Phytochemicals Essay

1785 words - 8 pages

Mom's favorite pearl of wisdom was always - "Make sure you eat all your vegetables!" and mom was right. Throughout the ages, people have found that consuming certain plants, or parts of plants, relives aches and pains. Some people believe that vitamins, minerals, and fiber are the only healthy thing we get from plants, but this is not true. Plants are an essential part of our diet because they contain chemicals, known as phytochemicals that ensure a healthy diet, prevent heart attacks and chronic diseases like cancer, and improve brain function. Phytochemicals give plants their color, flavor, smell, and texture, and they are contained within a variety of fruits, vegetables, grains, ...view middle of the document...

These studies involve animals and specific extracted phytochemicals in high dosages (American Dietetic Association 1999). Researchers ask, "Should one increase the intake of a particular plant food containing phytochemicals, and how much should they increase it?" Clearly, like any other newly discovered chemical, there is a need for further investigation for potential health benefits and possible health risks (American Dietetic Association 1999). Optimal levels of phytochemicals have yet to be determined. In addition, requirements during disease states may differ from requirements for prevention of heart disease and cancer. Individual recommendations in terms of requirements for different genders, age groups, body types, and so forth also need further study (American Dietetic Association 1999).
According to Zimmerman (2000), phytochemicals can be grouped into five families based on their chemical structure and biological activity. The families include: terpenes, organosulfur compounds, phenols, organic acids and polysaccharides, and lipids. Terpenes are a large class of compounds made up of single or multiple hydrocarbon units. Three groups include the carotenes, limonoids and saponins. By far the most important terpenes are the carotenoids. Carotenoids are found in fruits and vegetables and have several biological activities that promote health. At least 600 different carotenoids exist; they are well-known phytochemicals because their bright colors distinguish foods that contain them. Commonly consumed fruits and vegetables contain groups of 40 to 50 carotenoids, which are grouped into three categories based on their color. Yellow-orange carotenoids appear to protect against several cancers including breast, colorectal, lung, prostate and uterine. Yellow and green fruits and vegetables appear to prevent age-related macular degeneration and cataracts as well as to lower uterine cancer risk. Red carotenoids are free radical quenchers that may help prevent prostate cancer. Limonoids form an important class of monoterpenes naturally found in the peels of citrus fruits. In studies they reduce the need for antibiotics, the frequency and intensity of acute bronchitis flareups and bouts of coughing. Saponins are found primarily in legumes, with the greatest concentration occurring in soybeans. Recent experimental investigations suggest that saponins have cholesterol-lowering, anticancer and immuno-stimulatory properties. Anticancer properties of saponins appear to be the result of antioxidant effects, immune modulation and regulation of cell proliferation.
Phytonutrients of the organosulfur compound family contain various forms of sulfur, which give them their characteristic pungent aroma. They are often rejected by Americans because cooking intensifies their odor and strong taste. Oddly enough, cooking can also boost their protective powers. The organosulfur group includes the cruciferous vegetables, such as bok choy, broccoli, brussel...

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