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The Phytochemical Glossary

Here is a list of terms used in phytochemical research.

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- A -

Acorn squash: Carotenoids.

Alfalfa sprouts: In one study, their antioxidant activity against two specific free radicals was shown to be relatively high (46).

Almonds: One of the richest sources of alpha-tocopherol vitamin E. Phytosterols; high in monounsaturated fats; dietary fiber (with skin).

Apples: Quercetin and kaempferol (flavonols); dietary fiber (including peel).

Apricots: Beta carotene. Dried are an especially rich source.

Artichokes: Silymarin (flavonoid), modest carotenoids, vitamin C.

Asparagus: Modest source of the carotenoids lutein, zeaxanthin and beta carotene; glutathione; folic acid. Modest source of alpha-tocopherol vitamin E.

Avocados: High in monunsaturated fat, modest source of alpha-tocopherol vitamin E.

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Bananas: Fiber. One South American study of vegetables, fruits and colon cancer risk showed bananas to be the most protective (47).

Beans: Flavonoids, dietary fiber, saponins, protease inhibitors.

Beets: In one study, their antioxidant activity against two specific free radicals was shown to be moderately high (46).

Beet greens: The carotenoids beta carotene, lutein and xeazanthin.

Bell peppers: Good source of plant phenols, especially coumarins, and terpenes. Also contain glucarates, vitamin C. Reds are a moderately good source of flavonoids and some carotenoids, especially lutein and zeaxanthin. In one study, reds also showed moderately high antioxidant activity against one kind of free radical (46).

Berries: Quercetin and kaempferol (flavonols), some carotenoids.

Blackberries: Fair amount of ellagic acid (although its bioavailability is questionable).

Blueberries: Caffeic and ferulic acid (phenolic acids).

Bok choy: A cruciferous vegetable. Rich in dithiolthiones, isothiocyanates, flavonoids and organosulfides. It also contains glucarates, terpenes and phenolic compounds such as coumarins.

Brazil nuts: Vitamin E, selenium.

Broccoli: A cruciferous vegetable. Organosulfides, flavonoids, indoles, dithiolthiones, isothiocyanates, carotenoids (highest concentration in the leaves, more in the florets than the stems), quercetin and keampferol (flavonols), glucarates, terpenes, phenolic compounds such as coumarins, protease inhibitors, vitamin C, dietary fiber and selenium. Modest source of alpha tocopherol vitamin E. Cooking may increase the accessibility of the carotenoids and indoles. In one study, its antioxidant activity against two specific free radicals was fairly high (46). Calcium from broccoli is better absorbed than from milk (48).

Brussels sprouts: A cruciferous vegetable. Rich in organosulfides, dithiolthiones, isothiocyanates, flavonoids, protease inhibitors and vitamin C. Modest source of the carotenoids lutein and zeaxanthin. They also contain glucarates, coumarins and other phenolic acids, and terpenes. In one study, their antioxidant activity against two specific free radicals was high (46).

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- C -

Cabbage: A cruciferous vegetable. Indoles, dithiolthiones, isothiocyanates, flavonoids, organosulfides, glucarates, coumarins and other phenolic acids, terpenes, selenium and vitamin C. Chinese (Napa) cabbage is relatively high in absorbable calcium.

Canola oil: Monounsaturated fats, vitamin E. A non-fish source of essential fatty acids, from which omega-3s are derived.

Cantaloupe: Beta carotene, vitamin C.

Caraway: Monoterpenes in seeds and oil.

Carrots: Carotenoids (major dietary contributor of both alpha carotene and beta carotene), plant phenols (especially flavonoids), terpenes.

Cashew nuts: Phytosterols.

Cauliflower: A cruciferous vegetable. Rich in indoles, dithiolthiones, isothiocyanates, flavonoids and organosulfides. It also contains glucarates, coumarins and other phenolic compounds, terpenes and vitamin C.

Celery: Phenolic compounds (especially flavonoids and coumarins), terpenes. Also the carotenoids lutein and zeaxanthin.

Cereal grains: Many phenolic compounds (especially flavonoids and coumarins), glucarates, carotenoids and terpenes. Corn, wheat, oats, rice and barley are moderately good sources of phytic acid. Wheat germ oil is one of the richest sources of vitamin E.

