love, like broccoli, brussel sprouts, cabbage, cauliflower, and in teas. Another batch of foods including grapes, eggplant, red cabbage, and radishes all contain anthocyanidins, which are flavonoids that act as antioxidants and may protect against some forms of cancer and heart disease. Quercitin, which is another powerful flavonoid antioxidant, is found in apples, onions, teas, and red wine. Raspberries, blackberries, cranberries, strawberries, and walnuts contain ellagic acid, which is also reported to have anti-cancer properties.
Carotenoids: Carotenoids is the substance that gives carrots, yams, cantaloupe, squash, and apricots their orange color, and also are said to be powerful anticancer agents.
Lycopene: This can be found in tomatoes, red peppers, and pink grapefruit. Proponents of Lycopene claim that it is a powerful antioxidant.
Lutein – Zeaxanthin: The phytochemicals lutein and zeaxanthin can be found in the likes of spinach, kale, and turnip greens, and may also help to reduce the risk of some cancers.
Allyl Sulfides: This is another group of phytochemicals, and can be found in garlic and onions. This group of compounds may help to stimulate enzymes which help the body rid itself of harmful chemicals and also to strengthen immune systems.
The fact that a diet that has an abundant source of fruits, vegetables, legumes, and grains reduce the risk of cancer, heart disease and other chronic ailments and diseases. Only in the last few years however, have researchers begun to learn the effects of the specific phytochemicals in these foods. Most of the supporting evidence to date has come from cultures whose diet is high in these food sources, and have lower rates of cancer and other diseases.
Health care professionals recommend a balanced diet with the emphasis on fruits, vegetables, legumes and whole grains until conclusive research findings are found as to the exact benefits of phytochemicals for a healthier you!
Reference: Cancer.Org – Phytochemicals