Different plants naturally produce phytochemicals. Some of them are responsible for coloring flowers, berries and leaves, and the others present plants with their distinctive aromas. These smells are attractive for insects that pollinate the plants or help spread the seeds.
Phytochemicals in the Modern World
Phytochemicals possess a biological power, so they can influence our body and affect our health while we are eating fruits, vegetables and berries.
According to recent researches, there are phytochemicals that are useful in preventing cancer and slowing down the process of its development. In addition, they may reduce inflammation and improve hormonal balance in our body.
However, the majority of tests were made on lab animals or on tissues and cells. To make a scientific support that phytochemicals have health benefits, one has to get good results from the researches in humans. Such tests need years to show the results, and the other problem is that phytochemicals do not always measure up.
Phytochemicals that are contained in dietary supplements are usually extracted from plants and processed. Most of them are safe; however, their dosages and effectiveness are not regulated. To avoid the risk of side effects, you need to consult your physician before taking such supplements and drugs, especially if you have any health issues.
According to different sources, some phytochemicals contained in plants belong to nutrients. However, they are not essential like minerals and vitamins, and doctors do not prescribe them traditionally to improve any health conditions with a special diet.
The best sources of natural phytochemicals are vegetables, fruits, whole grains, seeds, and legumes. It is a well-known fact that a plant-based diet is beneficial for human health, but research does not show that positive results are brought by phytochemicals specifically.
More than likely that nutrients and fiber provide the benefit. In addition, people who prefer plant-based foods tend to do sports and keep a healthy weight.
Groups of Phytochemicals
There are several types of phytochemicals according on their chemistry:
• Carotenoids include lutein, carotene, alpha-carotene, zeaxanthin, and lycopene. These are yellow, red, and orange pigments found in plants. All of them convert into vitamin A when absorbed in the stomach.
• Flavonoids include flavonols (in chocolate, tea, berries, and apples), anthocyanidins (in blue, red, purple pigments of grapes and berries), flavonones (in citruses), flavones (in hot peppers), isoflavones (in legumes and soy). These phytochemicals may reduce inflammation and prevent cancer.
• Resveratrol is found in peanuts and grapes. It possesses numerous biological activities that can be used in preventing and treating of cardiovascular disease, cancer, and neurodegenerative illnesses.
• Phytosterols help lower cholesterol levels.
• Lignans are contained in whole grains and seeds.
• Indole-3-carboninol is found in cruciferous veggies.
• Chlorophyll is contained in all green plants.
• Curcumin is found in turmeric.
Some scientists consider fiber to be a phytochemical, too, as only plants contain it. However, the others classify it as a carbohydrate. Dietary beneficial fibers include beta-glucan, cellulose, pectin, inulin, gum, and oligofructose.
Everybody knows that eating a diet rich in fiber helps keep the cholesterol levels within normal limits, and improve work of digestive system. High in fiber meals may slow down the blood sugar rises that occur after eating a large amount of starch or sugar.