Cherries: Quercetin and kaempferol (flavonols), perillyl alcohol.

Chile peppers: Modest source of carotenoids, especially lutein and zeaxanthin, some beta carotene. Vitamin C.

Chives: Organosulfides, modest source of the carotenoids lutein and zeaxanthin. Richer source: dried or dehydrated.

Citrus fruits: Contain flavonoids (sometimes referred to as bioflavonoids, an older research term), limonene and perillyl alcohol, glucarates, carotenoids, coumarins and teriterpenes, vitamin C.

Cloves: Contain vanillin, a phenolic acid.

Collard greens: A cruciferous vegetable. The carotenoids lutein and zeaxanthin. Also beta carotene. In one study, eating a lot of collard greens or spinach was associated with reduced risk of the leading cause of blindness over 65 (23). Also, dithiolthiones, isothiocyanates, flavonoids, organosulfides, glucarates, coumarins and other phenolic compounds and terpenes.

Corn: Phytosterols, protease inhibitors, modest source of the carotenoids lutein and zeaxanthin.

Cottonseed oil: Vitamin E, about equally divided between alpha- and gamma-tocopherol.

Cranberries: Ellagic acid (though it’s not readily absorbed), rich source of other flavonoids.

Cruciferous vegetables: These include bok choy, broccoli, brussels sprouts, cabbage, cauliflower, collard greens, kale, kohlrabi, mustard greens, rutabaga, turnips, watercress. All are rich in isothiocyanates, flavonoids and organosulfides. They also contain glucarates, coumarins and other phenolic compounds, and terpenes. In one study, many members of the family showed high antioxidant activity against two specific free radicals (46).

Cucumbers: Protease inhibitors, phenolic compounds.

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Dill: Monoterpenes, moderate carotenoids.

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Eggplant: Good source of phenolic compounds (especially flavonoids and coumarins) and monoterpenes. Also glucarates and teriterpenes.

Endive: Flavonoids, also the carotenoids lutein and zeaxanthin, plus beta carotene.

Escarole: The carotenoids lutein and zeaxanthin, plus beta carotene.

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Fennel bulb: Moderate beta carotene.

Fenugreek: Coumarins (phenolic compounds).

Flax seed: Extremely rich source of lignans. Also flavonoids, coumarins and other phenolic compounds. The oil is a non-fish source of essential fatty acids, from which omega-3s are derived.

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Garlic: Organosulfides (notably diallyl sulfide and allyl methyl trisulfide), which may be destroyed by heat. Also phenolic acids, monoterpenes. Garlic shows strong antibacterial activity. In one study, it had the highest antioxidant activity by weight against one kind of free radical (46).

Grapefruit: Along with other citrus fruits, contains the most biologically active of the flavonoids, as well as the monoterpene limonene. Also vitamin C, glucarates, carotenoids, coumarins and other phenolic compounds. Pink grapefruit is moderately high in lycopene.

Grapes: Flavonoids, also caffeic, ferulic and ellagic acids (phenolic acids), and resveratrol, a phenolic fungicide. Ellagic acid may not be absorbed.

Guava: Lycopene.

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Hazelnuts: Rich in monounsaturated fat; vitamin E.

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- K -

Kale: A cruciferous vegetable. Extremely rich in the carotenoids lutein and zeaxanthin, less beta carotene. A good source of quercetin and kaempferol (flavonols). Rich in dithiolthiones, isothiocyanates, other flavonoids and organosulfides. It also contains glucarates, coumarins and other phenolic compounds, terpenes and vitamin C. In one study of 22 vegetables and green and black tea, the antioxidant activity of kale against two specific free radicals was among the highest (46). Calcium from kale better absorbed than from milk (48).

Kiwi: Vitamin C.

Kohlrabi: A cruciferous vegetable. Rich in dithiolthiones, isothiocyanates, flavonoids and organosulfides. It also contains glucarates, coumarins and other phenolic compounds, and terpenes.

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- L -

Leeks: Organosulfides, some carotenoids.

Legumes: A lesser source of isoflavones, rich in dietary fiber.

Lemons: Along with other citrus fruits, contain the most biologically active of the flavonoids, as well as the monoterpenes limonene and perillyl alcohol. Also vitamin C, glucarates, coumarins and other phenolic compounds, and teriterpenes.

