Discovering the Pharmacy at the Farmers Market: Phytochemicals in Fruits and Vegetables

Phytochemicals are naturally occurring plant chemicals that protect plants against bacteria, viruses, and fungi, and also provide plants with color, odor, and flavor. Because they can also influence the chemical processes inside your body in ways that benefit your health, they are often referred to as “phytonutrients” or even “nutraceuticals”; however, the term is generally used to refer to those chemicals that may have biological significance but are not established as essential nutrients.

In the past, the phytochemicals were classified as vitamins: Flavonoids were known as vitamin P, glucosinolates and indoles were called vitamin U, and ubiquinone was vitamin Q. Tocopherol continues to be known as vitamin E. Scientists stopped giving them vitamin designation because they couldn’t establish specific deficiency symptoms.

More recent research has enabled scientists to group phytochemicals into classes on the basis of similar protective functions as well as individual physical and chemical characteristics of the molecules. The action of phytochemicals varies by color and type of the food. They may act as antioxidants or nutrient protectors, or prevent carcinogens (cancer causing agents) from forming.

Scientists estimate that there may be as many as 10,000 different phytochemicals, and more are being discovered every day. There is therefore no way that you can eat a diet high in meat and processed foods and low in fruits and vegetables and ever expect to even come close to consuming the amount of phytochemicals that you need to stay healthy. And because more phytochemicals are being discovered every day, there is no way that you can expect to get all the ones you need to stay healthy from supplements alone.

Eating large amounts of brightly colored fruits and vegetables (yellow, orange, red, green, white, blue, purple), whole grains, and beans is the only way to get the phytochemicals you need to stay healthy. Consuming sufficient phytochemicals has the potential to decrease the risk of developing certain cancers as well as diabetes, hypertension, and heart disease by:

  • Stimulating the immune system
  • Blocking substances we eat, drink, and breathe from becoming carcinogens
  • Reducing the kind of inflammation that makes cancer growth more likely
  • Preventing DNA damage and helping with DNA repair
  • Reducing the kind of oxidative damage to cells that can spark cancer
  • Slowing the growth rate of cancer cells
  • Triggering damaged cells to self-destruct before they can reproduce
  • Helping to regulate hormones

The following are some of the more commonly known phytochemicals:

  • Alkaloids are naturally occurring organic bases which have marked pharmacological actions in humans and other animals. They include:
    • Caffeine, found in coffee beans, tea, kola nuts, cocoa, yerba mate, and guarana, helps pain medications to work, decreases muscle pain with exercise, may play a role in prevention of several diseases, including such as Parkinsons, liver disease, colorectal cancer, and Type 2 diabetes, can interfere with sleep, stimulate production of stress hormones, and cause an increase in abdominal fat.
    • Psilocybin, found in certain mushrooms, has hallucinogenic properties, helps reduce cluster headaches, reduces symptoms in people with obsessive-complusive disorder, and may be useful for people recovering from addictions, depression or anxiety.
    • Theobromine, found in cocoa, and to a smaller extent in tea, kola nuts, and guarana berries, dilates the blood vessels, lowers blood pressure, relaxes the bronchial muscles, relaxes the vagus nerve which runs from the lungs to the brain, and reduces cough.
    • Theophylline, found in largest quantities in green and black tea, but also in cocoa and yerba mate, relaxes the smooth bronchial muscles, increases the efficiency of the heart muscle, increases the heart rate, blood pressure and renal (kidney) blood flow, has anti-inflammatory effects, and provides relief for asthma.
  • Betalains are a group of 24 substances including
    • Betacyanins, red, blue, or purple pigments found in beetschard, red or purple cabbage,  and apples, are powerful antioxidants that fight colon cancer and other cancers.
    • Betaxanthins, yellow and orange pigments found in beets, amaranth, prickly pears, and Swiss chard, reduce the risk of blood clots by protecting the thin lining of your blood vessels, reduces the inflammation that makes your blood sticky and leads to clots, reduces oxidized LDL (“bad”) cholesterol, protects many types of cells, especially brain cells, from toxins known to trigger tumors, and protects your liver from toxins.
