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The Spotlight on Phytochemicals

When she feels down, Lin takes the herbal St. John’s wort to help pull her out of the doldrums. Whenever she has the option, Serine chooses calcium-fortified foods. Pete swears by creatine in his muscle-building regime. Jim tries a new energy bar with added ginkgo biloba, hoping it will improve his memory. Others in search of better health turn to massage therapy, magnets, macrobiotic diets, homeopathy, acupuncture, and many other practices.

Any trip to the grocery store will tell you that a new era in product development is here—one in which food products are more often touted for what they contain (e.g., soy isoflavones, vitamins and minerals, herbal ingredients) than for what they lack (e.g., fat, cholesterol).

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photo credit :

Beverages, energy bars, and teas marketed as foods sit side by side on the shelf with similar products labeled as dietary supplements. And the market for dietary supplements—which are much more than the simple vitamins and minerals our parents knew,  continues to grow.

So what are functional foods?

Although there is not yet a legal definition for the term, a functional food is widely considered to be a food or food component that provides a health benefit beyond basic nutrition. For example, Garlic contains sulfur compounds that may reduce heart disease risk, and tomato sauce is rich in lycopene, a compound that may reduce prostate cancer risk. The soy protein in tofu and the fiber in oatmeal can help reduce the risk of heart disease.

So when you are selecting foods in the market, it’s good to pay attention and add loads of functional foods to your list. These tend to have phytochemicals in them as well.

What are phytochemicals?

Phytochemicals, are substances in plants that may promote good health, even though they are not essential for life. Phytochemicals are complex chemicals that vary from plant to plant. They include pigments, antioxidants, and thousands of other compounds, many of which have been associated with protection from heart disease, hypertension, cancer, and diabetes. Changing your diet to include more functional foods and fewer empty calories needn’t be painful if you use your imagination. Sometimes you can have your pizza and eat it too. The next time you indulge, ask for a pizza with minimum cheese and maximum vegetables. Whole-wheat crust would be a plus. The combination of lycopene from tomato sauce, quercetin from onions, glucarates from green peppers, and carotenoids from basil and spinach can turn a potential nutritional train wreck into a phytochemical strong house!

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In South East Asia, streetfood is so good and the temptation to indulge hits us at every corner. It is good to stop to consider what we put into our bodies from day to day. Cheat days are fine, so long as at every other opportunity, we douse ourselves with a healthy doses of Phytochemicals and supplement our diets with functional foods. That way we will feel energized for longer, stay disease free and our bodies will thanks us for it in the long run!

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