I think the original reference to "phyto-nutrients" actually refers to the
term "phytochemicals" which are naturally occurring chemical compounds
mostly found in plant foods. They are neither vitamins nor minerals but
really a new nutrient classification, which I think is exciting. They are
significant because they have either proven or suspected cancer-preventive
properties. They seem to work largely by stimulating or suppressing the
production of various enzymes that influence the growth or blockage of
cancer-related cells. Examples are sulforaphane (found in brassica
vegetables - broccoli, cabbage, etc), phytosterols and isoflavones (found
in soybeans and legumes), phytates (found in grains), and allium compounds
(in garlic, leeks, onions). There are many, many more, also found in other
fruit, vegetables and grains. One can see how whole foods offer so much
more than a vitamin pill when it comes to protecting our health. Tablets
will never contain such a complex array of these substances as found in
This is one of the messages that dietitians and public health nutritionists
are trying to get across to the public, that by increasing their
consumption of vegetables and fruits ("Five a Day" campaign) they are
reducing their risk of chronic diseases such as cancer.
I do not know whether organically grown foods are richer in phytochemicals;
I would expect that they are to be found in all plant foods irrespective of
cultivation method; but it would certainly be interesting to learn whether
organically grown methods increase their presence or affect the ratio of
different kinds of compounds present.
You should be able to get more information about phytochemicals from the
American Institute for Cancer Research or World Cancer Research Fund - they
have both just completed a big study called "Food, Nutrition and the
Prevention of Cancer: a Global Perspective." State Extension Service
Nutritionists should also have information about phytochemicals. They
might help with a speaker, too. Hope this is helpful.
Caroline Webber (Registered Dietitian)
Portsmouth, Hampshire, U.K.
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