  • Terpenes are a group of substances that occur in nearly every plant, protecting them from the same reactive oxygen species that attack human cells. They include:
    • Monoterpenes are found in the essential oils of many plants including fruits, vegetables, and herbs that prevent the development and growth of cancer and are effective in treating early and advanced cancers.  They include:
      • Geraniol, found in bergamot (an ingredient of Earl Grey tea), carrots, coriander, lavender, lemon, lime, nutmeg, oranges, rose, blueberries, and blackberries, is an antioxidant, and is being studied for its abilities to suppress tumor growth.
      • Limonoids, found in citrus fruit peels, protect lung tissue, clear congestive mucus from the lungs, may be specific chemopreventive agents, and help detoxify the liver.
        • Limoninnomilin, and  nomilinic acid, found in orangeslemonstangerinesgrapefruits, and other citrus fruits, act as active antioxidants, prevent the breakdown of cell DNA, fight cancers of the mouth, skin, lung, breast, stomach, and colon, may reduce cholesterol, and inhibit the production of cholesterol compounds in the liver.
        • Azadirachtin, found in neem seeds and leaves, is a natural insecticide that is also used to treat intestinal parasites, fungal, bacterial, and viral infections, and diabetes, and has also been used as a contraceptive and a sedative.
      • Perillyl alcohol, found in mint, lavender, cherriesspearmint, sage, and celery seeds, slows the growth of liver and possibly other tumors by interfering with the division of cancer cells, and induces the cells to self-destruct.
      • Thymol, found in thyme oil, ajowan seeds (also called ajwain or carom), and horsemint, inhibits the ability of E.coli and Staphylococcus aureus to adhere to human cells, disrupts the bacterial cell wall and causes the cytoplasm to leak out, has antioxidant and anti-inflammatory properties in humans, and is used to treat hookworms and other parasites.
    • Carotenoids represent one of the most widespread groups of naturally occurring pigments: There are over 600 known carotenoids that are largely responsible for the red, yellow, and orange color of fruits and vegetables, and are also found in many dark green vegetables. The most abundant carotenoids in the North American diet are:
      • Carotenes are a large group of intense red and yellow pigments found in all plants that photosynthesize, which are vital for the process of photosynthesis and also protect the plant against damage from the free radicals produced during photosynthesis. They include:
      • Xanthophylls, oxygenated forms of carotenes, form the yellow color in plant leaves. They include:
        • Lutein and zeaxanthin, found in raw and lightly steamed kalespinachturnip greenscollard greensRomaine lettucebroccolizucchinicorn, peassquashpumpkincarrots, and Brussels sprouts, defend your cells from the damaging effects of free radicals, and protect your eyes from developing age-related macular degeneration and cataracts.
        • Astaxanthin, found in microalgae and yeast, suppresses the activation of certain T cells associated with asthma, improves “working memory,” may contribute to the prevention of dementia, significantly increases peripheral capillary blood flow, reduces both systolic and diastolic blood pressure, prevents cancers of the bladder, colon, and mouth, reduces the severity and duration of carpal tunnel syndrome pain, counteracts the free radicals resulting from high glucose levels in diabetics, may prevent the progression of diabetic kidney damage, may improve endurance and strength, may decrease the accumulation of fat, protects the macula at the center of the retina from degeneration from UV light, heading off Age-Related Macular Degeneration, the world’s leading cause of blindness, increases HDL (“good”) cholesterol production, protects LDL (“bad”) cholesterol from free radical damage, significantly reduces heartburn, especially in patients infected with H. pylori, an inflammatory bacteria that causes ulcers, raises levels of T and B cells, key cells of the immune system, may prevent DNA damage, improves sperm quality and function, may help maintain natural testosterone levels in aging men, and protects your skin from UV damage that would otherwise damage skin DNA.
        • Beta-crpytoxanthin, found in red bell peppers, papaya, cilantro, orangestangerinescorn, watermelonserrano peppers, avocados, and grapefruit, protects your cells from the damaging effects of free radicals, provides a source of vitamin A, and reduces your risk of lung cancer, rheumatoid arthritis, and inflammatory polyarthritis.
        • Canthaxanthin, found in chanterelle mushrooms, green algae, and paprika, inhibits the growth of melanoma and colon cancer cells, and induces their self-destruction.
