"The Secret of Longevity"
That's how Dr. Joel Fuhrman described them in his book, The End of Dieting: How to Live for Life.
Fuhrman writes they are "essential for normal immune function and disease resistance."
He goes on to say that they possess vital cancer-fighting agents, help fight inflammation, block the growth of tumours - some even inhibit the accumulation of fat on the body.
What are these seemingly superhuman elements Fuhrman is referring to?
They are called "phytochemicals."
The good news is Fuhrman says that to date researchers have discovered more than ten thousand of them.
So what exactly are they?
The hint is in the name. "Phyto" is the Greek word for "plant."
Phytochemicals are plant compounds that are not already classified as vitamins or minerals.
And while they are essential to plants such as fruits and vegetables, they are not essential to the human body to sustain life.
Phytochemicals are part of a plants self-protection program. For instance, they help a plant protect their buds and sprouts from predators, pollution and the elements.
And here's the really great part...
When you eat a plant that contains them, those same self-protection characteristics are passed on to you.
Here are six of the better known phytochemicals:
Beta-Carotene - Great for bone, skin and vision health. Also protects the immune system.
Food sources: pumpkin, sweet potato, carrots, winter squash, cantaloupe, apricots, spinach, collard greens, kale, broccoli.
Isoflavones - Reducing your cholesterol level, helping with inflammation, menopause. Good for bone and joint health. And reducing cancer especially breast cancer.
Food sources: soybeans, chick peas, alfalfa, peanuts, green beans.
Lycopene - Good for heart health. Protects against cancer especially prostrate cancer.
Food sources: tomatoes, pink grapefruit, red peppers, watermelon, wolfberry, papaya, pink guava, seabuckthorn, autumn olive.
Anthocyanidins - Excellent for blood vessel health.
Food sources: blueberries, blackberries, plums, cranberries, raspberries, red onions, red potatoes, red radishes, strawberries, egg plant.
Lutein - Heart and Eye Health. Protects against cancers.
Food sources: collard greens, kale, spinach, broccoli, Brussels sprouts, lettuces, artichokes, carrots, zucchini
Resveratrol - Protects against cancer and inflammation. Good for lung and heart health.
Food sources: red wine, peanuts, grapes, fruit of the mulberry.
Note: Under "food sources" main sources are list. They are not meant to be complete lists.
There are thousands of studies that strongly suggest that phytochemicals help our bodies fight cancer, cardiovascular disease, improve brain function, control inflammation and so on.
To drive home just how important phytochemicals are to your health, I'm including a couple of paragraphs from Fuhrman's book, Eat to Live: The Amazing Nutrient-Rich Program for Fast and Sustained Weight Loss:
"We are on the verge of a revolution. Substances newly discovered in broccoli and cabbage sprouts sweep toxins out of cells. Substances found in nuts and beans prevent damage to our cells' DNA. Other compounds in beats, peppers, and tomatoes fight cancerous changes in cells. Oranges and apples protect our blood vessels from damage that could lead to heart disease. Nature's chemoprotective army is alert and ready to remove our enemies and shield us from harm.
Hardly a day goes by when some new study doesn't proclaim the health-given properties of fruits, vegetables, and beans. Unprocessed plant foods contain thousands of compounds, most of which have not yet been discovered, that are essential for maintaining health and maximizing genetic potential. Welcome to the phytochemical revolution."
Bottom line is if you want to live healthier and longer...
Eat your beans, fruits and vegetables (even the ones whose taste is not 100% appealing to you - chances are those are the ones that will benefit you the most.)
Eat the rainbow.