For many years, researchers have recognized that diets high in fruits, vegetables, grains, and legumes appear to reduce the risk of a number of diseases, including cancer, heart disease, and high blood pressure when compared with diets high in meat. More recently, it was discovered that the disease-preventing effects of these foods are partly due to antioxidants-specific vitamins, minerals, and enzymes that help prevent cancer and other disorders by protecting cells against damage from oxidation. Now, researchers have discovered that fruits, vegetables, grains, and legumes contain yet another group of health-promoting nutrients. Called phytochemicals, these substances appear to be powerful ammunition in the war against cancer and other disorders.
Phytochemicals are the biologically active substances in the plants that are responsible for giving them color, flavor, and natural disease resistance. To understand how phytochemicals protect the body against cancer, it is necessary to understand that cancer formation is a multistep process. Phytochemicals seem to fight cancer by blocking one or more of the steps that lead to cancer.
For instance, cancer can begin when a carcinogenic molecule-from the food you eat or the air you breathe-invades a cell. But if a sulforaphane, a phytochemical found in broccoli, also reaches the cell, it activates a group of enzymes that whisk the carcinogen out of the cell before it can cause any harm.
Other phytochemicals are known to prevent cancer in other ways. Flavonoids, found in citrus fruits and berries, keep cancer-causing hormones from latching on to cells in the first place. Genistein, found in soybeans, kills tumors by preventing the formation of the capillaries needed to nourish them. Indoles, found in cruciferous vegetables such as Brussels sprouts, cauliflower, and cabbage, increase immune activity and make it easier for the body to excrete toxins. Saponins, found in kidney beans, chickpeas, soybeans, and lentils, may prevent cancer cells from multiplying. The list of these protective substances goes on and on.
Fortunately, it is easy to get a healthy dose of phytochemicals at every meal. Almost every grain, legume, fruit and vegetable tested has been found to contain these substances. Moreover, unlike many vitamins, these substances do not appear to be destroyed by cooking or other processing. By eating much of your produce raw or only lightly cooked, you will be able to enjoy the benefits not just of phytochemicals, but of all the vitamins, minerals, and other nutrients that fresh whole foods have to offer. (“Prescription for Nutritional Healing” -Fourth Edition- By: Phyllis A. Blach)