Environmentally Friendly Food, Its Phyto-Power and Benefits


Fruits and vegetables contain naturally occurring biologically active chemicals known as phytochemicals. “Phyto” is a Greek word meaning plant and phytochemicals are usually related to plant pigments. It gives plants their colour, flavour, smell and texture. Therefore fruits and vegetables that are bright in colour (such as yellow, blue, orange, red, green, blue and purple) in general contain the most phytochemicals. These colours or pigments (which are non-nutritive plant chemicals) protect plants from solar radiation, injury, stress, and diseases.

Recently scientists have demonstrated that phytochemicals in fruits and vegetables posse’s properties that can help reduce the risk of many human diseases including several common cancer, cardiovascular disease, diabetes, premature aging, and blood pressure etc. The ability of phytochemicals to reduce the risk of diseases is sometimes referred to as ‘phyto-power’. Until now more than 900 phytochemicals have been identified. This article briefly reviews the benefits of consuming some selected foods.

Tomatoes, in particular red ripe tomatoes are extremely high with compound lycopene (a red pigment) which has antioxidant properties. Researchers believe that lycopene can reduce the risk of prostate cancer and heart disease. Lycopene is also found in red peppers. Cruciferous vegetables such as broccoli are a unique source of glucosinolates which has anti-carcinogenic properties. A recent research shows that broccoli consumption may reduce the risk of prostate, lung and colon cancer. Sweet potatoes are loaded with beta-carotene which may help slow the ageing process, reduce the risk of certain type of cancer, improve lung function, and reduce complication associated with diabetes (note : sweet potato has a low Glycemic Index or GI ).

Garlic is packed with unique allicin and sulphur compounds, the health benefits of garlic consumption cited in the journals are anticancer, antibiotic, lowering cholesterol and blood pressure. It can also help to reduce the risk of stroke and heart diseases and may enhance the immune function.

Extra virgin olive oil (the least processed forms) is high with phenolic compounds such as hydroxytyrosol and oleuropein. Scientists believe that olive oil can reduce the risk of blood pressure, cholesterol and cancer.

Most teas contain flavanols, commonly known as catechins. Green tea (process by drying or steaming) is rich in catechins (catechins components in green tea is 30-42% compared to 3-10% in black tea). Researchers believe that consumption of green tea may help decrease the risk of breast cancer and cardio vascular disease (CVD) and may significantly lowers cholesterol.

The skins of dark-coloured grapes (red, purple), red grape juice and the concentrated red wines are rich with resveratrol. There is growing evidence that reseveratrol may reduce the risk of heart disease, cancer, blood clots and stroke. USDA research found that the wild blueberries contain highest antioxidants than any other fruit and vegetables and it has exhibited some of the greatest anticancer activity of all the berries examined.  Blue berries have anti-ageing effects and can also help prevent urinary tract infections. Anthocyanins in blue berries may also help to reduce eye strain, control diabetes, and improve circulation. 

The National Cancer Research Institute has recommended that people should eat at least four to five servings of fruits and vegetables a day since they are packed with naturally occurring phytochemicals. Research conducted further reveals that maximum benefits of phytochemicals lies of eating ripened or matured fruits and vegetables. Fruits and vegetables bought from local supermarkets may posses less phytochemicals since for the sake of marketing and long distance transport they may have been picked up before they are matured or ripen. It is therefore suggested to grow fruits and vegetables in your backyard as a more environmentally friendly manner such as using kitchen waste as compost. This will help to produce and supply beneficial fruits and vegetables enriched with phytochemicals and would allow picking them up when they are mature or ripen. Growing of fruits and vegetables in backyards would also provide pleasure, enjoyment and interaction with environment.


§          Bidlack, W.R., Omaye, S.T., Meskin, M.S. and Topham, D.K.W. (2000). Phyotochemicals as Bioactive Agents. Technomic Publishing Company Inc. USA. 274p.

§          Craig, W. J. (2002). Phytochemicals : Guardian of our health. http://www.andrews.edu/NUFS/phyto.html

§          http://www.wildberries.com/englishnews.php : USDA and the University of Illinois scientists see anti-ageing cancer fighting properties in wild blueberries.

§          Msekin, M.S., Bidlack, W. R., Davies, A.A., Lewis, D. S and Randolph, R. K. (2004). Phytochemicals-Mechanisms of Action. CRC Press, Florida

§          Pfannhauser, W., Fenwick, G.R., and Khokhar, S. (2001). Biologically-active phytochemicals  in food. Analysis, metabolism, bioavialbility and function. The Royal Society of Chemistry, Cambridge, U.K. 616p

The information was compiled by Golam Kibria, Ph.D in June 2006 for http://www.sydneybashi-bangla.com/ . Views expressed in this article are those of the author and are not to be taken to be the views of any others including third parties. The author disclaims any liability for any error, loss or other consequences which may arise from relying on any information in this article.  Dr Golam Kibria  is a Senior Environmental Scientist with the Australia’s largest Rural Water Authority and based in Victoria

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