    • Saponins, found in red wine, peas, beans, lentils, peanuts, soybeans, alfalfa, ginseng, fenugreek, wild yam, soapwort, paprika, oats, spinachgarlicleeksonionschives, tea, sugar beet, quinoa, licorice, capsicum pepperseggplanttomato seeds, asparagus, and bean sprouts, lower blood cholesterol, decrease risk of cardiovascular disease, prevent cancer cells from growing and mutating, neutralize free radicals to prevent disease, stimulate your immune system by increasing the production of antibodies, fight bacterial and fungal infections, reduce inflammation, lower blood glucose responses, prevent dental caries, protect against bone loss, and increase the effectiveness of certain vaccines.
    • Lipids include fats, waxes, sterols, fat-soluble vitamins (such as vitamins A, D, E, and K), monoglycerides, diglycerides, triglycerides, phospholipids, and others, whose main biological functions include energy storage, as structural components of cell membranes, and as important signaling molecules. They include:
      • Phytosterols, the more than 200 steroid compounds similar to cholesterol in plants, including:
        • Campesterol, found in bananas, pomegranates, saw palmetto berries, grapefruitcucumberspeppersonionspotatoes, oats, lemongrass, and coffee beans, prevents the absorption of “bad” LDL cholesterol, balances blood cholesterol levels, and displays anti-inflammatory properties, which may make it beneficial for arthritis and cardiovascular diseases, among other health conditions.
        • Ergocalciferol (Vitamin D2), found in mushrooms exposed to ultraviolet light either while they are growing or shortly after they are picked, is necessary for calcium absorption, bone growth and maintenance, neurological and immune system functions, and reducing inflammation. It may also treat or prevent Addison’s Disease, allergic hypersensitivity, Alzheimer’s, asthma, Ankylosing Spondylitis, autism, autoimmune disease such as rheumatoid arthritis, several cancers, COPD, systic fibrosis, depression, and other conditions.
      • Essential fatty acids are fatty acids that you must ingest because your body requires them for good health but cannot synthesize them. They include:
        • Omega-3 fatty acids, including alpha-linolenic acid (ALA), found in soy, walnuts, flax seeds, hemp seeds, pumkin seeds, sesame seeds, mustard seeds, chia seeds, Brazil nuts, wheat germ, green leafy vegetables, grains, and spirulina, can protect against cardiovascular disease, lower blood pressure, reduce the risk of heart attack, and reduce the risk of sudden cardiac death in people who already have heart disease.
        • Omega-6 fatty acids, including linoleic acid (LA), found in brazil nuts, pine nuts, sunflower seeds, and pecans, is important for the growth and development of infants, and is a precursor for a hormone-like substance prostaglandins, which cause constriction or dilation in vascular smooth muscle cells, cause aggregation or disaggregation of platelets, sensitize spinal neurons to pain, induce labor, decrease intraocular pressure, regulate inflammatory mediation, regulate calcium movement, control hormone regulation, control cell growth, act on thermoregulatory center of the hypothalamus to produce fever, act on mesangial cells in the glomerulus of the kidney to increase the glomerular filtration rate, and act on parietal cells in the stomach wall to inhibit acid secretion. You should have about 1 to 4 times the amount of omega-6 as omega-3, but Americans tend to have anywhere from 10 to 30 times the amount of omega-6, due to the large amounts of oils and fried foods they eat. This unbalanced ratio can lead to health problems. You can get a higher ratio of omega-3 fatty acids by avoiding fried foods and meats, eating more flax seeds, walnuts, sea vegetables, and other sources of omega-3 fatty acids.
  • Chlorophyll, found in all green plants, especially dark, leafy greens such as spinachparsley, cress, kale, and green algae, can bond tightly to certain carcinogens, such as those in tobacco smoke, cooked meats, and aflatoxins.
  • Polyphenols, numbering over 4,000, have antioxidant activity, may affect cell-to-cell signaling, receptor sensitivity, inflammatory enzyme activity, or gene regulation. They include:
    • Cannabidiol, found in hemp seeds, is an anti-inflammatory, relieves convulsions, anxiety, and nausea, inhibits cancer cell growth, and treats schizophrenia.
    • Curcumin, found in turmeric, has anti-inflammatory and anti-oxidant properties, can prevent and reduce joint inflammation, has been linked to reduced blood cholesterol and protection against Alzheimer’s disease, and is being explored as a cancer treatment because of its anti-oxidant activity.
