If you are not eating vegetable salads twice a day, you still do not have the message. Three new studies tell more about helpful chemicals from plants, or phytochemicals.
We know that tomatoes contain a chemical called lycopene that helps prevent prostate and other cancers, and if you take lycopene before you expose your skin to the sun it can even help to prevent sunburns. Your body absorbs lycopene better from cooked tomatoes than from raw ones. A study from the United States Department of Agriculture’s Agricultural Research Service Laboratory in Beltsville, Maryland, reported in Science News, shows that watermelons are an even better source of lycopene and that the lycopene in watermelons is absorbed from fresh (uncooked) watermelon.
The second study, from North Carolina State University, shows that tomatoes contain a powerful insect repellent that forces mosquitos to go the other way. The product is more repulsive to insects than DEET, the standard repellent. It is patented under the name IBI-246 and should be available in a cream within a year. The third study shows that an extract from ginseng root prevents diabetes in mice by sensitizing cells to insulin. (2)
Plants have been on earth for three billion years, and most of them are now extinct. The only plants that have survived have chemicals that repel insects, bacteria, viruses, and fungi; they have antioxidants that help heal broken leaves and stems; and they have substances that prevent overgrowth of cells. Many of these substances that help the plants also help the animals, including humans, that eat them. There will always be entrepreneurs who will extract chemicals from plants and sell them to you. But we don’t know all of the good chemicals in plants. The best strategy is to eat lots of edible plants and vary what you eat. Taking pills will not correct the harm you cause by eating a diet based on hamburgers, French fries, and apple pie.
Phytochemicals that prevent cancer
1) Science News, week of July 22, 2002
2) Diabetes, June 2002