Health benefit of Phytochemicals

Phytochemicals are compounds in foods that have biological activity that may promote health benefits beyond the effects of such nutrients as vitamins and minerals. Some examples of phytochemicals are catechins in tea, lycopene in tomatoes and red peppers, and beta glucan in oats (see table).

PhytochemicalSourcePotential Health Benefit
IndolesBrussels sprouts, cabbage,
cauliflower, broccoli
Help block cancer growth
LignanFlax seedMay interfere with estrogen and help block
cancer growth
Beta glucanOatsReduce risk of cardiovascular disease
CarotenoidsOrange, dark green, and red
fruits and vegetables
Antioxidant action promotes health of eyes,
other tissues
LuteinSpinach, kale, collard greensMay help protect against eye diseases in the
LycopeneTomatoesReduce risk of prostate and cervical cancers,
FlavonoidsTea, wine, celery, cauliflower,
Raise HDL cholesterol; antioxidant action
protects cells
CatechinsGreen teaInhibit carcinogenic processes
Genistein, daidzeinSoybeans, dried legumesMay reduce cancer risk; block estradiol at
receptor sites
ResveratrolSkin of red grapes, red wineLower cholesterol; may reduce cancer risk

Considerable research is under way to explore the relationship between diet and health problems, particularly cancer and heart disease. These two diseases concern many consumers because of the toll they take each year. Researchers are trying to determine whether various phytochemicals may aid in fighting or protecting against some diseases. Results sometimes have been contradictory; early findings of effectiveness have been countered by subsequent studies that failed to find similar results. Nevertheless, studies have not shown any harmful effects from eating foods high in various phytochemicals.

The fact that some researchers have found positive ties between diet and the incidence of these problems has added impetus to the importance of eating plenty of fruits, vegetables, and cereal products, all of which are rich in various minerals, vitamins, and phytochemicals. In fact, phytochemicals, such as lycopene, genistein, catechins, and tocotrienols, are becoming part of the public lexicon.


  • Surh, Young-Joon. “Cancer chemoprevention with dietary phytochemicals.” Nature Reviews Cancer 3.10 (2003): 768.
  • Liu, Rui Hai. “Potential synergy of phytochemicals in cancer prevention: mechanism of action.” The Journal of nutrition 134.12 (2004): 3479S-3485S.
  • Harborne, A. J. Phytochemical methods a guide to modern techniques of plant analysis. springer science & business media, 1998.
  • Lee, Ki Won, Ann M. Bode, and Zigang Dong. “Molecular targets of phytochemicals for cancer prevention.” Nature Reviews Cancer 11.3 (2011): 211.

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