Plant Compounds -
even more Powerful than Vitamins
Phytomins are known as plant compounds or phytochemicals.
The most common term for these compounds, as a group, is phytochemicals- which means simply, plant chemicals . A more descriptive name might be phytomins. That suggests they are related to vitamins, which are already known to be essential to human life. It’s also an easy way to refer to an ever growing list of compounds with tongue twisting names like allyl sulphides, isothiocyanates, zeaxanthins, isothiocyanates phenolics, phytoestrogens, flavonoids, flavones, flavonols and the ever popular flavonones.
Unlike vitamins, you won’t necessarily fall over if you don’t get your phytomins. If you consider dietary health to be a one rupee coin then on the one side you have vitamins, minerals, proteins and other nutrients that prevent classic deficiency symptoms. On the flip side, you have compounds that have pharmacological properties.
Are these phytomins essential?
“Without these compounds in the diet, you are opening the door to cellular damage and premature onset of aging, disease, even death”.
There is already a long list of identified phytomins, but given their potential, they could become household words in the next few years. So here’s a quick look at some of the most promising ones, including how they work and, most important, how you can easily get more of them into your diet.
These compounds, numbering approximately 4,000 have been getting a lot of attention lately because they supposedly explain why those pate-gobbling, butter-loving, wine-guzzling Frenchman do not have as high a death rate from heart disease as might be expected. Researchers used to think it was due to alcohol, but now they are saying it’s the flavonoids present in grape
skins. When allowed to steep, these skins impart their dark purple color to wine, along with their powerful nutrients. These, in turn, keep blood cells from clotting and causing a heart attack. White wine and mixed drinks don’t have as pronounced an effect. But while the French may love their wine, they also eat lots of fruits and vegetables, and these are also full of flavonoids. Onions, green beans, apples, celery and citrus fruit (especially the peel and pulp) have the most, as do grape juice, black and green teas.
According to researchers, this is a very important class of compounds. There are no data yet on whether flavonoids could be as essential as diet and exercise in lowering heart disease risk. But if we consume these compounds on a regular basis, we’ll have a reduced likelihood of heart disease.
Indeed, Dutch scientists studied 805 men for five years and found that those eating the most of five essential flavonoids were 32 percent less likely to die of heart disease. Their daily diet included four cups of tea, an apple (with skin) and about a quarter cup of onions. Likewise, in seven countries around the world where the flavonoid intake was high, the national rates of death from heart disease were correspondingly low.
Although preliminary studies with human kinds are mixed, these flavonoids might have cancer
fighting qualities as well. For instance, tea drinkers in China have lower rates of throat cancer.
According to few researchers-
“The anti-cancer effects of flavonoids exist, but possibly only in synergy with a lot of other compounds that are present in the same fruits and vegetables”.
The long standing chief of this group of phytomins is beta-carotene. It’s the most abundant carotenoid in the foods we eat and the one most efficiently converted to vitamin A. Plus, it is powerful
which means it counters cell damage that could lead to widespread cancer and heart disease.
But there are more than 600 other carotenoids and research is proving that some of them have similar disease-fighting properties. For example, scientists recently found that people in northern Italy who ate seven or more servings of
tomatoes every week had 60 % less chance of developing colon, rectal and stomach cancer than those who ate two servings or less. In fact, eating tomatoes may be more effective in reducing the risk of cancer than eating fruits and green vegetables.
are one of the few foods rich in a carotenoid called lycopene. And since it survives heating and processing, it’s still present in tomato paste, sauce, juice, even ketchup and pizza.
Other sources of carotenoids include watermelon, pink and red grapefruit,
and sweet red peppers.
Other carotenoids meriting study are canthaxanthin and lutein.
Canthaxanthin is found in certain mushrooms and used as a food colouring in cheese. When it was fed to lab rats, they developed 65 percent fewer cancers.
Lutein is found with beta-carotene in vegetables such as spinach. Besides possibly protecting against
it, too, is being investigated for potential
Genistein, Daidzein and Saponins
This trio can forcefully represent you in the battle against high cholesterol, and prostate and colon cancer.
All three of these phytomins are present in soya beans.
Genistein is structurally very similar to estradiol, one of the estrogens we normally produce. Now, we know that estrogen can promote tumor growth. Genestein is so similar to estrogen that it binds up the receptor cells in tissues and blocks out the estradiol. At the same time, genestein inhibits growth of new blood vessels, which tumors need in order to grow. That’s the theory- why women who consume lots of soy products, as in Japan, have a much lower rate of breast cancer than, say, American women.
Meanwhile, more than 40 clinical studies have shown that saponins can lower blood cholesterol. They do it, by blocking sites in the intestines that take up cholesterol.
List of Foods
You’ll never remember the names of all these nutrients, and fortunately, you don’t have to. Here’s our list of the foods that are either extremely high in one or rich in a number of different groups.
1. Soya beans
2. Garlic (always crush or slice cloves finely to release phytochemicals)
(eat white, yellow and red for a variety of flavonoids)
5. Citrus fruit
- wins every nutrition contest
8. Beans- kidney
9. Green Tea or black tea (use tea bags instead of loose leaves, and steam for 5-10 minutes)
MAJOR CONTENDERS –
Virtually all greens, such as spinach, carrots,
grapes, grape juice and red wine, cauliflower, sweet potatoes and celery
An easy way of getting a hefty dose of phytomins is to make a simple stew crammed full of nutrient- rich vegetables.
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