By Sally J. Feltner, PhD, RDN
When we hear the familiar advice “eat more fruits and vegetables” one may think initially that the reason is that these foods are loaded with vitamins and minerals. This is true, but there may be more to the story. They also are filled with compounds called phytochemicals derived from the Greek word, “phyton” meaning plants. Phytochemicals are compounds that include at least hundreds of biologically active non-nutriitious chemicals that confer potential health benefits not only to the plant but also to humans. Phytochemicals can often act as natural pesticides that help plants protect themselves from insects pests.
Some of healthy benefits offered by eating an array of colorful fruits and vegetables can include:
- Carotenoids – some provide vitamin A and others function as antioxidant protection against free radical damage. They are found in orange and red -colored fruits and vegetables and leafy greens.
- Flavonoids make capillary blood vessels stronger, block carcinogens and slow the growth of cancer cells. They are found in berries, citrus fruits, purple grapes, green tea and chocolate.
- Indoles and isothiocynates increase the activity of enzymes that deactivate carcinogens, alter estrogen metabolism and affect gene expression. They are found in broccoli, Brussels sprouts, and cabbage
- Sulfides and allium compounds deactivate carcinogens, kill bacteria, protect against heart disease and are found in onions, garlic, leeks and chives.
- Phytoestrogens decrease cholesterol absorption, reduce the risk of colon cancer by slowing the growth of cancer cells. They are found in soy, tofu, soybeans, soy milk, flax seed and rye bread.
- Sulforaphane detoxifies carcinogens, protect animals from breast cancer, and is found in broccoli and other cruciferous vegetables.
Keep these compounds in mind whenever you are enjoying nutritious colorful fruits and vegetables. Bon appétit!!