9 Disease-Preventing Plant Nutrients You Need to Know

1.  Anthocyanins

These natural, health-boosting substances give certain fruits their purple to reddish color. Not only does research show that anthocy­anins have the capacity to boost short-term memory by 100 percent in just eight weeks, they also stimulate the burning of stored fat in the body to be used as fuel. A group of laboratory animals fed a high-fat diet along with anthocyanins gained 24 percent less weight than their counterparts fed only the fatty diet, according to research published in The Journal of Agricultural and Food Chemistry.

Anthocyanins are found in dark purple or red grapes, cherries, and berries, including blueberries, blackberries, raspberries, and strawberries.

2.  Carotenoids
Carotenoids are the yellow, orange, and red pigments found in foods like carrots, sweet potatoes, apricots, mangoes, pumpkin, tomatoes, papaya, peaches, and other similarly colored foods. Dark green veg­etables like broccoli and leafy greens also contain high amounts of carotenoids. You may have heard about beta-carotene, lutein, and lycopene, all of which are specific types of carotenoids. Not only do these nutrients help strengthen our eyesight and boost our immunity to disease, they are powerful antioxidants that help ward off cancer and protect against the effects of aging.

Studies at Harvard University of more than 124,000 people showed a 32 percent reduction in risk of lung cancer in people who consumed a variety of carotenoid-rich foods as part of their regular diet. Another study of women who had completed treatment for early stage breast cancer conducted by researchers at Women’s Healthy Eating and Living (WHEL) found that women with the highest blood concentrations of carotenoids had the least likelihood of cancer recurrence.

3.  Catechins
The full name for these natural plant compounds is catechin poly­phenols. They activate fat-burning genes in abdominal fat cells to assist with weight loss, and belly fat loss in particular. According to research at Tufts University, catechins increase abdominal fat loss by 77 percent and double total weight loss. As if that wasn’t enough reason for most of us to include foods high in catechins like green and black tea and apples in our diet, catechins also improve your body’s ability to use insulin secreted by your pancreas, which prevents blood sugar spikes and crashes involved in plummeting energy levels, cravings, depression, and mood swings.

Scientists have even discovered that epigallocatechin gallate (or EGCG for short), a particular type of catechin found in tea, is 200 times more powerful at eliminating free radicals that damage the skin than vitamin E.

Related: 8 Foods that Fight Fat

4.  Flavonoids
This group of phytonutrients is showing huge promise as miracle heal­ing substances. Found in berries, cherries, currants, pomegranates, red and purple grapes, red onions, tomatoes, bell peppers, apple (skin), and walnuts.

Flavonoids interfere with stages of the development of cancer cells, thereby preventing their ability to keep multiplying. Ellagic acid, a particular type of flavonoid, encourages a healthy rate of a natural process in the body called apoptosis, which is the body’s way of ensuring dam­aged cells are killed so they cannot harm the body. A healthy rate of apoptosis essentially ensures cancer cells are killed by the body.  Ellagic acid also helps stimulate the detoxification enzymes in the liver, thereby helping the liver to eliminate environmental toxins, excess hormones, and food toxins, and perform its hundreds of im­portant functions normally.

The flavonoid resveratrol has been getting a tremendous amount of media exposure lately, due to its powerful ability to protect the brain from damage. Dr. Egemen Savaskan and colleagues at the University of Basel in Switzerland discovered resveratrol in grapes. This compound may even help protect the brain against Alzheimer’s disease. They found that resveratrol protected brain cells from plaque formation linked to the disease by mopping up free radicals. Grapes are currently the best known source of this potent healing substance. While red wine is a good source of resveratrol, its alcohol content can be damaging to brain cells and the liver.

Another group of flavonoids called proanthocyanins have dem­onstrated the unique capacity to protect both the fatty and non-fatty parts of the brain against damage from some environmental toxins. They appear to work by decreasing free radical activity within and between brain cells. Blueberries have some of the highest concentra­tions of these potent antioxidants.