    • Lignans have phytoestrogenic properties, lower blood cholesterol, and treat atherosclerosis. They include:
      • Secoisolariciresinol, found in flax seedpumpkin seeds, sesame seeds, and sunflower seeds, is a potent antioxidant and phytoestrogen that protects your body’s cells from dangerous free radicals, cancer, heart disease, and osteoporosis, and may prevent atherosclerosis, diabetes, and hyperlipidaemia (an abnormally high concentration of fats or lipids in the blood). It may also reduce blood levels of low-density lipoprotein (LDL or “bad”) cholesterol, reduce high blood pressure, and increase cardiovascular health.
      • Matairesinol, found in flax seeds and sesame seeds, whole grains, vegetables, and fruits, improves glucose control and insulin resistance.
      • Pinoresinol, found in sesame seeds, cruciferous vegetables, cucumbers, and olives, may fight colon cancer.
      • Lariciresinol, found in sesame seeds and cruciferous vegetables, fights breast and ovarian cancer, reduces vascular inflammation, fights fungal infections and free radicals, inhibits lipid oxidation, and may reduce deaths from coronary heart disease, cardiovascular diseases, and cancer.
    • Phenolic acids are easily absorbed through the walls of your intestinal tract, and they may be beneficial to your health because they work as antioxidants that prevent cellular damage due to free-radical oxidation reactions, and they may also promote anti-inflammatory conditions in your body. They include:
      • Ellagic acid, found in blackberries, cranberries, pecans, pomegranatesraspberriesstrawberries, walnuts, wolfberriesgrapes, and peaches, directly inhibits the DNA binding of certain carcinogens, and acts as an antioxidant by reducing oxidative stress.
      • Capsaicin, found in hot chile peppers, is used as a topical pain reliever, improves psoriasis and other skin problems, is used as a nasal spray to help with certain types of headaches, protects against stomach ulcers, inhibits the growth of prostate cancer cells, and makes your body produce endorphins, which create a euphoric feeling.
      • Tannic acid, found in apricotsasparagus, blackberries, broccolicabbagecocoagrapefruitsgrapes, green tea, lemons, limes, melons, oranges, peas, pineapplesspinach, and wine, is a powerful antibacterial, antimutagenic, antioxidantantitoxic, and astringent that can prevent diarrhea, and may prevent Alzheimer’s disease, cancer, and diabetes.
      • Tetrahydrocannabinol (THC), found in the resinous glands covering the buds of the mature female marijuana plant, has anti-emetic, appetite enhancing, and relaxing effects, acts as an analgesic, can reduce intraocular pressure, controls seizure disorders, has some anti-inflammatory properties, cuts tumor growth in common lung cancer in half and significantly reduces the ability of the cancer to spread, and inhibits the proliferation of glioblastoma (brain tumors).
      • Monophenols are mainly found in herbs and have antioxidant properties, which means they can protect you from the damaging effects of oxygen-based reactions and have also been linked with cancer protection. They include:
        • Apiol (also known as parsley apiol, apiole or parsley camphor), found in celery and parsley, was used to treat lack of menstruation in women and was also used in the Middle Ages as a method to terminate pregnancies.
        • Carnosol, found in rosemary, is an antioxidant (a compound which fights against damaging free radicals in the body) and also has cancer fighting properties.
        • Rosmarinic acid, found in oregano, sage, lemon balm, marjoram, perilla (also known as Chinese basil), wild mint, hyssop, comfrey and of course rosemary, can relieve allergies by killing off excess immune responder cells in the system that have been triggered by the allergen, has been used topically as an anti-inflammatory drug, is an antibacterial against several types of bacteria, inhibits gingivitis and plaque formation on the teeth and gums, prevents cell damage caused by free radicals, and can protect against cancer and atherosclerosis.
        • Carvacrol, found primarily in some herbs of the mint family such as thyme and wild oregano, is effective against a variety of bacteria and fungi, and has has anti-inflammatory properties, which may be useful in treating arthritis and other inflammatory diseases.
