Fruits and vegetables as well as other whole foods contain the plant chemicals, which protect against heart disease, cancer, other diseases
"Eat your fruits and vegetables" is familiar nutritional advice and was no doubt originally intended to encourage people to eat foods that would meet all of their nutritional needs. Now, the science of nutrition has unearthed even more reasons why that advice is indeed beneficial: phytochemicals. Fruits and vegetables as well as other whole foods like nuts, legumes, and whole grains contain phytochemicals that have the ability to alter body processes and protect against heart disease, cancer, and many other chronic diseases.
The word phytochemical means plant chemical. In fact, the term "phyto" comes from the Greek word for "plant." Phytochemicals are organic, non-nutritive, naturally occurring chemicals found in plant foods. Even though they are non-essential nutrients, meaning they are not needed to sustain life, they may prolong life because of their health promotion properties.
PROTECTING PLANTS AND PEOPLE
Phytochemicals are a plant's way of protecting itself. They help shield tender buds and sprouts from predators, the elements, and pollution. These protective compounds are passed along to us when we eat plant foods.
One of the reasons we may like (or don't like) certain foods is because of the phytochemicals they contain. These various compounds give foods their color, taste, and smell. They put the hot in habaneras, the gusto in garlic, the bitterness in broccoli, and the color in carrots. For example, carotenoids give foods their deep red, dark orange, and yellow color while anthocyanins provide the various shades of red, purple, and blue found in other fruits and vegetables.