Phytochemicals (phyto = Greek for plant) are plant chemicals from whole grain, beans, vegetable, fruit, and nut/seed sources. These chemicals protect the plants from disease and have also proved to augment the body’s defense against disease and aging. Some phytochemicals have shown promise in inhibiting tumor growth while others can stop the chain of events in the body that lead to cancer, heart disease, diabetes, and hypertension. Some phytochemicals have antioxidant properties (protecting against harmful cell damage), anticancer properties (preventing the initiation and promotion of cancer), and anti-estrogen properties.
Consuming a whole foods diet (whole grains, vegetables, beans, fruits, nuts, and seeds of numerous plant foods) will provide a wide mix of phytochemicals. Hundreds of studies have concluded that cancer protection comes from a diverse combination of phytonutrients in the diet and not from isolated nutrients in foods.
It is best to lightly steam or water sauté vegetables in order to preserve the most phytochemicals and antioxidants. When using the steaming method, always bring your water to a rapid boil first, to ensure even heat, then add the steamer basket and cook vegetables until they are tender crisp. When using the water sautéing method, heat broth or water in a skillet first. Once the liquid begins to steam, place the vegetables in the skillet, reduce the heat slightly, cover and sauté until tender crisp stirring occasionally and adding more liquid if necessary. A third method of cooking called “Quick Boiling” is recommended only for spinach, Swiss Chard and beet greens. This is because of the naturally occurring oxalic acids found in these three greens. Cooking these greens in boiling water allows the unwanted acids to be leached out into the water. Remember it only takes a minute or two to cook greens using this method so take care not to overcook them. Be sure to discard the water, don’t drink it or use it for stock. Season your veggies after cooking with your favorite seasonings and if desired, add a drizzle of Extra Virgin Olive Oil (EVOO) to enhance the flavors of your perfectly cooked antioxidant rich vegetables!
Resources: Nature’s Cancer Fighting Foods – Verne Varona
The World’s Healthiest Foods – George Mateljan