        • Dillapiole, found in dill weed, is believed increase the formation of milk in nursing mothers, prevent gas problems (by removing gas from the intestines and preventing the build-up of gas in the intestines), prevent muscle spasms (by relaxing the nerves and muscles), soothe the brain and nerves (which can help you relax and sleep while also reducing feelings of anger, anxiety, depression and tension), support healthy digestion (by stimulating the secretion of digestive juices and muscle contractions within the intestines), treat infections (such as colon, genital, hair, kidney, skin and urinary tract infections) and treat wounds (both internally and externally).
    • Hydroxycinnamic acids, apart from coumarin, are all potent antioxidants which keep your body’s cells safe from harmful free radicals (dangerous substances that are released into the body’s cells during oxygen related reactions), act as anti-inflammatories (substances that prevent unnecessary inflammation within your body), keep your blood healthy, prevent cancer and much more. They include:
      • Caffeic acid, found mainly in coffee, but also in applesartichokesbasilcabbagecauliflowerkale, oregano, pears, radishesthyme, carrots, and turnips, is highly protective in the human body and acts as an anti-inflammatory and an antioxidant, and may also prevent cancer and diabetes.
      • Chlorogenic acid, which is mainly found in coffee, but also in apples, pears, and tea, is an antioxidant that can also prevent cancer and diabetes, and keep your heart healthy by protecting against atherosclerosis and reducing blood levels of low density lipoprotein (LDL) cholesterol.
      • Coumarin, found in apricots, cherries, cinnamon, strawberries, carrots, and tonka beans, may act as an analgesic (a substance that relieves pain), an anti-inflammatory and an antisceptic (a substance that prevents the growth of disease-causing microorganisms), prevent arrhythmia (irregular heartbeats), cancer, osteoporosis (reduced bone mineral density), the human immunodeficiency virus (a virus that is often abbreviated to HIV and causes acquired immunodeficiency syndrome (AIDS) which ultimately destroys the immune system), and high blood pressure, and protect the capillaries from damage and treat asthma (a respiratory disorder that causes breathing difficulties).
      • Ferulic acid, in applesasparagus, coffee, oranges, pineapples, carrots, and whole grains, is a potent antioxidant that may also prevent bone degeneration and cancer, protect the skin from ultraviolet (UV) damage, reduce blood levels of low density lipoprotein (LDL) cholesterol, reduce hot flashes associated with menopause, and treat diabetes.
    • Hydroxybenzoic acids, such as
    • Gingerol, found in ginger, functions as an analgesic to relieve pain, relieves nausea, inhibits the activities of several breast cancer lines, suppresses colon cancer growth, and causes cell cycle arrest and cell death among pancreatic cancer cells.
    • Hydroxytyrosol, found in olives, is a potent antioxidant that can absorb 10 times the amount of free radicals as green tea, is used in the metabolism of the neurotransmitter dopamine, is a monoamine oxidase inhibitor (MAOI, used in the treatment of neurodegenerative diseases such as Parkinsons and Alzheimers), inhibits the formation of free radicals that can damage blood vessels, and inhibits the proliferation of leukemia and colon cancer cells by causing the cells to die.
    • Stilbenoids have been linked with cancer prevention, a reduced risk of heart disease, and more. They include:
      • Resveratrol, found in grape skins, red wine, peanutsblueberries, and cranberries, may help protect against heart disease, cancer, Alzheimer’s disease, and diabetes, and prevent age-related problems such as heart disease and insulin resistance.
      • Pterostilbene, found in blueberries and grapes, inhibits breast cancer, diabetes, and LDL (“bad”) cholesterol.
    • Flavonoids are powerful antioxidants that fight aging and prevent disease. They include:
      • Tiliroside, a type of flavonoid (called a glycosidic flavonoid) that is found in rose hips, strawberries, and raspberries, that helps regulate blood sugar and blood fats, and helps improve insulin balance, blood sugar balance, and blood fat balance in obese persons with type 2 diabetes.
      • Anthocyanidins, which are water soluble pigments that provide color to plants, mainly shades of red, purple, and blue. Hundreds of anthocyanidins have been identified, and some of the most common are:
      • Flavanols may increase a population of certain cells in the blood that scientists think help to repair the inner walls of blood vessels, improving blood flow and potentially lowering blood pressure. They include:
        • Quercetin, found in onions, apples, berries, tea, grapes and red wine, which may be beneficial for the treatment of cancer, heart disease, allergies, and other conditions.
