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Phytochemicals

Researchers have become particularly excited in recent years about a group of compounds found in vegetables, fruits and other plant foods called phytochemicals. Phyto is Greek for plant—so phytochemicals simply means plant chemicals.

Just as your body has an immune system that protects you from illness, plants naturally produce different phytochemicals to protect themselves from bacteria, viruses and fungi. Incredibly, scientists have discovered that these same compounds can also work as powerful disease blockers in humans.

So far, thousands of different phytochemicals have been identified in plant foods including flavonoids (found in berries, citrus fruits, onions, apples, grapes and soy); sulforaphane, indoles and isothiocyanates (found in cruciferous vegetables such as broccoli and cabbage); protease inhibitors (found in grains and beans); allicin (found in garlic); lycopene (found in high amounts in tomatoes) and resveratrol (found in high amounts in grapes).

Studies have found that different types of phytochemicals work in different ways to prevent disease. Some phytochemicals have anti-inflammatory properties and can help to inhibit clotting that can lead to a heart attack. Other phytochemicals have been found to reduce the risk of heart disease by influencing the absorption of cholesterol in your body. Some phytochemicals act like scavengers and remove carcinogens (cancer causing compounds) from your cells. And scientists from Cornell University in New York have found that certain phytochemicals can even prevent carcinogens from forming in the first place.

Vegetables and fruits are a very good source of phytochemicals, and so are other types of plant foods like legumes, whole grains and nuts.

So, to make sure you get the best protection it's important to eat a wide variety of these sorts of foods—something that's very easy to do when you follow a MediterrAsian way of eating!

 

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