Tuesday, May 29, 2012

Getting the nutrients you need: Phytochemicals
When phytochemicals first came on the nutrition scene in the early 1990s, many people thought they were miracle substances. They weren’t vitamins or minerals. Health experts described phytochemicals as non-nutrients found in fresh foods that could help prevent and fight cancer and other life-threatening diseases. Scientists estimate that hundreds, if not thousands, of them exist in foods, most commonly in fruits and vegetables.

Researchers still have a lot to discover about phytochemicals and their specific roles in fighting disease. The jury is also out as to whether or not phytochemicals work when they’re isolated from foods and put into a capsule or pill and sold as supplements. What experts do know is that many health promoting substances are found in foods, some with rather unnatural sounding names like lycopene, flavanoid, indole, genestein, and carotenoid, that may save or extend your life. When you’re following a low-calorie diet, eating a wide variety of fruits and vegetables is important to ensure you get as many phytochemicals into your diet as you can.

Phytochemicals work together with nutrients to promote health and prevent disease. When you eat some broccoli or a tomato, you get all of these phytochemicals. So, can't you just take a supplement? You could, but first of all, scientists have isolated only a few of the phytochemicals in foods. But these work best in combination, so taking just one, isolated phytochemical is not anywhere near as effective.

For example, let's look at lycopene. It is found in tomatoes and is an antioxidant. Antioxidants are a large and important subject, but for now, let's just simplify and say that antioxidants help to repair cellular damage.

Scientists did studies and found that tomatoes had a noticeable effect against prostate cancer. They analyzed the tomato and isolated lycopene. Then the scientists did more studies, using lycopene. The effect on prostate cancer was much less. Does this mean that lycopene doesn't work?

No, it means that it works best in combination with all the other phytochemicals in tomatoes, and the nutrients. You don't get that from a chemically identical, but lab-created, lycopene.

Eating a tomato is good for you, of course. But eating all the tomatoes you would need to get what you need from them would be quite a task. So, a whole foods powder that I use, Berry Greens, offers freeze dried tomatoes, in a form that retains the nutrients. And a whole lot of other vegetables and fruits as well. You get all the benefits of eating all those fruits and vegetables, without having to consume all that food.

Most foods have not been analyzed and even those that have been, scientists have only been able to isolate a few of the phytochemicals. Most vegetables have hundreds of phytochemicals, and it's not likely they will all be isolated, analyzed and understood any time soon. We do know now, though, that they do work together to provide real health for us.

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