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The Importance of Phytochemicals

Raise your hand if you know what a phytochemical is! I didn’t know the half of it until I read Fat-Phyting Phytochemicals (Sarasota Herald-Tribune, 3/27/12). No, I’m not encouraging you to focus on weight loss. The neat thing about phytochemicals is that they keep you healthy and, as a byproduct, may help you lose weight.

The article describes phytochemicals as “a huge group of nutritious plant-derived compounds and powerful antioxidants found in many fruits, vegetables, beans, cereals, and beverages like tea and red wine.” Eating them in “small, steady amounts from several sources” can actually promote weight loss while enhancing your health. According to Stephen Pratt, MD, these types of foods target total fat mass, drive up fat-burning metabolism, and “mimic the effect of caloric restriction” without negative effects.

Your body has some 40 billion fat cells, about 1/10 of which die each year and are replaced by new ones. Eating a steady diet of various phytochemical-containing foods works en masse to “attack fat cells at different stages of their life cycle—from birth to growth to maturity. Consume a variety of foods rich in these…phytochemicals, and it is possible to prevent new fat cells from developing and growing, and even cause existing ones to die.”

Ingesting lots of phytochemicals to fight fat is far healthier than dieting which may cause cellular inflammation and body stress. By eating these compounds regularly, you reduce the potential for yo-yo weight gain: “Because you interfere with the normal fat cell life cycle, it takes longer for fat cells to accumulate again” which “slows down your body’s natural process of replacing fat cells and thus reduces your change to regain weight.”

Phytochemical super-foods include red wine, peanuts, grapes, blueberries, apples, onions, teas, soy products, garbanzo beans, licorice, flaxseed, whole grains, broccoli, brussel sprouts, cabbage, cauliflower, eggplants, radishes, raspberries, blackberries, cranberries, strawberries, walnuts, carrots, yams, cantaloupe, squash, apricots, red peppers, tomatoes, pink grapefruit, spinach, kale, turnip greens, red clover, and garlic.

For those of you who are practicing “normal” eating and hope gradually to lose weight that stays lost, make sure to eat your fill of phytochemicals. They’ll keep your organs healthy, awaken your taste buds, add variety to your diet, and make you feel proud of yourself for taking such good care of your body. Go phytos!