When experts talk about the health benefits of foods, the word “phytochemicals” often appears. Unfortunately, many people don’t know what phytochemicals are or what they do. Phytochemical is a broad term for chemical compounds that naturally occur in nature, specifically, in fruits and vegetables.

The word chemical has a bad connotation, but really they are simply inorganic substances that are neither vitamins nor minerals. Instead phytochemicals are responsible for the bright color pigmentation or strong aroma of a variety of fruits and veggies.

Despite the confusing title, phytochemicals can actually provide a number of powerful health benefits for your body. Here are just a few phytochemicals and their functions to become familiar with.


Isoflavonoids have estrogen-like properties. Their structure can act as estrogen and block estrogen from entering your cells. This has implications on lowering your risk on certain cancers like ovarian and breast cancer. These compounds also protect against heart disease by reducing blood clotting and cholesterol levels in the blood. Sources of isoflavonoids come from soy derived foods such as edamame and tofu.


Lycopene is famously known as the red pigment in tomatoes, pink grapefruit, watermelon, raspberries and strawberries. Lycopene also contains strong antioxidant properties. Antioxidants reduce the amount of free radicals in your system that damage the integrity of your cells. Lycopene has been shown to reduce your risk of developing prostate cancer.


Saponin is a phytochemical that is known for its ability to foam. It can be found in vegetables, legumes and herbs like onions, peas, garlic and asparagus. Its foaming ability has been studied as to its effects on DNA replication that can prevent cancer cells from multiplying. Saponins also contribute to the immune system by helping the body fight off viruses and parasites.


Flavonoids are found in most plant material. They can be found in foods ranging from orange juice and tea to soy sauce and onions. Research on flavonoids has gained momentum in respect to the French Paradox effect. Red wine contains high levels of flavonoids. The French Paradox suggests that the high intake of red wine and flavonoids by the French could explain why they have lower rates of coronary heart disease than other Europeans - despite the fact that their consumption of cholesterol-rich foods is higher. Many studies have confirmed that one or two glasses of red wine daily can protect against heart disease.

Lutein and Zeaxanthin

These two phytochemicals occur hand-in-hand. Lutein and Zeaxanthin absorb excess light energy in the leaves of plants to prevent UV damage. Interestingly, Lutein and Zeaxanthin also exist in the cornea of your eyes and play a similar role. These two can protect your eyes from macular degeneration and the development of cataracts. They are found in foods such as kale, collard greens, broccoli and spinach.


Capsaicin is a chemical compound that is typically found in chili peppers. It’s the part of the chili pepper that contributes to its spicy characteristic. In herbal medicine, capsaicin is used in topical ointments to relieve pain. Fun fact: plants produce capsaicin to prevent animals from eating it. However, birds are unable to feel the burning sensation and therefore consume the vegetable and spread its seeds.

There’s more to fruits and vegetables than you may know. Beyond macronutrients, vitamins and minerals lie extraordinary chemicals that play into your system and protect you from everyday life.

Author's Bio: 

Bonnie R. Giller is the Founder of BRGHealth.com and DietFreeRadiantMe.com. She helps chronic dieters break free from the pain of dieting and get the healthy body they love by giving them the 3 things they really need to succeed – a healthy mindset, caring support and nutrition education. Get a free copy of her e-book 5 Steps to a Body You Love Without Dieting at http://DietFreeRadiantMe.com .