Phytochemicals are abundant in fruits and vegetables. These help in building body immunity. Phytochemicals help reduce the risk of cancer and other diseases. Three types of phytochemicals have been identified—carotenoids, polyphenols, and allium compounds.
Carotenoids are abundant in red, yellow, orange, and dark-green colored fruits and vegetables. Polyphenol-rich foods include herbs, spices, vegetables, green tea, apples, and berries. Allium-rich compounds are garlic, onions, leeks, and related vegetables. Many of these vegetables contain antioxidants such as β carotene, selenium, and vitamins C and E. These chemicals reduce the risk of cell damage.
Oxidants are the most common of the cell damage-causing molecules. Oxidants are produced during healthy cellular metabolism. This help modulates inflammation, kill bacteria, detoxify toxins, and maintain good vascular (blood vessel) tone. Excess, unutilized oxidants damage cell membranes, lipids, and DNA. This damage gets repaired by antioxidants obtained from food.
We get exposed to oxidants from external sources too. Smoking, alcohol, certain drugs, deep-fried, and fatty foods are other sources. We get exposed to oxidants through radiation, UV light, heat shock, and strong sunlight. Other oxidant sources are air fresheners as well as vehicular and industrial pollutants. Oxidants interact with antioxidants, destroying these. Diet must have enough surplus antioxidants to counterbalance the loss from oxidants.
Free oxidants not neutralized by antioxidants can cause degenerative diseases such as atherosclerotic heart disease, diabetes, skin ailments, arthritis, neurodegenerative disorders, cancers, etc. Vitamins B and D and calcium in plants and other foods have cancer-preventive properties. Dietary fiber found in whole grains, seeds, legumes, pulses, vegetables, fruit, and products made from these helps easily evacuate stool. Plant-based phytochemical-rich foods help regulate hormones such as estrogen, slow cancer cell growth, and block inflammation.
Cruciferous vegetables such as broccoli, cauliflower, cabbage, related vegetables, lycopene found in tomato products, pink grapefruit, watermelon, and apricots protect against several types of cancers. No single antioxidant molecule has been found that can replace the health benefits generated by a combination of natural phytochemicals found in fruits and vegetables. Consumers need to eat 5–10 servings of a wide variety of fruits and vegetables daily to mitigate the risk of chronic diseases and to meet nutrient requirements essential for optimum health (Liu, 2004).
Dietary phytochemicals act as modulators of cellular signals that trigger proteins that will make cells turn cancerous (Lee et al., 2001). In both preclinical animal models and human studies, dietary phytochemicals were considered cancer-preventive (Lee et al., 2013).
Turmeric (curcumin), red chili (capsaicin), cloves (eugenol), ginger (zerumbone), fennel (anethole), kokum (gambogic acid), fenugreek (diosgenin), black cumin (thymoquinone) contain chemicals—shown in the bracket after each herb—that prevent cancer (Aggarwal et al., 2008).
This is a vast subject, but the above preview is an indicator. You can get the details here. Appended at the end of the book is a substantial bibliography that will be useful who would want to take this research forward.