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Phytochemicals are chemical compounds that occur naturally in plants (phyto means "plant" in Greek). Some are responsible for color and other organoleptic properties, such as the deep purple of blueberries and the smell of garlic. Phytochemicals may have biological significance, for example carotenoids or flavonoids, but are not established as essential nutrients.[1][2][3] There may be as many as 4,000 different phytochemicals.[2]

Phytochemicals as candidate nutrients[edit]

Without specific knowledge of their cellular actions or mechanisms, phytochemicals have been considered possible drugs for millennia. For example, Hippocrates may have prescribed willow tree leaves to abate fever. Salicin, having anti-inflammatory and pain-relieving properties, was originally extracted from the bark of the white willow tree and later synthetically produced to become the staple, over-the-counter drug aspirin.[4][5]

Specific phytochemicals, such as fermentable dietary fibers, are allowed limited health claims by the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA).[1]

Clinical trials and health claim status[edit]

Phytochemical-based dietary supplements can also be purchased.[6] According to the American Cancer Society, "Available scientific evidence does not support claims that taking phytochemical supplements is as good for long-term health as consuming the fruits, vegetables, beans, and grains from which they are taken."[6]

Food processing and phytochemicals[edit]

Phytochemicals in freshly harvested plant foods may be degraded by processing techniques, including cooking.[7][8][9][10][11] The main cause of phytochemical loss from cooking is thermal decomposition.[9]

A converse exists in the case of carotenoids, such as lycopene present in tomatoes, which may remain stable or increase in content from cooking due to liberation from cellular membranes in the cooked food.[12][13] Food processing techniques like mechanical processing can also free carotenoids and other phytochemicals from the food matrix, increasing dietary intake.[9][14]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ a b US FDA, Guidance for Industry: Evidence-Based Review System for the Scientific Evaluation of Health Claims
  2. ^ a b "Fruits and Veggies, More Matters. What are phytochemicals?". Produce for Better Health Foundation. 2014. Retrieved 18 June 2014. 
  3. ^ "Micronutrient Information Center: Phytochemicals". Linus Pauling Institute, Oregon State University, Corvallis, Oregon. 2014. Retrieved 18 June 2014. 
  4. ^ Sneader, W. (2000). "The discovery of aspirin: A reappraisal". BMJ (Clinical research ed.). 321 (7276): 1591–1594. doi:10.1136/bmj.321.7276.1591. PMC 1119266free to read. PMID 11124191. 
  5. ^ Landau E (22 Dec 2010). "From a tree, a 'miracle' called aspirin". CNN. Retrieved 18 June 2014. 
  6. ^ a b "Phytochemical". American Cancer Society. 17 January 2013. Retrieved 1 October 2013. 
  7. ^ Bongoni, R; Steenbekkers, L.P.A; Verkerk, R; van Boekel, M.A.J.S; Dekker, M (2013). "Studying consumer behaviour related to the quality of food: A case on vegetable preparation affecting sensory and health attributes". Trends in Food Science & Technology. 33 (2): 139–145. doi:10.1016/j.tifs.2013.08.004. 
  8. ^ Bongoni, R; Verkerk, R; Steenbekkers, B; Dekker, M; Stieger. "Evaluation of Different Cooking Conditions on Broccoli (Brassica oleracea var. italica) to Improve the Nutritional Value and Consumer Acceptance.". Plant foods for human nutrition. 69: 228–234. doi:10.1007/s11130-014-0420-2. 
  9. ^ a b c Palermo, M; Pellegrini, N; Fogliano, V (2014). "The effect of cooking on the phytochemical content of vegetables". Journal of the Science of Food and Agriculture. 94 (6): 1057–70. doi:10.1002/jsfa.6478. PMID 24227349. 
  10. ^ Liu, RH (2004). "Potential synergy of phytochemicals in cancer prevention: mechanism of action". Journal of Nutrition. 134 (12 Suppl): 3479S–3485S. PMID 15570057. 
  11. ^ Rao, AV; Rao, LG (2007). "Carotenoids and human health". Pharmacological research. 55 (3): 207–16. doi:10.1016/j.phrs.2007.01.012. PMID 17349800. 
  12. ^ Agarwal, A; Shen, H; Agarwal, S; Rao, AV (2001). "Lycopene Content of Tomato Products: Its Stability, Bioavailability and in Vivo Antioxidant Properties". Journal of medicinal food. 4 (1): 9–15. doi:10.1089/10966200152053668. PMID 12639283. 
  13. ^ Dewanto, V; Wu, X; Adom, KK; Liu, RH (2002). "Thermal processing enhances the nutritional value of tomatoes by increasing total antioxidant activity". Journal of Agricultural and Food Chemistry. 50 (10): 3010–4. doi:10.1021/jf0115589. PMID 11982434. 
  14. ^ Hotz, C; Gibson, R. S. (2007). "Traditional food-processing and preparation practices to enhance the bioavailability of micronutrients in plant-based diets". The Journal of Nutrition. 137 (4): 1097–100. PMID 17374686. 

Further reading[edit]

  • Higdon, J. An Evidence – Based Approach to Dietary Phytochemicals. 2007. Thieme. ISBN 978-1-58890-408-9.
  • Rosa, L.A. de la / Alvarez-Parrilla, E. / González-Aguilar, G.A. (eds.) Fruit and Vegetable Phytochemicals: Chemistry, Nutritional Value and Stability. 2010. Wiley-Blackwell. ISBN 978-0-8138-0320-3.
  • Bongoni, R; Steenbekkers, LPA; Verkerk, R; van Boekel, MAJS; Dekker, M (2013). "Studying consumer behaviour related to the quality of food: A case on vegetable preparation affecting sensory and health attributes". Trends in Food Science & Technology. 33 (2): 139–45. doi:10.1016/j.tifs.2013.08.004. 
  • Rao, AV; Rao, LG (2007). "Carotenoids and human health". Pharmacological Research. 55 (3): 207–16. doi:10.1016/j.phrs.2007.01.012. PMID 17349800. 
  • Liu, RH (2004). "Potential Synergy of Phytochemicals in Cancer Prevention: Mechanism of Action". J Nutr. 134 (12): 3479S–85. 

External links[edit]