Phytochemicals are nutrients that are found in lemons, citrus fruits, and other plant-based foods. Scientists have identified hundreds of different phytochemicals, and citrus fruits are a major source of this health protecting nutrient. The American Institute for Cancer Research recommends a diet high in phytochemicals.
What do Phytochemicals Do?
In essence, phytochemicals are the compounds that give fruits, vegetables, and grains flavor, color, and even odor. Study after study has shown that the total consumption of phytochemicals is linked with protection – i.e. a reduced risk of – many chronic disease, including heart disease, cancer, and neurodegenerative diseases such as Parkinson’s disease and Alzheimer’s disease. Much of the research has been performed to determine just how that happens, and while it is ongoing, there are some very encouraging results.
- Prevent substances from becoming carcinogenic in the body;
- Reduce inflammation;
- Prevent oxidative damage to the DNA of cells, and the ability of cells to repair themselves;
- Help to regulate hormones;
- Among many other benefits.
How Do I Eat My Phytochemicals?
Fruits and veggies that sport vivid colors and strong flavors are good sources of phytochemicals, which clearly means that citrus fruits score high. Here’s a look at some specific types and what they can do.
Carotenoids (such as beta-carotene, lycopene, lutein, zeaxanthin)
- Found in red, orange and green fruits including oranges, Cara Cara oranges
- May inhibit cancer cell growth, have an antioxidant effect and improve immune response
Flavonoids (such as anthocyanins and hesperidin)
- Found in citrus fruits, esp blood oranges for anthocyanins
- May inhibit inflammation and tumor growth; may aid immunity and boost production of detoxifying enzymes in the body
Polyphenols (such as ascorbic acid)
- Found in citrus fruits
- May prevent cancer formation, prevent inflammation and have an antioxidant effect
Terpenes (primarily limonene)
- Found in citrus fruit peel
- May protect cells from becoming cancerous, slow cancer cell growth, strengthen immune function, limit production of cancer-related hormones, fight viruses, have an antioxidant effect
Eating Whole Foods
There’s an important aspect of phytochemicals that an earlier study from 2003 highlights. The title – Health benefits of fruit and vegetables are from additive and synergistic combinations of phytochemicals – says it all. Published in the The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition in September 2003, the study found that the sum of the components really does add up to more than the total of its constituent parts.
In other words, taking specific phytochemicals alone as a supplement does not appear to provide the benefits of eating the whole fruit or vegetable.
As the researchers noted:
“Functional foods that contain significant amounts of bioactive components may provide desirable health benefits beyond basic nutrition and play important roles in the prevention of chronic diseases…We propose that the additive and synergistic effects of phytochemicals in fruit and vegetables are responsible for their potent antioxidant and anticancer activities, and that the benefit of a diet rich in fruit and vegetables is attributed to the complex mixture of phytochemicals present in whole foods.”