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The Health Benefits of Phytochemicals


Did you know researchers all over the world have consistently found that people who eat greater amount of fruits and vegetables have lower rates of cancer? Studies have found that those who consumed the most fruits and vegetables were about half as likely to have cancer as those who ate the least. In addition to the vitamins, mineral and fiber found in fruits and vegetables, there are at least a dozen groups of chemicals that are phytochemicals.

Phytochemicals are substances that plants naturally produce to protect themselves against viruses, bacteria and fungi. Research shows that certain phytochemicals protect against cancer, heart disease and other chronic health conditions. Listed below are some of the most common phytochemicals along with their food sources and proposed health benefits.

  • Sulfides (allyl)

  • Food Sources: Garlic, onion, cabbage, broccoli, Brussels sprouts

  • Health Effect: Cancer prevention, suppresses tumor development

  • Capsaicin

  • Food Sources: Hot chili peppers, Thai peppers, jalapenos

  • Health Effect: Cancer prevention, usual pain reliever

  • Carotenoids

  • Food Sources: Carrots, winter squash, sweet potatoes, apricots

  • Health Effect: Antioxidant, heart disease and cancer prevention, improved immune function

  • Bioflavonoids

  • Food Sources: Most vegetables and fruits, licorice, flaxseed, green tea

  • Health Effect: Cancer prevention, lower cholesterol, inhibit bone resorption

  • Ellagic acid

  • Food Sources: Grapes, apples, strawberries, raspberries

  • Health Effect: Heart disease, cancer prevention

  • Isoflavones

  • Food Sources: Soybeans and legumes

  • Health Effect: Cancer prevention, menopause symptom reduction

  • Indoles

  • Food Sources: Cruciferous vegetables such as cauliflower, broccoli, Brussels sprouts, cabbage, bok choy, kale, mustard seeds, radishes

  • Health Effect: Cancer prevention, spur production of an estrogen that protects against cancer of the breast, colon esophagus prostate and lung

  • Isothiocyanates

  • Food Sources: Mustard, radishes, horseradish

  • Health Effect: Cancer prevention

  • Limonoids, Terpenes

  • Food Sources: All citrus fruits especially the rinds

  • Health Effect: Cancer prevention, assist body in protective enzymes

  • Linolenic acid

  • Food Sources: Leafy green vegetables, seeds, flaxseed

  • Health Effect: Heart disease, cancer prevention

  • Lycopene

  • Food Sources: Tomatoes, watermelon, pink grapefruit

  • Health Effect: Cancer prevention

  • Monoterpenes

  • Food Sources: Garlic, parsley, basil, mint, squash, eggplant, citrus, tomatoes, yams, peppers and cucumbers

  • Health Effect: Antioxidant, heart disease, cancer prevention

  • Phenolic acids

  • Food Sources: Garlic, green teas, cereal grains, soybeans, fruit, licorice root, flaxseed

  • Health Effect: Antioxidant, heart disease, cancer prevention

  • Plant sterols

  • Food Sources: Broccoli, cabbage, soy products, peppers, whole grains

  • Health Effect: Cancer prevention

  • Protease inhibitor

  • Food Sources: Soybeans, cereals, beans

  • Health Effect: Delay the formation of cancer cells

  • Sulforphane

  • Food Sources: Broccoli, cabbage, cauliflower, onions, Brussels sprouts

  • Health Effect: Cancer prevention

  • Triterpenoids

  • Food Sources: Soybeans, citrus, carrots

  • Health Effect: Cancer prevention

Written by: Jackie Santiago, Wellness Workdays Dietetic Intern


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