For many years, researchers have recognized that diets that are high in fruits, vegetables, grains, and legumes appear to reduce the rich of a number of diseases including heart disease, cancer, diabetes and high blood pressure. More recently is has been discovered that the disease preventing effects of those foods are mostly due to its antioxidant, specific vitamins, minerals and enzymes that can help prevent cancer and other disorders by protecting cells against damage from oxidation. Recently researchers have discovered that fruits, vegetables, grains, and legumes contain yet another group of health promoting nutrients called Phytochemicals whose substance seems to be a strong weapon in the war against cancer and other disorders.
Simply stated, Phytochemicals are the biologically active ingredients in plants that are responsible for giving them color, flavor, and natural disease resistance. So in order to understand how Phytochemicals can protect the body it is important to comprehend that cancer is a multistep process. Phytochemicals fight cancer by interrupting the steps that can lead to cancer. For example, cancer can start when a carcinogenic molecule from the food that you eat invades a cell. But if sulforaphane, which is a Phytochemical found in broccoli, also reaches the cell it will activate a group of enzymes that will whisk the carcinogen out of the cell before it can cause any damage. Other Phytochemicals are also known to be great in cancer prevention such as flavonoids found in all citrus fruits and berries as they can keep the cancer causing hormones from latching on to cells in the first place. The phytochemical Genistein which is found in soy beans can eliminate tumors by preventing the formation of the capillaries needed to nourish them. There are also Phytochemicals named cruciferous which can be found in vegetables such as Brussels sprouts, cauliflower and cabbage. These can increase immune activity and makes it easier for the body to excrete toxins. Saponins found in kidney beans, chick peas, soy beans and lentils can also help in cancer from multiplying. Tomatoes alone contain over 10,000 different Phytochemicals. The list of these protective substances goes on and on. Despite there being no long term health studies that have stated that Phytochemicals can stop cancer there have been various links in over 200 studies that Phytochemicals can lower your chance of getting cancer if you are have a diet rich in legumes, grains, vegetables and fruits. Researchers have been able to isolate some Phytochemicals and many companies now offer concentrates that contain Phytochemicals obtained from vegetables but it should be noted that these supplements should be taken in addition to ones diet and not just as a replacement.
Lucky for us that healthy doses of Phytochemicals can be eaten at every meal. Almost every legume, grain, vegetable and fruit contains these substances. Most importantly unlike many vitamins, these substances do not appear to be destroyed by the cooking process. Of course by eating much of your produce in its raw state you will be able to enjoy the full benefits of not only the Phytochemicals but of also the other vitamins and nutrients that fresh foods can have.