We have heard a lot about getting adequate vitamin C, a lot about getting enough protein, and some about eating enough fruits and vegetables. And now we are hearing bits and pieces, here and there, about phytochemicals. What is a phytochemical anyway? Phytochemical literally means plant chemical. Wikipedia, the online encyclopedia, says this about phytochemicals: “Phytochemicals are chemical compounds, such as beta-carotene that occur naturally in plants.
The term is generally used to refer to those chemicals that may affect health, but are not yet established as essential nutrients.” Unlike protein, or vitamin C, phytochemicals are not proven essential to sustain life. When you look at a piece of watermelon we used to think: “WOW, look at that beautiful fruit: It has vitamins, and has great carbohydrate for energy.” Now we know the red color is chock full of something called lycopene. Lycopene is what gives tomatoes, watermelon, and papaya their red color. Now we are learning that lycopene is a very good antioxidant and can help prevent prostate cancer. Here are a few good reasons to eat tomatoes, watermelon, grapefruit and other plant foods that have a reddish color. Cooked tomatoes have the highest content of lycopene.
In 1995 Harvard School of Public Health found that those men who ate more than 10 servings of tomato foods a week were 45% less at risk to prostate cancer than those who ate far less. After review of several studies the Journal of the National Cancer Institute has determined “frequent consumption of tomato products is associated with a lower risk of prostate cancer.” Journal of the National Cancer Institute, Vol. 94, No. 5, March 6, 2002 Another really important phytochemical is sulforphane. Sulforphane is found in broccoli, cauliflower, brussel sprouts, turnips, and kale, as well as a few other vegetables. Sulforphane induces enzymes that neutralize carcinogens (cancer producing agents.).
Another interesting property of sulforphane is its ability to act as an antibiotic. Helicobacter pylori is the infectious agent that induces stomach and duodenal ulcers and cancer. The National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America states this about its antibiotic action: “...brief exposure to sulforaphane was bactericidal, and eliminated intracellular H. pylori from a human epithelial cell line (HEp-2).” This finding is huge in terms of health. If a person has acquired an ulcer from exposure to H. pylori one of the best remedies is a diet high in fruits and vegetables and especially those containing sulforphane.
Cooking can destroy sulforphane, and chewing it raw helps bring it out. Cooking plant sources that contain lycopene is important; it releases it. So I like to have some carrots, tomatoes, broccoli raw and I like to have some cooked. We need both. I remember putting a patient on a plant based diet that had a severe, large, duodenal ulcer and it went completely away, where before, using drugs and antacids, only gave him partial relief. His cure was confirmed on x-ray GI studies. There are hundreds of phytochemicals. Some foods that have very good properties with phytochemicals are soybeans, blueberries, cranberries, onions and garlic and many more.