Cancer and coronary heart disease are the top two causes of death in the U.S. and most countries around the world. Prevention is better than cure, and this adage couldn't hold truer for several life-threatening ailments. Enter phytochemicals.

What are Phytochemicals?

“Phyto” is the Greek word for “plant”. Also referred to as phytonutrients, they are commonly found in vegetables, fruit, legumes, nuts, herbs, whole grains, spices, and seeds. They are divided into categories based on the particular Phytochemical function and chemical structure.

While these chemicals give plants their color, flavor, and odor, they are also beneficial for humans. Research has proven that when we consume food rich in phytochemicals, they have a significant impact on the chemical processes in our bodies.

Source of Phytochemical Food

So far, scientists have discovered over 4,000 phytochemicals. Here is a list of just some of the phytochemicals and their plant sources that have garnered considerable attention in the medical world.

  • Carotenoids - Red, orange, and green fruits and vegetables, such as carrots, cooked tomatoes, watermelon, apricots, oranges, cantaloupe, winter squash, leafy greens, and broccoli
  • Flavonoids – Citrus fruit, apples, onions, coffee, tea, soybeans, and soy products like edamame, tofu, and soy milk
  • Polyphenols – Grapes, wine, berries, citrus fruit, apples, green tea, peanuts, and whole grains
  • Terpenes – Cherries, rosemary, and citrus fruit peel
  • Isothiocyanates, Indoles, Glucosinolates – Vegetables from the cruciferous family, which include kale, cabbage, brussels sprouts, broccoli, cauliflower, and collard greens
  • Inositol – Nuts, bran sourced from oats, wheat, corn, rye and rice, soybeans, and soy products including soy milk, tofu, and edamame
  • Isoflavones – Soybeans and soy products
  • In particular, phytochemicals that pertain to carotenoids and flavonoids have been the most extensively researched.

Phytochemical Benefits

Daily consumption of vegetables and fruits goes beyond just basic nutritional benefits. In addition to keeping several illnesses at bay, these compounds also lower the risk of serious health conditions, including strokes, Alzheimer’s disease, cancer, cardiovascular disease, cataract, and other ailments linked with aging.

Various studies conducted have shown that there's a myriad of phytochemical benefits.

  • Prevents substances from converting into carcinogens which cause cancer in living tissue
  • Reduces the growth rate of cancerous cells
  • Bolsters the immune system to fight off viruses that cause infectious and other diseases
  • Destroys damaged cells before they multiply
  • Lowers the risk of inflammation, which could result in the growth of cancerous cells
  • Promotes cardiovascular, eye, and bone health
  • Strengthens neurocognitive function
  • Regulates hormones
  • Blocks tumor growths
  • Provides antioxidant properties
  • Stimulates DNA repair and halts further damage


One study reported that increasing your consumption of veggies and fruits to more than five portions a day decreases the risk of coronary heart disease by a staggering 17%. And according to Breatcancer.org, phytochemicals reduce the likelihood of cancer by up to 40%.

Plus, the American Institute for Cancer Research (AICR) also recommends a balanced diet that includes brightly-colored and strong-flavored fruits and vegetables.

Though scientists are just at the cusp of discovering the full range of phytochemical benefits, what we do know for now is that these amazing compounds strengthen our immunity and lower the risk of several major life-threatening conditions.