Phytochemicals is the term which refers to a wide variety of compounds found in plants. However, it is mainly used to describe the compounds which can affect human health.
Phytochemicals can be found in plant-based foods such as vegetables, grains, beans, and fruits. Thousands of phytochemicals have been identified, even though only a small fraction have been studied.
Phytochemicals which are known well include vitamin E, folic acid, ascorbic acid (vitamin C), beta carotene and other carotenoids. There are other names for phytochemicals such as flavonoids, flavanones, catechins, anthocyanins, epicatechins, isoflavones, flavanols, antioxidants, proanthocyanidins, carotenoids, polyphenols, allyl sulfides, isothiocyanates, anthocyanidins, phenolic acids, and many other names.
Certain phytochemicals have either hormone-like or antioxidant actions. Some evidence was found that a diet rich in vegetables, whole grains, and fruits reduces the risk of certain types of cancer and some other diseases. Scientists are searching for specific compounds in these foods which may be responsible for these healthful effects in humans.
Right now, there is no evidence which supports claims that taking phytochemical supplements is as good solution for long-term health as consuming the vegetables, grains, beans, and fruits from which they were taken. Phytochemicals are promoted for the treatment and prevention of many health conditions, such as heart disease, high blood pressure, diabetes, and cancer.
There is some evidence that some phytochemicals can block the action of carcinogens on their target tissue or organs, help prevent the formation of potential carcinogens, or act on cells to suppress the development of cancer. A lot of experts suggest that people who eat more vegetables, fruits and other foods from plants which contain phytochemicals can significantly reduce their risk of cancer.
Virtually, phytochemicals are present in all of vegetables, legumes (peas and beans), fruits, and grains we eat. Therefore it quite east for most people to include these foods in their diet. For example, one carrot has more than a hundred phytochemicals. Only several phytochemicals have been studied in detail, even though there are thousands of them.
Some of the well-known phytochemicals can be bought as dietary supplements. However, it’s not yet proven that these supplements are as good as foods from which they are derived. Several years ago, the term phytochemical was known poorly. However, nutritionists, doctors, and other health care practitioners have long advocated diet which is low in fat and includes a variety of vegetables, legumes, fruits, and whole grains.
The idea that a diet rich in vegetables, legumes, fruits, and grains reduces the risk of heart disease, cancer, and other illnesses is well accepted. However, the researchers have recently started to try to learn the effects of specific phytochemicals which can be found in those foods.
It is hard for researchers to discover which phytochemicals in foods can fight heart disease, cancer and other diseases, which can have no effect, and which can even be harmful, because of the number of phytochemicals and the chemical processes in which they are involved, since they are very complicated.