Drink your milk! Take your vitamins! Get your… phytochemicals?
Phytochemicals are a little-known benefit to some commonly consumed foods. They are the compounds present in all plant matter that provide flavor, odor, and especially color to various plants and flowers. Though many of these foods have not been officially studied in clinical trials, they have been used in folk medicine for centuries for their helpful phytochemical properties, aiding anything from scurvy to menstrual cramps. Here are some everyday foods and some of their phytochemicals, along with their proposed benefits:
This root contains the phytochemical curcumin, an anti-inflammatory. Though the medicinal value of turmeric is still a topic of debate as clinical trials continue to determine its effectiveness, it has been used in traditional Indian medicine for centuries as a treatment for skin ailments. Its anti-inflammatory properties also lend themselves to easing painful menstrual cramps.
Ginger has long been used in traditional folk medicine across the world. Containing the phytochemical gingerol, it is commonly used to treat digestive problems such as constipation and is known as a “stomach settler”. Like turmeric, it has anti-inflammatory qualities, which is why it is so effective as a cough suppressant. Additionally, it is often used to treat symptoms of the common cold. Ginger tea is a great way to stop a bad cough, clear the sinuses during a cold, and, like turmeric, to alleviate symptoms of menstrual cramps.
Along with warding off vampires (an essential for October), garlic provides considerable strengthening for the immune system. It has been used to treat respiratory infection, and is being examined for possible use in reducing cholesterol. Another food hailed for warding off inflammation, garlic is useful for relaxing the body during menstrual cramps, as well as suppressing that pesky abdominal bloating. Garlic also contains a potent phytochemical found in citrus fruits which lends it a surprising amount of vitamin C that aids in boosting immune health.
This natural sweetener is a great alternative to processed sugar and can be safe for use by diabetics, among other benefits. It’s been proposed that stevia can help regulate the digestive tract and help balance blood sugar levels in the body. Some believe that stevia can even soften skin, help smooth wrinkles, and heal blemishes.
Chia seeds -
Chia seeds are amazing little packages of vitamins, minerals, antioxidants and omega-3s. The calcium in chia seeds can be helpful for easing symptoms of menstruation - though dairy is usually a great source of calcium, it can actually worsen things like menstrual cramps. Chia seeds are also an excellent source of complete proteins and can serve as a helpful alternative to protein-rich meat for vegetarians, vegans, and other non-meat eaters.
The herbs oregano, thyme, rosemary, and sage also contain phytochemicals, called monophenols, which have been said to help with inflammation and inhibiting bacteria.
Adding some useful phytochemicals into your daily diet is a simple way to get even more nourishment for your body out of what you eat. Besides, when used in cooking a lot of these foods are just plain delicious!
Alyssa Capel is a sophomore WLP major. This past summer she basically lived at her local
health club between working there and working out. She enjoys writing, reading, drinking coffee,
and exercising her willpower each week as she scoops ice cream for money.