        • Myricetin, found in grapes, berries, fruits, vegetables, herbs, and walnuts, has antioxidant and free radical-scavenging activities, anti-cancer and anti-inflammatory properties, and may improve bone health.
        • Proanthocyanidins, found in applescocoagrapesstrawberries, Saskatoon berries, raspberries, wild blueberries, chokecherries, and seabuckthorn, improve insulin sensitivity and reduce free radical formation and the signs and symptoms of chronic age-related disorders.
        • Isorhamnetin, found in almonds, chivesdill weed, fennel leaves, red onion, and turnip greens, is a powerful antioxidant that protects your body’s cells from damaging free radicals, prevents multiple types of cancer (including esophageal cancer, liver cancer, and lung cancer), reduces the complications associated with diabetes (which include diabetic cataracts and high blood glucose levels), and helps keep your heart healthy by preventing arteriosclerosis (hardening and loss of elasticity within the arteries), preventing high blood pressure, and protecting the heart’s cells against oxidative damage.
      • Flavonols (Flavan-3-ols) help support healthy circulation by helping your arteries stay flexible. They include:
        • Catechins, found primarily in unfermented green tea, but also in oolong tea, black tea, cocoa, raw apples, apricots, nectarines, pears and plums with skin, blackberries, red raspberriescranberries, cherriesfava beans, barley, raisins, red wine, and rhubarb, are potent antioxidants that can prevent tumor blood vessel growth, protect against the development of atherosclerotic plaque buildups in arteries, help promote anti-diabetic effects in insulin resistance, and provide significant protection against Parkinson’s and Alzheimer’s diseases.  They include:
          • Gallocatechin, found primarily in green tea, but also in bananas, persimmons, and pomegranate, is an antioxidant.
          • Epicatechin, found in cocoa, tea, grapes, and blueberries, is a strong antioxidant, has insulin mimic action, improves heart health, exerts a protective role on osmotic fragility of cells, similar to that of insulin, reduces lipid peroxidation and inhibits platelet aggregation, and causes blood vessel dilation by regulating nitric oxide, a molecule secreted by the blood vessel endothelium to signal surrounding muscle to relax.
          • Epigallocatechin, found in carob flour, black tea, green tea, and oolong tea, helps prevent arteriosclerosis and heart disease, reduces blood levels of low density lipoprotein (LDL) cholesterol and high blood pressure, and acts as an anti-inflammatory and an antioxidant.
          • Kaempferol, found in tea, broccoligrapefruitcabbagekalebok choy, beans, endiveleekstomatostrawberriesgrapesBrussels sproutsapples, red wine, onions, ginkgo bilboa, and St. John’s Wort, has anti-inflammatory, antimicrobial, cardioprotective, neuroprotective, antidiabetic, anti-osteoporotic, estrogenic/antiestrogenic, anxiolytic, analgesic, and antiallergic activities. It is a strong antioxidant that helps to prevent oxidative damage of your cells, lipids, and DNA, seems to prevent arteriosclerosis by inhibiting the oxidation of low density lipoprotein and the formation of platelets in the blood, and acts as a chemopreventive agent, which means that it inhibits the formation of cancer cells.
        • Rutin, found in apricots, buckwheat, cherries, prunes, rose hips, the rind of citrus fruits, and the core of green peppers, can be helpful in reducing weakness in the blood vessels and the resultant hemorrhages, minimizes pain, bleeding, and bruising from injury, improves circulatory problems, including varicose veins and poor circulation, helps your body use vitamin C and maintain collagen, treats hay fever, oral herpes, cirrhosis, cataracts, and glaucoma, reduces serum cholesterol and oxidized LDL cholesterol, lowers the risk of heart disease, and can be useful in treating rheumatic diseases such as gout, arthritis, edema, hemorrhoids, and inflammatory bowel disease.
        • Theaflavins, found in black tea, act as antioxidants and protect your body’s cells from damaging free radicals, and may also help the body fight cancer, dementia, and HIV, keep the heart healthy and reduce blood levels of low density lipoprotein (LDL) cholesterol.
        • Thearubigins, found in black tea and green tea, act as powerful antioxidants in your body, protect your cells from damaging free radicals, may prevent various health disorders including cancer and diabetes, and may reduce blood levels of low density lipoprotein (LDL) cholesterol.
