Phytochemicals and its Health Benefits According to the article written by Craig (1997), non-nutritive substances in plants that are called “phytochemicals” actually provides an opportunity for the body to protect itself from chronic disease such as heart disease, cancer, diabetes, hypertension and other medical conditions. Phytochemicals found in fruits, vegetables and whole grain products have anti-oxidant capacity which enables it to prevent the malicious activities of free radicals that are known to harm the body. The US Department of Agriculture Food Guide Pyramid has attested to the veracity of this claim and recommends 5 to 9 servings a day of fruits and vegetables.
A group of phytochemicals are collectively called Flavonoids. These are compounds with varied chemical structures present in fruits, vegetables, nuts and seeds. The major flavonoid categories are flavonols, flavones, catechins, flavanones and anthocyanins. The main dietary sources of these compounds are tea, onions, soy and wine. The main flavonoid in onions is quercetin glucoside and the main flavonoid in tea is quercetin rutinoside.
Flavonoid intake has been inversely linked with coronary heart disease in the Zutphen Elderly Study, the Seven Countries Study and a cohort study in Finland all of which have been reviewed and accepted by the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition and American Heart Association – both organizations that are highly credible. Also, the incidence of ovarian cancer may be reduced with increased consumption of dietary flavonoids, according to researchers from Brigham and Womens Hospital and the Harvard School of Public Health.
The study looked at food intake surveys and ovarian cancer data from 66,384 participants in the Harvard Nurses Health Study, which collected health data from 121,700 women over a period of 30 years. This is the first prospective analysis of flavonoid intake and ovarian cancer incidence. (in Donovan, 2004)
2.0 Vegetables, Fruits and Cancer Prevention
According to the article by Steinmetz and Potter (1996), there have been several studies trying to establish a relationship between vegetable and fruit consumption with the risk of cancer. After having compared the studies, it was established that the perceived benefits of eating vegetables and fruits especially with cancer protection was consistent in the studies. Asides from these, there are also associated benefits including protection against cardiovascular disease, diabetes, stroke, obesity, diverticulosis, and cataracts.
A raw carrot (per 100 grams of edible portion) contain: Water 88g. Protein 1.0g. Total lipid (fat) 0.2g. Carbohydrate, by difference 10.1g (mostly as starch). Fiber, total dietary 3.0g. Ash 0.9g. Minerals: Calcium, 27mg. Iron, 0.50mg. Magnesium, 15mg. Phosphorus, 44mg. Potassium, 323mg. Sodium 35mg. Zinc, 0.20mg. Copper, 0.05mg. Manganese, 0.14mg. Selenium, 1.1mcg. Vitamins: Vitamin C, total ascorbic acid 9.3mg. Thiamin 0.1mg. Riboflavin 0.06mg. Niacin 0.93mg. Pantothenic acid 0.2mg. Vitamin B-6 0.15mg. Folate, total (food) 14mcg. Vitamin A, 28,129 IU. Vitamin A, RE 2813mcg.Phytosterols, 12mg. Flavonoids including: luteolin (37.5 mg/kg), myricetin, quercetin and kaempferol. Amino acids: Aspartic acid 0.14g. Glutamic acid 0.2g and others.
Based on epidemiological studies conducted at Harvard which is known for its credibility, eating carrots daily can dramatically prevent lung disease (including in smokers), strokes and vascular disease. A study of almost 90,000 female nurses conducted at Harvard showed that women who ate five servings of carrots per week suffered 68% fewer strokes than those who ate carrots less than twice a month.
Another study showed that a daily snack of two carrots lowered cholesterol levels by 10-20% within three weeks – attributed to the fibre, pectin. Carrots can also be used to stop diarrhea, boost the immune system and prevent macular degeneration. A ten year study done by Harvard found that by getting 50mg of carotenoids every other day (equivalent to seven good-size carrots), you can significantly reduce the risk of abnormal growths, vascular disease and cataracts. (in Duke, 1997)
Craig, Winston (1997). Phytochemicals: Guardians of our health. American Dietetic Association.
Journal of the American Dietetic Association. Chicago: Oct 1997. Vol. 97, Iss. 10. pg.
Donovan, Jennifer (2004). Flavonoids and the risk of cardiovascular disease in women.
American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, Vol. 79, No. 3, 522-523, March 2004
Duke, J. 1997: The Green Pharmacy, The Ultimate Compendium of Natural Remedies from the
Worlds Foremost Authority on Healing and Herbs. pp. 158. 314. 500. Rodale Press.
Steinmetz, Kristi A, Potter, John D. (1996). Vegetables, fruit, and cancer prevention: A review.
American Dietetic Association. Journal of the American Dietetic Association. Chicago:
Oct 1996. Vol. 96, Iss. 10.