Sunday, November 26, 2006

The Importance of Phytochemicals

As time goes by the typical western diet seems to increasingly contain more fatty processed foods and less natural plant based foods than ever before. The results of this disturbing trend can be seen in the alarming statistics on cancer, heart disease, stroke and many other degenerative diseases.

Aside from the obvious dietary problems of high fat, protein and simple carbohydrate intake is the considerably inadequate intake of plant based foods and all the health giving benefits they bring with them.

Enter Phytochemicals

Many people are aware that eating plant based foods add much needed fiber, vitamins and minerals to the diet but what is less well known is the many benefits of the phytochemicals that these plants contain.

Phytochemicals come in a variety of forms and different vegetables have higher concentrations of a particular phytochemical than others. Some of the main phytochemicals include:

Carotenoids - Found in broccoli, carrots, pumpkin, spinach, squash, sweet potato and yams.

Flavonoids - Found in cabbage, cucumber, parsley, tomatoes, broccoli, carrots, soybeans and berries.

Isoflavones - Found in peas, beans and legumes.

Indioles - Found in brussels sprouts, cauliflower, turnips, bok choy, broccoli, cabbage and kale.

Lignans - Found in walnuts, flaxseeds and many other nuts and seeds.

Omega 3, Omega 6 Fatty Acids - Found in walnuts and flaxseeds.

Plant Sterols - Found in eggplant, soybeans, peppers, tomatoes, squash, cucumber, cabbage and broccoli.

The list above is only a small segment of the entire phytochemical family which encompasses a very large and extensive range of nutrients.

Benefits of Phytochemicals

Phytochemicals act in numerous ways to assist your body in combating disease and health problems such as:

1) Help to protect the cells by blocking carcinogens that try to enter the cell walls.

2) Helps to fight the malignant changes within cells that have already been penetrated by carcinogens.

3) Appear to boost enzyme activity to increase the benefits of the various protective enzymes consumed within the diet.

4) Combines with numerous vitamins to boost antioxidants activity to scavenge free radicals before they can cause damage within the body.

Although it is not important to know the names and benefits of the large range of phytochemicals that exist, what is important is to understand that maintaining a diet that contains a variety of fruits and vegetables will combine the benefits of the phytochemicals and vitamins to help you achieve optimal health.

By reducing your high fat/processed food intake and increasing your intake of fruits and vegetables you will greatly reduce your chances of falling victim to the ever-growing list of degenerative diseases which plague the general population today as a result of following a typical western diet.

It is not only the damaging effects of high fat, high sugar foods in the western diet that allow cancer, heart disease etc. to develop, but the absence of the protective phytochemicals that are only found in plant foods as well.

By adding plenty of fresh fruits and vegetables to your diet you will bring a host of phytochemicals to fight the damaging effects of free radicals and carcinogens and give you a level of health that most people will envy.

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