      • Flavanones are the dominant flavonoid found in citrus fruits. They include:
        • Eriocitrin, found in lemons, prevents oxidative damages caused by acute exercise-induced oxidative stress.
        • Hesperidin, found in lemonsorangesgrapefruittangerines, apricotsplums, bilberry, green and yellow peppersbroccoli, and whole grains, strengthens your blood vessels and and helps prevent hemorrhoids, bruising, and varicose veins, may also have anti-inflammatory effects, may also treat cancer and some autoimmune diseases, may also alleviate hay fever and other similar allergies, and works together with vitamin C to maintain the health of collagen and connective tissues, which prevents sagging and wrinkling of your skin.
        • Naringenin, found in fruits such as grapefruitoranges, and tomatoes, has antioxidant and anti-inflammatory effects, and may be useful in preventing obesity, type 2 diabetes, and heart disease, and in reducing oxidative damage to DNA.
        • Narirutin, found in grapefruitsorangestangerines, and tomatoes (skin), reduces oxidative damage to DNA, reduces hepatitis C virus production by infected liver cells, inhibits the secretion of very-low-density lipoprotein, fights the obesity effects of a high-fat diet, and lowers plasma and hepatic cholesterol concentrations.
        • Tangeretin, found in tangerine peel, lowers cholesterol, fights cancer, and protects the nervous system.
        • Nobiletin, found in tangerines and oranges, prevents the build-up of fat in the liver and the subsequent over productive of insulin due to increasing glucose in the blood, prevents the build-up of arterial plaque which causes heart disease and stroke, eradicates free radicals in the body that can lead to cancer, a compromised immune system, and a weakened body that can make it ripe for the development of diabetes.
        • Eriodictyol, found in peppermint and citrus fruits, might improve hearing and decrease dizziness, nausea, and vomiting in some people with Meniere’s disease.
      • Flavones, mainly found in cereals and herbs, may have beneficial effects against atherosclerosis, osteoporosis, diabetes mellitus, and certain cancers. They include:
      • Isoflavones are a class of phytoestrogens—plant-derived compounds with estrogenic activity that can help relieve many symptoms associated with menopause (such as hot flashes, heart palpitations, and osteoporosis) that result from decreased estrogen levels. Phytoestrogens found in bean sprouts act on certain estrogen-receptors found in the skin, stimulating the synthesis of hyaluronic acid, collagen, and elastin, which are vital components of the skin’s structure, and improves elasticity and reduces moisture loss. They include:
        • Genistein, found primarily in soy and also in other legumes, such as chickpeas, has the strongest estrogenic activity of all the isoflavones, acts as an antioxidant, anti-cancer agent, may help people with metabolic syndrome, protects against osteoporosis, may affect weight loss, and eases menopause symptoms, such as hot flushes.
        • Daidzein, found in soy beans, kudzu, and red clover, protects cells against oxidative damage to DNA, reduces incidences of prostate cancers, works with tamoxifen to protect against breast cancer, seems to reduce the risk for osteoporosis by stimulating the formation of osteoblasts, and may reduce dependence on alcohol.
        • Glycitein, found mostly in soy, has weak estrogenic activity. It may also fight oxidative damage, cancer, atherosclerosis, and osteoporosis.
    • Flavonolignans are natural phenols composed of a part flavonoid and a part lignan.
      • Silymarin, found in milk thistle, has been used to treat liver and gallbladder disorders for over 2000 years, and can prevent or even reverse liver damage caused by alcohol by strengthening the outer membrane of the hepatic cells so that toxins cannot penetrate and by stimulating the liver cells to produce proteins which can help them to regenerate and repair damage.
      • Three flavonolignans derived from the flavone tricin found in oats may have similar benefits, as oats have been traditionally used against rheumatism, gout, and liver and skin diseases and because of their suggested diuretic and sedative effects.
  • Isothiocyanates, found in green tea, grapes, wine, berries, citrus fruits, apples, whole grains, and peanuts, and are also hydrolyzed from glucosinolates, sulfur-containing chemicals in cruciferous vegetables such as raw or lightly steamed broccoli, brussel sprouts, and cabbage when these vegetables are chewed or chopped, breaking the cell membranes and mixing the glocosinolates with the enzyme myrosinase, which is also in the vegetable and in smaller amounts in your intestinal tract. Isothiocyanates stop carcinogens in three different ways: 1) they don’t allow carcinogens to be activated; 2) they counteract the poisonous effects of carcinogens that have been activated; and 3) they speed up their removal from the body.
