Fighting Cancer

Filling Your Plate With Fabulous Phytochemicals


What we eat can have a powerful effect on our health and quality of life. Building a diet from health–giving foods requires no doctors' appointments, waiting rooms, or health insurance, yet it provides the fundamental building blocks needed for a healthy immune system.

Legumes, fruits, vegetables, and whole grains contain hundreds of disease–fighting and immune–boosting substances called phytochemicals. These substances, along with nutrients in plant foods, are thought to protect against cancer and cardiovascular disease. Many have yet to be discovered.

One of the most important ways phytochemicals promote health is as antioxidants. While oxygen is needed by the body, it is also a very unstable molecule if it is damaged in any way. When oxygen is an unstable molecule, it is called a free radical. These free radicals act as oxidants that can damage cells and tissues. Phytochemicals help to repair damage or prevent the damage of these oxidants by acting as antioxidants. Nutrients and phytochemicals that act as antioxidants include vitamin C, vitamin E, selenium, lycopene, lutein, and the carotenoids.

Phytochemicals may also inhibit the growth of cancer cells, improve immune function, block carcinogens, and help clear out toxins or other damaging substances, among other actions.

Phytochemical Feast

The following tips will help ensure that your meals and snacks have ample protective phytochemicals:

  • Eat a fresh fruit or vegetable at every meal and snack.
  • Purchase convenient packages of washed and cut fruits and vegetables to snack on throughout the day. A good example is a bag of baby carrots.
  • Keep vegetable cooking to a minimum to maximize the amounts of phytochemicals they contain. Some exceptions include carrots and tomatoes, which have an increased phytochemical content when cooked.
  • Try to a new fruit and vegetable every week. Explore ethnic grocery stores like Latin or Asian groceries where exotic fruits and vegetables can be found.
  • Visit a local farmer’s market for seasonal produce, which is often fresher than that found in the supermarket.
  • Purchase frozen, cut vegetable mixes that can be added to soups and sauces.
  • Sprinkle a few nuts or dried fruits on top of your salad. Add flaxseed to cereals.
  • Keep frozen fruit on hand to make breakfast smoothies and tasty frozen treats.
  • Add berries to cereals and salads.
  • Add barley, beans, peas, and lentils to soups and stews.
  • Use fresh herbs like cilantro, parsley, and basil to flavor dishes.
  • Use lots of fresh garlic, onions, and ginger to flavor dishes.
  • Include cooked tomatoes in dishes as much as possible. Examples include using tomato sauces for beans, sandwiches, potatoes, soups and stews. Use low–sodium canned tomato salsa to spice up burritos, dips, baked potatoes, and veggie burgers.
Where Are Phytochemicals Found?
The best way to fill your plate with phytochemicals is to consume plants in their whole food form. Creating a daily menu with foods of many different colors is a simple way to make sure that you are getting sufficient amounts. Scientists have found that phytochemicals work in concert with each other. This is why phytochemicals should be consumed as whole plant foods rather than from supplements.
The following table lists the major color groups, some of the foods in those groups, and a few of the associated phytochemicals and their benefits: 



Colors
Foods
Phytochemicals
Benefits
Blue/Purple
Fruits:Blackberries
Blueberries
Black currants
Dried plums
Elderberries
Purple figs
Purple grapes
Plums
Vegetables:
Raisins
Purple asparagus
Purple cabbage
Purple carrots
Eggplant
Purple Belgian endive
Purple peppers
Potatoes (purple flesh)
Black beans
Anthocyanins
Phenolics
Antioxidant
Anti–aging
Improved urinary tract health
Improved memory function
Reduced risk of some cancers
Green
Fruits:Avocados
Green apples
Green grapes
Honeydew
Kiwifruit
Limes
Green pears
Vegetables:
Artichokes
Arugula
Asparagus
Broccoflower
Broccoli
Broccoli rabe
Brussels sprouts
Chinese cabbage
Green beans
Green cabbage
Celery
Chayote squash
Cucumbers
Endive
Leafy greens
Leeks
Lettuce
Green onion
Okra
Peas
Green pepper
Snow Peas
Sugar snap peas
Spinach
Watercress
Zucchini
Legumes:Green split peas
Green lentils
Lima beans
Lutein
Indoles
Sulforaphane
Carotenoids
Isoflavones

Antioxidant
Reduced risk of some cancers
Vision health
White
Fruits:Bananas
Brown pears
Dates
White nectarines
White peaches
Vegetables:
Cauliflower
Garlic
Ginger
Jerusalem artichoke
Jícama
Kohlrabi
Mushrooms
Onions
Parsnips
Potatoes
Shallots
Turnips
White corn
Legumes:
Soybeans
Lentils
Whole grain
seeds and nuts:

Rye
Barley
Flaxseed
Pecans
Allicin
Lignans
Isothiocyanates
Isoflavones
Phytates

Maintenance of healthy cholesterol levels
Heart health

Reduced risk of some cancers
Inhibited tumor growth
Yellow/Orange
Fruits:Yellow apples
Apricots
Cantaloupe
Cape gooseberries
Yellow figs
Grapefruit
Golden kiwifruit
Lemon
Mangoes
Nectarines
Oranges
Papayas
Peaches
Yellow pears
Persimmons
Pineapples
Tangerines
Yellow watermelon
Vegetables:
Yellow beets
Butternut squash
Carrots
Yellow peppers
Yellow potatoes
Pumpkin
Rutabagas
Yellow summer squash
Sweet corn
Sweet potatoes
Yellow tomatoes
Yellow winter squash
Carotenoids Bioflavonoids
Antioxidant
Heart health
Vision health
Immune system function
Reduced risk of some cancers
Red
Fruits:Red apples
Blood oranges
Cherries
Cranberries
Red grapes
Pink/Red grapefruit
Red pears
Pomegranates
Raspberries
Strawberries
Watermelon
Vegetables:
Beets
Red peppers
Radishes
Radicchio
Red onions
Red potatoes
Rhubarb
Tomatoes
Legumes: 
Red Beans
Kidney Beans
Anthocyanins
Lycopene

Improved memory function
Heart health
Urinary tract health
Reduced risk of some cancers


From: The Cancer Project

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