Cassidy School of Medicine University of East Anglia Norwich UK

© 2005 Elsevier Ltd. All rights reserved.

There is a considerable body of evidence to suggest that populations that consume diets rich in fruits and vegetables, whole-grain cereals, and complex carbohydrates have a reduced risk of a range of chronic diseases. This has led to the suggestion that the diversity of substances found in food, particularly plant-derived or plant-based foods, may underlie the protective effects that are attributed to diets high in fruits and vegetables and other plant foods. Although fruits and vegetables are rich sources of micronutrients and dietary fiber, they also contain a wide variety of secondary metabolites, which provide the plant with color, flavor, and antimicrobial and insecticide properties. Many of these substances have been attributed a wide array of properties but have yet to be recognized as nutrients in the conventional sense. Many of these potentially protective plant compounds, termed phytochemicals, are receiving increasing attention. Phytochemicals, also known as phytonutrients, are plant-based compounds that exert numerous physiological functions in mammalian systems. Many of them are ubiquitous throughout the plant and as a result are present in our daily diet. Among the most important classes are the flavonoids, which are classified based on their chemical and structural characteristics. This article focuses on the different classes of phytochemicals and their relationships to human diseases.

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