Lentils: Selenium, fiber, protease inhibitors, folic acid.

Lettuce: A moderately good source of flavonoids.

Licorice root: Phenolic compounds, especially flavonoids.

Lima beans: Rich in phytic acid.

Limes: Along with other citrus fruits, contain the most biologically active of the flavonoids, as well as the monoterpenes limonene and perillyl alcohol. Also vitamin C, glucarates, coumarins and other phenolic compounds, and teriterpenes.

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- M -

Macadamia nuts: In one small study, macadamia nuts neither raised nor lowered total cholesterol, but did improve the LDL:HDL ratio (49).

Mango: Beta carotene and cryptoxanthin (another carotenoid), vitamins C and E.

Mustard: Curcumin (phenolic compound).

Mustard greens: A cruciferous vegetable. Rich in dithiolthiones, isothiocyanates, the carotenoids lutein and zeaxanthin, some beta carotene, flavonoids and organosulfides. They also contain glucarates, coumarins and other phenolic acids, terpenes and vitamin C. Its calcium is absorbed more efficiently than the calcium in milk (48).

Mustard oils: Contain compounds that break down into indoles and isothiocyanates during processing, cooking and chewing (5).

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- N -

Nectarine: The carotenoid cryptoxanthin.

Nuts: Phytosterols, vitamin E, unsaturated fats.

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Oats: Caffeic and ferulic acids, dietary fiber, phytic acid.

Okra: A good source of the carotenoids lutein and zeaxanthin; folic acid.

Olive oil: High in monounsaturated fats; vitamin E as alpha-tocopherol, some carotenoids.

Onions: Quercetin and kaempferol (flavonols), organosulfides, glutathione. But white onions contain almost no quercetin.

Oranges: Along with other citrus fruits, contain the most biologically active of the flavonoids, as well as the monoterpenes limonene and perillyl alcohol. Also vitamin C, glucarates, mixed carotenoids, coumarins and other phenolic compounds and teriterpenes. Canned Mandarin oranges are especially rich in the carotenoid cryptoxanthin.

Orange peel: The oil is the most abundant source of limonene. Orange oil is 90% to 95% limonene by weight.

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Papaya: Excellent source of the carotenoid cryptoxanthin and vitamin C.

Parsley: Flavones, rich in the carotenoids lutein and zeaxanthin, also beta carotene.

Parsnips: Phenolic compounds (especially flavonoids). Also carotenoids and terpenes.

Peaches, dried: Beta carotene and cryptoxanthin (another carotenoid). Peaches are modest vitamin E source, as alpha-tocopherol.

Peanuts: Phytosterols, resveratrol.

Peas: Modest source of carotenoids; dietary fiber.

Pecans: Vitamin E.

Pistachio nuts: Rich in monounsaturated fat.

Potatoes: Vitamin C, the flavone aglycones (a plant phenol), glutathione. One study found the antioxidant activity of potatoes nearly comparable to broccoli (50). Potato peel contains quercetin, chlorogenic acid and protease inhibitors, as well as dietary fiber.

Prunes: Caffeic and ferulic acids, fiber.

Pumpkin: Beta carotene, alpha carotene and other carotenoids, phenolic compounds.

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Radishes: Protease inhibitors, flavonoids.

Romaine lettuce: A fair source of lutein and zeaxanthin, modest beta carotene.

Rosemary: Rosemary extract used in studies shows strong antioxidant properties, some of which may come from carnosol (51).

Rutabagas: A cruciferous vegetable. Rich in dithiolthiones, isothiocyanates, flavonoids and organosulfides. They also contain glucarates, coumarins and other phenolic compounds, and terpenes.

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Safflower oil: Vitamin E (predominantly alpha-tocopherol with some gamma), phytosterols.

Sage: Monoterpenes.

Sesame seeds: Rich in phytosterols. Richest source of phytic acid.

Shallots: Organosulfides.