    • Allyl isothiocyanate, whose glucosinolate precursor, sinigrin, is found in broccoliBrussels sproutscabbagehorseradishmustard, and radish, is anti-fungal and prevents the formation of brain and bladder cancer cells.
    • Benzyl isothiocyanate, whose glucosinolate precursor, glucotropaeolin, is found in cabbage, garden cress, and Indian cress, kills pancreatic cancer cells.
    • Phenethyl-isothiocyanate, whose glucosinolate precursor, gluconasturtiin, is found in watercressnapa cabbage, and horseradish, kills leukemia, prostate, myeloma, hepatoma, and colon cancer cells.
  • Organosulfides help lower cholesterol. They include:
  • Indoles are compounds formed in response to a catastrophic disruption within plant cells. They include:
    • Allicin, a sulphur-containing compound that is formed when species of the genus Allium, which includes chivesgarlicleeksonionsscallionsshallots, and elephant garlic, are crushed, chopped, or chewed, breaking the cells, and mixing their thio-sulfinite antioxidants, such as diallyl disulfide, diallyl trisulfide, allyl propyl disulfide, and alliin with the enzyme, alliinase. Allicin can:
      • Reduce cholesterol production by inhibiting the HMG-CoA reductase enzyme in your liver cells.
      • Inhibit bacterial, viral, and fungal infections in your digestive tract, including Helicobacter pylori, the bacteria responsible for gastric ulcers that increases your risk for stomach cancer.
      • Reduce blood pressure by decreasing blood vessel stiffness by releasing a vasodilator compound, nitric oxide (NO).
      • Block platelet clot formation and provide fibrinolytic (clot-removal) action in your blood vessels, which helps decrease your overall risk of coronary artery disease (CAD), peripheral vascular diseases (PVD), and stroke.
  • Indole-3-carbinol (I3C), metabolized from a substance called glucobrassicin, found in chopped raw or lightly steamed cruciferous vegetables, including watercressmustard greensBrussels sproutshorseradishkaleturnipcabbagebroccolikohlrabibok choy, and cauliflower, is an antioxidant, inhibits cancers of the breast, uterus, colon, lung, and liver, and can stimulate detoxification enzymes in your digestive tract and liver.
  • Glucosinolates, found in broccoli sprouts, cauliflower sprouts, broccoliBrussels sproutscabbage, and cauliflower, which when chewed form sulforaphane, which may stimulate natural enzymes in the liver that help eliminate toxins, help lower blood pressure, and reduce risk of various cancers, such as stomach, colon, esophageal, lung and breast cancers.
  • Other organic acids

In order to achieve the maximum health benefits possible, eat a varied diet high in a variety of vegetables, fruits, whole grains, and beans. Choose brightly colored or strongly flavored vegetables and fruits, which are often the best sources of phytochemicals. And finally, stick to food sources: Fruits and vegetables likely have numerous beneficial phytochemicals that haven’t even been discovered yet, and they are usually in a form that is much more absorbable than those found in supplements.


This blog uses the latest nutritional data available from the USDA (United States Department of Agriculture), and the FDA (United States Food and Drug Administration), as well as nutritional data provided by food growers and manufacturers about their products. We believe the information on this website to be accurate. However, we are not responsible for typographical or other errors. Nutrition information for recipes is calculated by Living Cookbook based on the ingredients in each recipe based on statistical averages. Nutrition may vary based on methods of preparation, origin and freshness of ingredients, and other factors.

This blog is not a substitute for the services of a trained health professional. Although we provide nutritional information, the information on this blog is for informational purposes only. No information offered by or through this blog shall be construed as or understood to be medical advice or care. None of the information on this blog should be used to diagnose or treat any health problem or disease. Consult with a health care provider before taking any product or using any information on this blog. Please discuss any concerns with your health care provider.

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31 thoughts on “Discovering the Pharmacy at the Farmers Market: Phytochemicals in Fruits and Vegetables

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