Seeing the word herb and chemical in the same sentence might make people feel they have stumbled onto a Cheech and Chong bio. However the plants and herbs we are looking at should be included not just for how they can enhance food and recipes but for the health effects that they bring.
"Phyto" is a Greek word meaning plant. These chemicals are what protect plants from threats such as bugs, fungi, germs etc. Keep in mind phytochemicals are not necessary for keeping you alive like vitamins and minerals but they provide us with some really solid health benefits.
It has been shown that plants and herbs with bold, strong and almost bitter flavours can provide the best health benefits. Over the years and through the phases of agriculture man has tended to favor sweeter, milder products for development and growth.
One example is corn. The amount of sweet corn and light coloured corn has taken priority over deeply yellow and darker multi coloured corn has shown our distancing from bolder, stronger flavoured plants. The indigenous populations that existed in North and South America ate a corn that varied in colour from black to blue with very little sweetness to it. With its shorter ears and harder kernels we would even have trouble identifying it as corn today.
Here are 6 of the important phytonutrients
- ellagic acid
Carotenoids give yellow orange and red colours to fruits and vegetables. They are a strong antioxidant and provide the building blocks for your body to make vitamin A which helps with eye health and immune system health
Ellagic acid found in berries like strawberries, pomegranates and raspberries. These may help against cancers
Flavonoids found in a wide variety of plants and are prominent in things like green tea, citrus fruits, apples, onions and grapes. They have cancer fighting properties, high antioxidant profile and can help with the symptoms of asthma
Resveratrol the main compound in grapes and red wine it acts as an antioxidant and antiinflammatory. Some research shows that it might help reduce the risk of heart disease.
Glucosinolates found in cruciferous vegetables like brussels sprouts, kale, broccoli and cabbage. They give these vegetables their sharp odor and flavor. The glucosinolates turn into other chemicals during the cooking process and while you digest these foods. These chemicals may help hold in check the development and growth of cancer
Phytoestrogens good sources are flax seeds and sesame seeds. They can help lower the risk of endometrial cancer and can help lower the risk of bone loss in women.
So try to include as many as these types of foods in your diet, preferably organic varieties. These phytochemicals will then be coming from the good kind of "munchies"...
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