Soybeans (and soyfoods): Genistein and daidzein (isoflavonoids); particularly rich in saponins; other plant phenols such as flavonoids, courmarins, and caffeic and ferulic acid; lignans, carotenoids; terpenes; protease inhibitors; phytosterols; phytic acid (inositol hexaphosphate); dietary fiber. The oil is a non-fish source of essential fatty acids, from which omega-3s are derived. One of the richest sources in the American diet of gamma-tocopherol vitamin E because so many margarines, salad dressings and packaged baked goods rely on soybean oil. Soyfoods include soy milk, tofu and tempeh. Soy milk is made from pureed soybeans and water. Tofu is made from curdled soyfmilk. Tempeh is fermented soybeans--sometimes grains are added.

Spearmint: Monoterpenes in the oil.

Spinach: Rich source of the carotenoids lutein and zeaxanthin; also a good beta carotene and vitamin C source. Modest source of alpha-tocopherol vitamin E. Protease inhibitors; folic acid. In one study, eating a lot of spinach or collard greens was associated with reduced risk of the leading cause of blindness over 65 (23).

Squash: Phenolic compounds. Winter squash is relatively high in beta carotene. Yellow squash and spaghetti squash are modest carotenoid sources.
Strawberries: Ellagic acid (which isn’t well absorbed), moderately good source of the flavonols quercetin and kaempferol, vitamin C.

String beans: Modest source of the carotenoids lutein, zeaxanthin and beta carotene.

Sunflower seeds: Phytosterols. Very high in vitamin E (the oil, too); the predominant form is alpha-tocopherol but also substantial gamma-tocopherol.

Sweet potatoes: Beta carotene, some vitamin E.

Swiss chard: Rich in the carotenoids lutein and zeaxanthin, a good source of beta carotene.

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Tangerines: Flavonoids, coumarins and the carotenoid cryptoxanthin.

Tea: Green tea is a good source of phenolic compounds, including the flavonols quercetin and kaempferol. One flavonoid, catechins, accounts for up to 30% of the dry weight of green tea; after processing, little remains in black tea. Also glucarates, coumarins. In one study, the antioxidant activity of both black and green teas was higher against two specific free radicals than the activity of 22 vegetables. But they both showed pro-oxidant activity in the presence of copper(46).

Thyme: Rich in flavones.

Tomatoes: Rich source, along with tomato products, of the carotenoid lycopene, which gives tomatoes their red color. It is best absorbed from processed products, such as tomato sauce or paste, that are combined with a little oil. Vitamin C. Moderately good source of phenolic compounds (especially flavonoids), terpenes.

Turmeric: The yellow-colored spice contains curcumin (phenolic compound).

Turnips: A cruciferous vegetable. Rich in dithiolthiones, isothiocyanates, flavonoids and organosulfides. They also contain glucarates, coumarins and other phenolic compounds, and terpenes.

Turnip greens: Isothiocyanates and indoles. Rich source of the carotenoids lutein and zeaxanthin, plus beta carotene. The calcium in turnip greens is absorbed more effectively than from milk (48).

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- V-

Vanilla bean: Vanillin, a phenolic acid.

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Walnuts: Non-fish source of essential fatty acids, from which omega-3s are derived. Ellagic acid (not readily absorbed); vitamin E, phytosterols.

Watercress: A cruciferous vegetable. Rich in the carotenoids lutein and zeaxanthin. Also beta carotene, dithiolthiones, isothiocyanates, flavonoids and organosulfides. They also contain glucarates, coumarins and other phenolic compounds, and terpenes.
Watermelon: Lycopene, phenolic compounds.

Wheat: Phytic acid, dietary fiber, phytosterols.

Wheat germ: Vitamin E. Wheat germ oil is one of the richest sources of vitamin E. Also phytosterols.

Wild rice: Phytic acid.

Wine: Flavonoids, tannins (phenolic acids). Red wine is a good source of the flavonols quercetin and kaempferol.

 

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Primary sources: Steinmetz and Potter, "Vegetables, fruit, and cancer prevention: A review," Journal of the American Dietetic Association 1996; Dwyer, "Is There a Need to Change the American Diet?" presentation, "Dietary Phytochemicals in Cancer Prevention and Treatment," 1996; U.S. Department of Agriculture-National Cancer Institute Carotenoid Food Composition Data Base: Version I, 1993; Pennington: Bowes & Church’s Food Values of Portions Commonly Used, 16th edition. For other sources, see Bibliography.

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