What Are Phytonutrients?
by Mary Desaulniers
protective self-repairing cells in plants. They also produce the same kinds of responses
in humans. For example, they release protective enzymes that inhibit
cancer-producing substances, thus reducing our susceptibility to disease. It makes
sense for us to harness the powers of plants in our diets. Four sources of
phytonutrients that cannot be ignored if we want to remain healthy and cancer free
are berries, cruciferous and dark, leafy vegetables, soy and red wine.

Berries, such as blueberries, cranberries, strawberries, blackberries, raspberries offer
the highest sources of phytonutrients. They all produce a natural substance called
ellagic acid which has been shown to be a good defense against carcinogens because
they suppress tumor development. Blueberries have the highest antioxidant content.
High in flavonoids, they also provide powerful protection against prostate cancer. Two
and a half cups of fresh strawberries a day can supply enough vitamin C to help
restore sperm production in men. Cranberries have been known to prevent cystisis, a
painful and often recurring urinary tract infection in women. A study involving 72
postmenopausal women found that 10 ounces of cranberry juice every day reduced
the likelihood of bladder infection by 58%. Cranberries have also been shown to
reduce stomach ulcers and lower LDL cholesterol levels.

Cruciferous vegetables (like broccoli, Brussels sprouts, cauliflower) and dark leafy
vegetables (like swiss chard, spinach) also have high levels of antioxidant
phytonutrients. In a study conducted by New York's Strang-Cornell Cancer Research
Laboratory, women who consumed a diet high in cruciferous vegetables experienced
a dramatic drop in estrogen levels, which means that these vegetable are definitely
powerful tools for fighting against breast cancer. The assumption is that the
phytochemicals in these vegetables deactivate potent estrogens, thus preventing
estrogen-sensitive cells, particularly in the breast , from developing tumors.
Sulforaphane, another phytochemical in cruciferous vegetables, triggers a self-defense
system in the body that acts to detoxify carcinogens. Spinach contains four times
more beta carotene than broccoli and is a good source of vitamins C and E. It also
has high levels of photosynthetic proteins which convert sunlight into energy.
Researchers at the Massachussetts Institute of Technology are harnessing the power
of spinach in a new direction--creating highly cost-effective solar panels.

Soy is another phytonutrient rich food. Soy products contain genestein, which has
been shown to have strong anti-cancer properties. It contains as well phytoestrogen,
which has been shown to reduce the risk and spread of prostate cancer. Researchers
suggest that the phytonutrient isoflavones, like phytoestrogen, may reduce the risk of
breast cancer. Another isoflavone compound in soy called daidzein has also been
found to improve cholesterol and triglyceride levels in women. A study conducted at
the Cedars-Sinai Medical Center in Los Angeles has uncovered evidence that this
estrogen-like compound is the main reason for soy's healthy effects. Women with low
estrogen levels seemed to have benefited most from daidzein, which reduced LDL
cholesterol and total cholesterol levels, leading researchers to recommend that
women include soy food products as part of their cardiovascular risk reduction
strategies.

And last but not least is the phytonutrient, resveratrol, found in red wine, that literally
makes wine drinking a cancer-fighting measure. Resveratrol is present in the leaves,
twigs and bark of the grape vines. And red wine, which is fermented from grape skins,
seeds and twigs tends to have large quantities of these cancer-fighting substances.
Resveratrol has also been demonstrated to be a potent antioxidant (more potent
than vitamin C alone) which can act synergistically with vitamin C, thus enhancing the
effects of each. It also prevents the formation of blood clots and promotes the
formation of new dendrites in the brain.

Let us put all these phytonutrients to good use. Why not sit down to a hearty soy
burger, broccoli spears and cauliflower salad, warm berry compote and a glass of red
wine? Yummy! Life cannot be better!


About The Author

Mary Desaulniers

A runner for 27 years, retired schoolteacher and writer, Mary is helping people reclaim
their bodies. Nutrition, exercise, positive vision and purposeful engagement are the
tools used to turn their bodies into creative selves. You can visit her at
or learn how she lost her weight at
Folk wisdom has always singled
out fruits and vegetables as
being indispensable for health,
but it has only been within the
last thirty years that we know
why. Science and technology
have isolated compounds in
plants and vegetables that have
literally been our life-savers.
These are phytonutrients which
all fruits and vegetables produce
because their means of survival
in the environment is through the
release of disease-fighting
phytochemicals. Phytochemicals
stimulate the production of
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