Phytochemicals and health: new perspectives on plant based nutrition
A thought provoking post from the Nutrtion Society Blog detailing how plant based diets are linked with improved health outcomes not only due to the micronutrients they contain but also to the phytochemicals. Much research has been conducted on these compounds but the exact mecahnisms are still not fully understood. Over 100 have been identified, some of which act as antioxidants, hormone stabilisers and immune system boosters leading to the hypothesis that they may be protective against certain cancers and other chronic disease. Lets have a look at some of the more well known phytochemicals and how they work....
These biology active compounds are said to potentially reduce the risk of lung, stomach, and colorectal cancer as they help the liver detoxify. The highest sources are found in tenderstem broccoli, brussel sprouts and other green cruciferous vegetables.
Found in garlic and onions this phytochemical is said to protect against cancer and heart disease as it is able to block the conversion of nitrates (found in many preserved foods) into cancer causing nitrosamines, mop up cancer causing free radicals and lower cholesterol.
Found in buckwheat, berries, citrus fruit and grapes this beneficial compound is antibacterial, acts as an antioxidant, and binds to toxic materials, escorting them out of the body.
This is the phytochemical that gives shiitake mushrooms their cancer preventing reputation due to it's anti-tumour properties. They actually use it in Japan to treat cancer.
These naturally occuring substances have received a lot of press for their cholesterol lowering abilities and have now been added to foods such as margarine to make them so called 'functional foods'. They work by inhibiting the absorption of cholesterol from the intestine. The best sources are beans and pulses, seeds, and seed oils.
As I said there are over 100 phytochemicals that we know of so in order to take advantage of these health promoting compounds we should ensure they make up a significant proportion of our daily diet.
I like the acronym “GOMBBS” used by the American physician Joel Fuhrman. It stands for Greens, Onions, Mushrooms, Berries, Beans and Seeds. He describes it as a way to remember the most nutrient-dense, health-promoting foods on the planet and I have to agree that we would be getting a significant serving of these wonder compounds if we managed to include these foods in our daily diet. What do you think?