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What are phytochemicals?

phytonutrients, phytocemicals, antioxidantsPhytochemicals (also called phytonutrients) are the powerhouse natural chemicals inside plants, which basically give the plants protection against disease and but which also have disease-preventing properties in humans too. Phytochemicals have really potent antioxidant properties.


Effects of phytochemicals

Phytochemicals have various health-promoting effects on human and some of these include:


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Different Types of Phytochemicals

There are over 100 different types of phytochemicals, but this site will not list them all, only some of the most common and more recognisable ones will be listed.



Alkaloids are a bitter phytochemical that occur in some plant foods. The main types of these phytochemicals are:

Foods high in alkaloids are:



Provide cross-links or bridges that connect and strengthen the intertwined strands of collagen protein in plant foods, provide strong antioxidant effects by scavenging for free radicals, are water-soluble and create the blue/purple/dark red pigment of the skin and flesh of certain fruits and vegetables.

Foods high in anthocyanins:


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Carotenes come in the following forms (although this list does not by any means show all the carotenes):


Beta-carotene is the more common form of the two (alpha and beta). Fruits and vegetables that are brightly coloured (dark green, orange, red and yellow) have a high content of beta-carotene.

Carotenes protect vitamin A & vitamin E from oxidation and eliminate toxins and pollutants from the body. Research has shown that carotenes offer protection against various cancers and enhance the immune system response.

Foods high in beta-carotene:


Lutein is essential for ensuring good vision, especially as people get older. Research has shown that lutein reduces the risk of age-related macular degeneration and cataracts and may even reduce the incidence of some types of cancers.

Foods high in lutein:


A great deal of research on lycopene has shown that it reduces the risk of prostate cancer and heart disease. Lycopene is abundant in red fruits / vegetables and is the substance which gives those foods their red colouring. Lycopene appears to be released in higher concentrations from tomatoes that have been cooked in olive oil, but raw tomatoes are still very healthy.

Foods high in lycopene:


Research on zeaxanthin has shown that this carotene also assists with reducing the risk of age-related macular degeneration, cataracts and that it may also prevent some types of cancers too. Zeaxanthin is found mainly in bright yellow foods.

Foods high in zeaxanthin:


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Flavonoids are a large family of phytochemicals found in fruits and vegetables. Flavonoids, also known as bioflavonoids, act as potent antioxidants to neutralise the damage from free radicals (which cause cancer, heart disease and ageing). Flavonoids also act against allergies and inflammation, so are beneficial for conditions such as hayfever and sinusitis.

The most common flavonoids are:



Anthocyanins strengthen and encourage better collagen formation. Other research has shown that foods high in anthocyanins slow down the process of aging. Other research has proved that the anthocyanins in cranberries and blueberries prevents urinary tract infections.

Anthocyanins provide strong antioxidant effects by scavenging for free radicals, are water-soluble and create the pigment of the skin and flesh of certain fruits and vegetables.

Foods high in anthocyanins:


Hesperidin is an anthcyanin found in citrus fruits and fruit juices that may protect against heart disease.

Foods high in hesperidin:



Quercetin appears to be beneficial with allergies and inflammation of the upper and lower respiratory system. Research has shown that quercetin protects the lungs from oxidative damage due to pollution and cigarette smoke.

Foods high in quercetin:



Resveratrol is showing promise as an effective block against cancer of the lungs - latest research suggesting that this flavonoid may be the reason some people have a lowered risk of lung cancer. Resveratrol is mainly concentrated in the skin and pips of dark red grapes.

Foods high in reseveratrol:



Research shows that this interesting flavonoid is implication in lowering the incidence of cancers of the head and neck.

Foods high in tangeritin:


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Isoflavones are one of flavonoid phytochemicals. Isoflavones have both a weak eostrogenic and a weak anti-eostrogenic effect. Isoflavones have strong antioxidant effects on the body.

There are three types of isoflavones:

Isoflavones block enzymes that promote tumour growth. Soy consumption is known to decrease incidence of breast, uterine and prostate cancers.

Foods high in isoflavones:


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To learn more.



To learn more


Phenolic Acids

Phenolic acid compounds may reduce the risk of heart disease and certain types of cancer.

Phenolic compounds can be found in many fruits such as: berries, prunes, red grapes and red grape juice, kiwifruit, currants, apples and apple juice, and tomatoes.

There are a few types of phenolic acids:


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Phytoestrogens are chemicals in plants that have weak eostrogen-like activity. Phytoestrogens are part of the flavonoid class of phytochemicals.

There are two major groups of phytoestrogens:



To learn more.





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Phytosterols (or plant sterols) are similar in structure to cholesterol, but with a minor difference in their chemical structure.

The main phytosterol is:

Phytosterols have a demonstrated ability to block cholesterol uptake and facilitate the excretion of cholesterol from the body. Phytosterols are also involved in tumour and cancer prevention.

Foods high in phytosterols:


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Terpenes another largest class of phytonutrients and they function primarily as antioxidant - protecting lipids, blood & other body fluids from free radical damage (oxidisation).

Foods high in terpenes:


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Xanthophylls are xxx.

Xanthophylls come in the two forms:


Xanthophylls xxx

Foods high in Xanthophylls:


More information

To learn more, go to the information about Phytochemicals on the American Heart Associate web site

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Last reviewed: 17 July 2008 || Last updated: 11 January 2010


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NOTE: Mega doses of vitamins, minerals, amino acids, or other supplements cannot cure illnesses and in fact can be very dangerous and produce toxic side effects and interfere with medicine you are taking. Always ensure you consult your doctor before taking any type of nutrient supplement.
Disclaimer: This guide is not intended to be used for diagnostic or prescriptive purposes. For any treatment or diagnosis of illness, please see your doctor.

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