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phytonutrients

Plants contain more than 100,000 phytonutrients, one of the reasons nine servings of fruits and vegetables a day are recommended. Some phytonutrients are fat soluble and, thus, need fat to be properly absorbed. Certain phytonutrients are also better absorbed from cooked, rather than raw, food. Phytonutrients may in part account for the benefits of whole plant foods in cancer prevention. Dates, berries, strawberries, coffee, earl grey tea, chai tea, and green tea (see also here, here) are high in phytonutrients. Milk and soymilk, however, may block the absorption of phytonutrients (see also here).

Variety in a diet appears to boost the effectiveness of phytonutrients due to nutrient synergy and also because different plants and vegetables have different phytonutrients. A healthy eating index has even been created based on phytochemical consumption. Phytonutrients, when eaten, literally bathe our systems, as evidenced by garlic breath and pink urine from eating beets, which are packed with phytonutrients.

On average, plant foods have 64 times more antioxidants than animal foods, and when it comes to antioxidants, the more we eat, the more we may benefit. Boiling and pressure cooking reduce the antioxidant content of foods more than any other method. Antioxidants also appear to increase stool size, which has been associated with a lower cancer risk, and protect NO synthase, the enzyme that produces the artery-relaxing signal nitric oxide. Eating a diet high in antioxidants appears to reduce inflammation in the body. Beets, followed by red bell peppers, have been found to have the highest cellular antioxidant levels of vegetables. Other foods high in antioxidants include: Dragon’s Blood, Indian gooseberries (see here, here), triphala (although lead contamination makes it a bad choice), dried peppermint & cloves, dried pomegranate seeds, dried apple rings, blackberries, cranberries, cold steeped tea, idared apples, crabapples, dandelion tea, red rice, and carrots. Kale juice has also been found to be high in phytonutrients and eating kale, especially cooked, may boost our immune system.

Interestingly, tomato juice seems to have greater phytonutrient availability than eating the actual tomato. Phytonutrients like lycopene in tomatoes appears to be protective against heart disease. The phytonutrients in cacao appear to be helpful in relieving the symptoms of chronic fatigue syndrome. In terms of phytonutrient content, cocoa powder is the healthiest form of chocolate (see also here). Phytochemicals found in fruit and vegetable juices may have a protective affect against Alzheimer’s. Purple grape juice ranked the highest in terms of protection against Alzheimer’s due to the presence of high levels of phenolic phytonutrients. And when it comes to attractiveness, a rosy glow to the skin has been found to be preferred; phytonutrients, especially carotenoids (found in kale, for example) have been found to increase attractiveness, but taking them in pill form does not appear to work (see also here). The risk of glaucoma, the second leading cause of blindness, appears to be dramatically reduced by kale or collard greens consumption, thanks to the phytonutrient pigments lutein and zeaxanthin. Lutein and zeaxanthin have also been shown to be beneficial in protecting against cataracts and macular degeneration. Carrots, collard greens, and kale are high in these phytonutrients but, again, taking them in pill form does not appear to work.

The phytonutrients in flax seeds assist our body in the formation of lignans, which are essential to healthy gut flora. The phytonutrient sulforaphane, found in broccoli, has been associated with lowering breast cancer risk as well as improving survival rates (see also here, here). Phytonutrients in broccoli may also decrease the metastatic potential of lung cancer. The phytonutrients in raw broccoli may help bladder cancer survival. Sulforaphane is more readily available in raw broccoli. Sulforaphane is also the most powerful natural inducer of our liver’s detoxifying enzyme system. Growing your own broccoli sprouts is probably the most nutrition you can get for your money. 100 cups of broccoli a day is the safe upper limit for consumption (see also here). Broccoli also appears to protect against DNA damage in smokers.

Vitamin C, found most concentrated in fruits and vegetables, blocks carcinogenic nitrosamine production in our systems. However, in the presence of fat, Vitamin C actually increases nitrosamine production so adding it to meat may actually make it more carcinogenic. Four hot dogs have more nitrosamines than a pack of 20 cigarettes. Nitrosamines are formed from nitrites, which form nitrosamines in the absence of phytonutrients.

Topic summary contributed by Denise.
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Watch videos about phytonutrients

  • Greens vs. Glaucoma
    Greens vs. Glaucoma
    Kale and collard greens contain vision-protecting plant nutrients such as zeaxanthin that may significantly lower the risk of glaucoma, a leading cause of blindness.
  • Antioxidant Rich Foods With Every Meal
    Antioxidant Rich Foods With Every Meal
    To stay out of oxidative debt we need to take in more antioxidants than we use up.
  • Minimum “Recommended Daily Allowance” of Antioxidants
    Minimum “Recommended Daily Allowance” of Antioxidants
    How many antioxidant-rich foods do we need to eat every day just to stay out of oxidative debt?
  • Counteracting the Effects of Dioxins Through Diet
    Counteracting the Effects of Dioxins Through Diet
    Phytonutrients in certain plant foods may block the toxic effects of industrial pollutants like dioxins through the Ah receptor system.
  • The Broccoli Receptor: Our First Line of Defense
    The Broccoli Receptor: Our First Line of Defense
    There is a receptor in our intestines activated by phytonutrients in cruciferous vegetables that boosts immune function (the aryl hydrocarbon (Ah) receptor).
  • BRCA Breast Cancer Genes and Soy
    BRCA Breast Cancer Genes and Soy
    One reason why soy consumption is associated with improved survival and lower recurrence rates in breast cancer patients may be because soy phytonutrients appear to improve the expression of tumor...
  • Eating Better to Look Better
    Eating Better to Look Better
    Public health campaigns can use vanity to improve fruit and vegetable consumption, since experiments show carotenoid phytonutrients improve the physical attractiveness of African, Asian, and...
  • Which Seaweed is Most Protective Against Breast Cancer?
    Which Seaweed is Most Protective Against Breast Cancer?
    Nori seaweed snacks may favorably alter estrogen metabolism by modulating women's gut flora, resulting in decreased breast cancer risk.
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