Related: 10 Cancer-Fighting Foods

5.  Lipoic Acid
Lipoic acid is a powerful antioxidant that has the ability to mop up free radicals linked to aging and disease. Additionally, within cells, it has the ability to increase the production of leptin, which appears to stifle the production of the chemical ghrelin linked to increased appetite. In other words, lipoic acid can help turn off hunger pangs. Women taking lipoic acid in scientific studies were found to have lost 5 percent of their body weight within six months.

Lipoic acid has also been shown to power up the energy centres of the cells, called mitochondria, helping them to work more effectively. That means increased energy for you! Researchers at the University of California at Berkeley found that lipoic acid had the ability to double energy levels in their subjects. Lipoic acid is found in plentiful amounts in foods like dark leafy greens, kale, Swiss chard, col­lard greens, and spinach.

6.  Phytoestrogens
Phytoestrogens are plant estrogens, which are natural plant hormones. They play an important role in helping to regulate hormones in the body, thereby reducing the likelihood of hormone-related cancers like breast and prostate cancer, as well as assisting with maintaining a healthy hormone balance during perimenopause (up to a decade prior to menopause) and menopause. Phytoestrogens are naturally found in seeds, grains, some fruits and vegetables, and in higher quantities in soy foods like soymilk, tofu, etc. We’ll discuss more about the pros and cons of soy later in this chapter.

7.  Polyphenols
Found in nuts, berries, and tea, polyphenols are powerful antioxidants with anti-inflammatory properties. Additionally, they are antialler­genic, meaning that they help reduce the biochemical processes that are linked to allergic reactions.

8.  Sulfuraphane
The phytochemical sulfurophane lowers blood levels of cancer-stim­ulating estrogens in the blood in as few as five days, according to the American Institute for Cancer Research. Sulfurophane also halts the growth of cancer cells on contact. For those readers looking to lose weight, this powerful phytochemical can increase weight loss by as much as 22 percent, according to research at Nashville’s Vander­bilt Medical Center. It works by releasing trapped toxins that slow metabolism and increase fat storage within fat cells.

Sulfurophane is found in: broccoli, cabbage, Brussels sprouts, cauliflower, bok choy, and other cruciferous vegetables, as in well as dark leafy greens.

9.  Terpenes
Found in citrus fruits like lemons, limes, oranges, and grapefruits, there are numerous terpenes that offer health benefits, including li­monoids. There are about 40 types of limonoids. Research shows that they have powerful anti-cancer activity and significantly improve the liver’s ability to eliminate toxins we’ve inhaled or ingested, including cancer-causing agents.

While there are thousands of phytonutrients with as many healing properties, they share a common role as nature’s miracle healers. Not only do they help prevent countless diseases and reverse many ill­nesses, they also strengthen immunity, boost energy, improve cellular functioning, slow the aging process, and help restore healthy and balanced weight.

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Heidi Aubrey
Heidi Aubrey3 years ago

Well rounded article.

Ioana Boca
Ioana B.4 years ago

Thanks for the info.

Nona E.
Nona E.4 years ago

Good information. While it may be challenging to remember all the substances and their health goals, it is not difficult to make a list of these foods to take with me when shopping and include them heavily in our diet. Thank you.

Lady Kaira
Lady Kaira4 years ago

Amazing to find that all the foods you've loved while growing up are the ones that are best for you :)

Judy Emerson
Judith Emerson4 years ago

Good to know! Thank you! :D

Nuke P.
Nuke P.5 years ago

useful info, thanks for sharing :)

jane richmond
jane richmond5 years ago


Julianna D.
Juliana D.5 years ago

Thanks for this info.

Alamzeb Akhund
Alamzeb Khan5 years ago


Kha Bliss
Past Member 5 years ago

All the comments are wonderful! Especially washing in vinegar! I love Care2! Always informative!