What are Plant Phytochemicals?

By Nicole German (RD, LD)

2830-1050583_berries.jpgYou may have read health articles discussing phytochemicals and how they are so good for you.

But, have you ever wondered what exactly they are and what they do for you?
Simply put–phytochemicals are plant chemicals just like the name says. Phytochemicals are also known as antioxidants, but not all phytochemicals are antioxidants. Some act like hormones or stimulate enzymes.

No need to try to get the science straight–there are thousands of phytochemicals out there. Basically, they are active components in plants that benefit human health.

Common Phytochemicals

  • Betalains: Found in beets, and are just beginning to be researched more thoroughly. But, they have been shown to display anti-cancer properties.
  • Carotenoids: A very common antioxidant found in orange and yellow plants–one of the most highly ingested phytochemicals.
  • Flavonoids aka Polyphenols: Found in the purple, blue, and red plants. These are a large group of phytochemicals including quercetin (in onions), catechins (in green tea), anthocyanins (in berries), and isoflavones (in soy), just to name a few. These are some of the most thoroughly researched phytochemicals, and are the reason we know the variety of health benefits of green tea and berries.
  • Phytoestrogens aka Lignans: Found in grains and seeds, and can act like estrogen. Phytoestrogens are still being studied for their effect on breast cancer and prostate cancer.
  • Phytosterols: Known for their ability to lower total cholesterol levels. Found in nuts, seeds, grains, and vegetable oils.
  • Organosulfides and other sulfur phytochemicals: Found in cruciferous vegetables like Brussels sprouts. Think of these as the smelly phytochemicals (from the sulfur) that have very high anti-cancer properties.
  • Oxalates: A healthy phytochemical, but those prone to kidney stones should limit their oxalate vegetable intake.
  • Resveratrol: We all know this one as the antioxidant found in wine. It is known as the youth antioxidant that can help slow the aging process. Red wine contains other phytochemicals like phytoestrogens and anthocyanins.

Still Confused by All the Scientific Terms?

No need to know all these terms. More importantly, remember that fresh fruits, vegetables, and any plant product contain plenty of disease-fighting phytochemicals. So, focus on eating a majority plant-based diet and you will get all the phytochemicals you need to keep you strong and healthy!

3 Comments

  1. Dr Hulda Clark

    I have never heard about Plant Phytochemicals before your blog, nice way to express some outstanding knowledge, i will wait for your next post!!

    Reply
  2. queridaana

    My favorite foods are rich in phytochemicals: berries and avocado. Who knew?

    Reply
  3. Spectra

    This is why eating real food is very important. Taking antioxidant supplements or vitamins without eating lots of fruits and veggies will not give you the correct concentration and amounts of phytochemicals. The way they are packaged in nature is the way that we should be eating them–in the form of broccoli, apples, carrots, spinach, blueberries, etc.

    Reply