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Phytochemicals are chemical compounds produced by plants, generally to help them thrive or thwart competitors, predators, or pathogens.Phytochemicals, also referred to as phytonutrients, are found in fruits, vegetables, whole grains, legumes, beans, herbs, spices, nuts, and seeds and are classified according to their chemical structures and functional properties.


Phytochemical benefits include the following:

Anticancer activities:
Block tumour formation
Reduce cell proliferation
Reduce oxidative damage to DNA
Repair DNA damage
Induce enzyme systems that help rid the body of carcinogens (cancer-causing substances)

Antioxidant activities:
Neutralise free radicals, which damage vital components of cells, including DNA

Anti-estrogenic and weak estrogenic activities :
Anti-estrogenic effects may reduce the risk of hormone-related cancers
Weak estrogenic effects could help maintain bone density and improve blood cholesterol levels

Anti-inflammatory activities:
Antibacterial, anti-fungal and antiviral activities:

Cardiovascular protective activities:
Decrease damage to blood vessel walls
Decrease oxidation of LDL cholesterol
Decrease platelet stickiness
Increase blood flow
Lower blood pressure
Reduce blood cholesterol levels
Reduce blood clot formation
Slow cholesterol synthesis

Immune-enhancing activities:
Increase activity of cells that protect the body from microoragisms that cause disease
Modulation of cell-signaling pathways, which regulate the growth, division and death of cells

Prevention of macular degeneration and cataracts
Prevention of motion sickness
Prevention of osteoporosis


Phytochemical's, Class & subclass type, their sources and activities:


Phenols and polyphenols




Carnosol: Food sources: Rosemary

Activities: Antioxidant, anti-inflammatory, anticancer

Carvacrol : Food sources: Oregano, thyme

Activities: Antibacterial


Flavonoids (Polyphenols):

Anthocyanins: Food sources: Purple/Blue foods such as blackberries, black currants, blueberries, cherries, plums

Activities: Antioxidant


Flavones (such as Apigenin, Luteolin and Tangeritin): Food sources: Celery, parsley, thyme

Activities: Beneficial effects against atherosclerosis, certain cancers, diabetes, osteoporosis


Flavonols (such as kaempferol, myricetin and quercetin):  Food sources: Apples, berries, broccoli, cherries, green tea, onions, red wine

Activities: Anticancer, antihypertensive, anti-inflammatory, antimutagenic


Flavan-3-ols (such as Cathechins, Epicatechins and proanthocyanidins):  Food sources: Dark chocolate, grapes, green tea, red wine, white tea

Activities: Antitumor, anticardiovascular disease activity


Flavanones (such as Eriodictyol, Hesperetin and Naringenin): Food sources: Citrus fruits

Activities: Antiallergenic, anticancer, anti-inflammatory, antimicrobial


Isoflavones (such as Coumestrol, Daidzein, Genestein and Glycitein): Food sources: Soybeans, soybean products

Activities: Exert weak pro- and antiestrogenic effects


Phenolic acids:


Capsaicin: Food sources: Chiles

Activities: Analgesic, anti-inflammatory, possible antitumor


Curcumin: Food sources: Turmeric

Activities: Anticancer, anti-inflammatory, antioxidant, wound healing


Ellagic acid: Food sources: Berries, grapes, nuts, pomegranates

Activities: Anticancer


Salicylic acid: Food sources: Almonds, certain spices, fruits, peanuts, some vegetables

Activities: Anticancer, anticardiovascular disease


Tannic acid or tannins (such as gallic acid): Food sources: Tea and red wine

Activities: Antioxidant (note: tannins reduce the absorption of trace minerals, particularly non-heme iron)


Vanillin: Food sources: Vanilla beans, cloves

Activities: Antioxidant


Zingerone (Metabolized from Gingerol): Food sources: Ginger

Activities: Anti-inflammatory, antioxidant, antinausea


Hydroxycinnamic acids:

Caffeic acid: Food sources: Coffee, some vegetables and fruits

Activities: Antimicrobial


Coumaric acids:  Food sources: Basil, carrots, grapes, green peppers, peanuts, pineapple, strawberries, tomatoes, turmeric, wine

Activities: Anticancer, antioxidant


Ferulic acid: Food sources: Cereal brans, cumin

Activities: Antioxidant



Resveratrol: Food sources: Grapes, peanuts, red wine

Activities: Antioxidant, antihrombotic, inhibits carcinogenesis



Lariciresinol, Matairesinol, Pinoresinol and Secoisolariciresinol: Food sources: Beans, grains, seeds (flax, pumkpin and sesame), some vegetables and fruits

Activities: Antioxidant, phytoestrogenic


Terpenes and terpenoids


Alpha-Carotene: Food sources: Orange and yellow vegetables

Activities: Antioxidant, immune system enhancer


Beta-carotene: Food sources: Green leafy vegetables, orange and yellow vegetables

Activities: Antioxidant, immune systen enhancer


Beta-Cryptoxanthin: Food sources: Orange and red fruits and vegetables

Activities: Antioxidant, immune system enhancer


Lutein: Food sources: Dark green leafy vegetables

Activities: Filters out harmful light, protects against macular degeneration


Lycopene: Food sources: Red grapefruit, tomatoes, watermelon

Activities: Reduces risk of prostate cancer, may inhibit all cancer cell growth


Zeaxanthin: Food sources: Corn, dark green leafy vegetables

Activities: Filters out harmful light, protects against macular degeneration




Limonoids: Food sources: Citrus fruits

Activities: Cardioprotective, induces enzyme systems required for detoxification of carcinogens



Beta-Sitosterol, Campesterol, Stigmasterol: Food sources: Corn, dark chocolate, legumes, nuts, seeds, soybeans, vegetable oils, whole grains

Activities: Reduces cholesterol absorption and total and LDL cholesterol



Saponins: Food sources: Legumes, especially herbs, soybeans, vegetables

Activities: Anticancer, antioxidant, cholesterol lowering, immune-enhancing


Thiols (Organosulfur Compounds)



Indoles (such as indolyl-3-carbinol): Food sources: Cruciferous vegetables

Activities: Anticancer, favorably influences estrogen metabolism


Isothiocyanates (such as Sulforaphane): Food sources: Cruciferous vegetables

Activities: Anticancer, potent inducers of Phase 2 enzymes




Ajoenes, Allicin, Allylic sulfides, Vinyl dithiins: Food sources: Allium vegetables

Activities: Antibacterial, anticancer, antifungal, antiviral, cardioprotective


Although colourful fruits and vegetables are the phytochemical champions, legumes, nuts, seeds, grains, spices and teas all deserve an honourable mention. The benefits of phytochemical seem to be much more pronounced when we consume whole plant based foods rather than supplements, as the natural combination of beneficial compounds in a whole food appears to have a synergistic effect.


By | 2018-11-11T19:13:36+00:00 November 11th, 2018|Nutritional Science|Comments Off on Phytochemicals