Phytochemicals , sounds fancy ,what’s the scoop?

About 20 years back photochemicals were all the rage, people learned about the benefits of Lycopene usually associating them with tomatoes.  “Ketchup is good for you now”, I remember hearing my mother say “it prevents heart disease”.  If you have some free time do a quick Google search, and learn how Heinz and the Food and Drug Administration went round and round regarding exactly how they could frame this health claim. You sometimes have to take the food industries claims that a particular food product is beneficial with a grain of salt (sodium chloride), literally and figuratively.  Ketchup is not the only place to find Lycopene.  Another good source for example, is found in watermelon. Ketchup contains about 160mg of sodium per Tablespoon, so if you are watching your blood pressure, ketchup may not be your friend.  In addition to sodium, Ketchup contains about 5g of carbohydrate per Tablespoon. Carbohydrates are anything your body is capable of breaking down and turning into blood sugar.  So just three tablespoons of ketchup can have 15g of carbohydrates compared to a 1 ¼ cup of watermelon on average containing the same amount.  The point I really would like to make is that anytime a manufacturer is touting a particular food as “beneficial” always consider the larger picture.  Phytochemicals  are  indeed thought to be beneficial, and many research studies are being performed on particular types of phytochemicals, and slowly proving the benefits. However if you dig a little deeper you will notice the words May. As in May inhibit cancer cell growth, May inhibit inflammation, May induce detoxification of carcinogens excreta excreta.  Why May and not Does? There are a plethora of reasons, but here are a few;  phytochemicals can be toxic in high amounts. In order to determine the amount, you have to perform studies on mice and then jump through several more hoops which can take a really really long time.  If you study a particular food such as let’s say strawberries, the nutrient  profile is going to be impacted by growing conditions, the date it was picked, and how it was stored. It is next to impossible for researchers to ensure that everyone is getting the exact same thing, which by the way drives them bonkers. This also can lead to a lot of conflicting research studies.  For instance, one study will show benefits and then performed again and may show no benefit. The researchers can’t really be sure that it was actually the phytochemical they were studying or perhaps it was some other nutrient or property in strawberries maybe both that caused the benefit. We as humans are historically unreliable. We don’t show up to eat the strawberries, we eat things before we eat the strawberries when we are told not to , and lastly we all have different genetics that may be responding  differently to the phytochemical and benefit studied.  Another article I read titled it perfectly “Nutrition Science isn’t Broken, It’s just Wicked Hard“.  It will take a lot of studies to change something from May to Does . This is also why when the media latches on to a study and creates a buzz that you should precede with some degree of caution.  You may be just as frustrated as the researchers by now, but we do know that people who have a higher consumption of fruits and vegetables have a reduced risk of cancer as well as other chronic diseases. We just can’t say that it is due to a type phytochemical. Basically, eat your fruit and vegetables. Look at your diet, and ask yourself if you are getting your recommended servings per day, and of course variety variety variety. Phytochemicals can be fun and flashy, and they most likely do have some major benefits, but eating the right balance of nutrition, and making sure half your plate contains fruits and vegetables is the real deal.