PhytochemicalsNutritionists and researchers have known for a long time that a diet high in complex carbohydrates (fruit, vegetables, and grains) had a protective effect against cancer. Research continuously showed that vegetarians had a lower incidence of cancer, stroke, diabetes, and coronary artery disease as well as other diseases. We've known that fiber was a big contributor but suspected there must be something else - and there was. We now know about phytochemicals.

"Phytochemical" is a general term used to describe over 1000 naturally occurring compounds in plants. You may have heard about lycopenes, isoflavones, and flavinoids, all phytochemicals.

All fruit and vegetables contain an abundance of phytochemicals, but two foods highest in these substances are oranges and tomatoes. Phytochemicals can even be found in products like salsa, spaghetti sauce, and orange juice!

Flavinoids, found in red wine, champagne, lightly colored beer, nuts, fruit, and some vegetables, are believed to provide protection against coronary artery disease.

Cruciferous vegetables, broccoli, onions, cauliflower, cabbage, and brussels sprouts, contain substances that may help prevent colon cancer, along with peppers, brown rice, licorice, whole wheat, carrots, and green tea which may also have cancer-fighting ability.

If you have abnormally high blood cholesterol levels, you'll be interested to know that psyllium seed and garlic are being studied for their ability to lower cholesterol.

The National Cancer Institute is taking the issue of phytochemicals quite seriously and has recently funded money for new research in this area. Drug manufacturers, as well, are looking at soybean phytochemicals to use in their cancer-fighting drugs.

Beware! The fad diet industry is selling their line of products consisting of pills and potions they claim contain phytochemicals that will cure everything from impotence to aging. But we've learned that pills don't always have the same effect on disease prevention as food. For example, studies show that beta-carotene, the pre-cursor to Vitamin A, helps protect us against lung cancer. However, taking supplements of beta-carotene and Vitamin A can actually increase the risk! One research study was terminated when it was discovered that participants using these supplements were acquiring lung cancer at a faster rate than placebo subjects. We now know that when beta-carotene is derived from fruit and vegetables, it has a protective effect, but when it's obtained from supplements, it has the opposite effect!

Remember, research is just beginning - there's a lot to learn about what phytochemicals will or won't do. Although the information will be new, the advice is old - Be sure to include plenty of fresh fruit, vegetables, and grains in your daily diet!

-Did you know that Phytochemicals . .

. . are found only in plant foods.

. . may help prevent tooth decay.

. . may help prevent coronary artery disease.

Where do you get your nutrition information? Most states now have licensure laws for Dietitians and Nutritionists. Be sure your nutrition advisor is "Licensed" by the State as a Licensed Dietitian (LD) or Licensed Nutritionist (LN), or in states that don't have licensure laws, a Registered Dietitian.



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