Phytochemicals are natural substances found in plant foods. They are vital to your health. Phytochemicals and vitamins act as antioxidants to keep you healthy. Antioxidants work as little vacuum cleaners, reducing the free radicals in your body - and this is a great thing.
Free radicals are harmful compounds that damage body tissues and lead to chronic diseases like cancer, heart disease and eye disease. While most free radicals in the body are the result of normal living, their numbers increase with exposure to cigarette smoke or pollution. Both phytochemicals and vitamins can act as antioxidants, keeping free radicals at bay.
Thousands of vitamins and phytochemicals keep us healthy by acting as antioxidants. Among the most common are: vitamin C; vitamin E; beta-carotene; lycopene; anthocyanins; and allyl sulfides.
Fifteen years ago, we were unaware of antioxidants and phytochemicals. Over the past decade researchers have been discovering that fruits and vegetables are packed with essential vitamins and minerals. They are also not only full of natural compounds called phytochemicals.
This combination of vitamins and phytochemicals protects you from illnesses like cancer, heart attack and stroke, and may also preserve your eyesight. Preliminary research shows that phytochemicals may even slow the effect of aging on your brain. This new research confirms that eating fruits and vegetables is a great way to help keep your body healthy.
Fruits and vegetables are the most concentrated source of antioxidants (vitamins and phytochemicals). Each fruit or vegetable contains a unique package of vitamins, phytochemicals and fibre. Eaten over the course of a day, various basic fruits and vegetables create a disease-fighting environment in your body. The bottom line? Pile your plate and fill up on fruits and vegetables.
Many health benefits are attributed to antioxidants and phytochemicals.
Studies from around the world show that eating fruits and vegetables decreases your chance of getting cancer. In fact, the World Cancer Research Fund and the American Institute of Cancer Research estimate that eating at least five servings of fruits and vegetables each day could lower cancer rates by 20 per cent. That is a big difference.
Avoiding heart attack or stroke
Eating fruits and vegetables lowers your risk of heart attack and stroke. By eating five servings of fruits and vegetables each day, you reduce your risk of a heart attack and stroke by 25 to 40 per cent. Load up on these delicious foods.
Fruits and vegetables may help preserve your eyesight. Harvard researchers have linked eating plenty of fruits and vegetables to reduced risk of common eye diseases such as macular degeneration and cataracts. When you were a kid, you may have eaten spinach to become as strong as Popeye. For grownups, eating spinach and other green leafy vegetables may help prevent blindness.
Do these terms still sound straight out of a chemistry textbook? Happily, you do not need to memorize any names of antioxidants and there will be no pop quiz. Phytochemicals are responsible for the colour and flavour of fruits and vegetables. Use your senses to choose the ones packed with disease-fighting compounds.
Colour is an excellent indication of disease-fighting potential. Each fruit or vegetable has a unique mixture of these natural substances, which gives them different colours. By filling your plate with the colors of the rainbow, you are guaranteed to get all of the vitamins and phytochemicals you need. Dark green, bright orange and red fruits and vegetables get top marks for being packed with disease-fighting nutrients.
The inside color of fruits and vegetables is the most important. For instance, cucumbers have dark green skin but are pale on the inside. They do not score as high as the disease-fighting superstars. Don't stop eating cucumbers - they are still valuable to your health. Instead, choose brightly coloured vegetables more often. Blueberries, watermelon, red peppers and sweet potatoes are all excellent choices.
If you want to stay healthy, add 5 to 10 servings of disease-fighting fruit and vegetables to your balanced diet. Here are some tips on how to upgrade your diet to get more of the nutrition superstars.
Bright sunny orange breakfast:
add something orange to start your day!
• an orange cut into wedges
• a glass of orange juice
• cantaloupe wedges on the side
Go green for lunch:
whether you eat out or brown-bag it
• spinach salad on the side
• green pepper strips with dip
• kiwi fruit
Raging red supper:
tomato sauce is always a great choice
• chicken cacciatore
make snacks healthy by adding berries
• blueberries, cranberries, blackberries or raspberries added to muffins
• berries to sweeten a dish of yogurt
Flavour Flavourful vegetables like garlic, onions, leeks and ginger are packed full of antioxidants. They are a great way to add both taste and health benefits to your diet. The International Food and Information Council claims that eating garlic, onions and leeks may lessen your chances of getting heart disease.
Fresh, frozen, canned or dried? They are all good for you! Studies have found little difference in the nutrient levels of fresh, frozen, canned or dried fruits and vegetables. Since frozen and canned fruit and vegetables are packed shortly after they are picked, their nutrients are at peak. During the winter months, fresh vegetables and fruits may be out of season or of poor quality. At this time of year, frozen, canned and dried vegetables and fruit may offer a better source of nutrients. In the middle of January, adding frozen berries into muffins or a dessert is a fantastic way of dosing yourself with antioxidants.
Raw vegetables or cooked? Combine both raw and cooked vegetables for the best result. Cooking and processing makes some nutrients, such as the phytochemical lycopene in tomatoes, more available to your body. However, important water-soluble vitamins like vitamin C can be lost during cooking. When boiling vegetables, use as little water as possible and cook vegetables until tender but still crisp. Steaming, microwaving or stir-frying are all recommended cooking methods.
Antioxidants from a pill? Would you like to roll out of bed and get your daily healthy diet from a pill? Can you get the power of the antioxidants from supplements? The answer is no. The natural combination found in the food form of fruits and vegetables is responsible for their powerful antioxidant activity. Pills simply cannot mimic the balanced natural combination of antioxidants present in the whole fruit and vegetable.
More about tomatoes Expect to hear more about tomatoes and their health benefits. Strong evidence shows that the naturally-occurring lycopene in tomatoes acts as a powerful antioxidant by protecting against some cancers. Lycopene becomes even more available when tomatoes are cooked and blended. Disease-fighting action is further increased when tomatoes are cooked in the presence of oil. Bring on the tomato sauce!
More about berries The bright, rich colour of berries gives you a big clue that they are nutrition all-stars. They are packed with phytochemicals called anthocyanins. Anthocyanins are being studied for their anti-cancer potential. Researchers at Tufts University in Boston have shown that eating blueberries improves the short-term memory of rats. Berries may even slow the aging process of our brains. Feel free to indulge in nature's delicious candies - blueberries, raspberries, blackberries, strawberries and cranberries.
Remember, no one magical food can make you completely healthy. All nutrients work together in a balanced diet to help ensure good health. Choosing an abundance of the fruits and vegetables packed with disease-fighting antioxidants is a great way to start.