As health enthusiasts, you're probably familiar with the word phytochemicals. It's a term often used when talking about the health benefits of plant-based foods, including every variety of colorful fruit, vegetable, nut, legume and whole grain. Derived from the Greek phyto-, which translates to plant, the term literally means "plant chemicals" and represents those special chemicals within a plant that help protect it and keep it thriving. When consumed by us, they provide us with similar health benefits.
What's so intriguing about phytochemicals is their ability to protect the body. Researchers have examined the mechanism of phytochemicals and the results have shown they help boost immune function, inhibit the progression of chronic diseases (e.g. cardiovascular disease, cancer and age-related macular degeneration) and decrease inflammation. While more research is needed to solidify these findings and truly understand the right dosage needed to attain these health benefits, it's clear that no matter which research article you read, phytochemicals are an asset to your daily diet.
There are a large variety of phytochemicals that can be classified into three major categories: carotenoids, phenolics and alkaloids organosulfure compounds. The easiest way to increase the amount and the variety of phytochemicals in our diet is to not only eat fruits and vegetables with a variety of color, but also consume a diet that emphasizes plant-based foods. More often than not, the colors of fruits and vegetables represent the type of phytochemicals they contain, but it's important to remember that one color does not always represent just one phytochemical.
Consuming the daily recommended servings of fruits and vegetables can increase the variety of phytochemicals in your diet, which has a positive overall effect on health.
- Flavonoids, lutein and lycopene function as antioxidants, scavenging the body for unstable cellular molecules that can cause harm.
- Others, like glucosinolates, have the ability to decrease the binding of an inflammatory maker, decreasing inflammation.
- Phytochemicals like flavonoids and carotenoids (alpha-/beta-carotene) can act as antioxidants, anti-inflammatory agents and anti-viral compounds.
- Allyl sulfide (often found in garlic) has the ability to remove toxins from blood and decrease calcium deposits in blood vessels, helping decrease the risk of cardiovascular disease.
In the end, it's clear that these phytochemicals contribute greatly to our general health and wellness. Aim to eat all the colors of the rainbow by including a variety of fruits and vegetables in your daily diet.