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Filling Your Plate With Fabulous Phytochemicals

What we eat can have a powerful effect on our health and quality of life. Building a diet from health–giving foods requires no doctors' appointments, waiting rooms, or health insurance, yet it provides the fundamental building blocks needed for a healthy immune system.

 

Legumes, fruits, vegetables, and whole grains contain hundreds of disease–fighting and immune–boosting substances called phytochemicals. These substances, along with nutrients in plant foods, are thought to protect against cancer and cardiovascular disease. Many have yet to be discovered.

 

One of the most important ways phytochemicals promote health is as antioxidants. While oxygen is needed by the body, it is also a very unstable molecule if it is damaged in any way. When oxygen is an unstable molecule, it is called a free radical. These free radicals act as oxidants that can damage cells and tissues. Phytochemicals help to repair damage or prevent the damage of these oxidants by acting as antioxidants. Nutrients and phytochemicals that act as antioxidants include vitamin C, vitamin E, selenium, lycopene, lutein, and the carotenoids.

 

Phytochemicals may also inhibit the growth of cancer cells, improve immune function, block carcinogens, and help clear out toxins or other damaging substances, among other actions.

 

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