Other protective nonnutrients in foods

Some non-nutrient compounds present in plant foods have potentially protective effects other than as antioxidants. The actions of these compounds include:

  • inhibition of cholesterol synthesis or absorption, which is potentially beneficial with respect to atherosclerosis;
  • decreased metabolic activation and/or increased conjugation and excretion of potentially carcinogenic compounds;
  • anti-oestrogenic actions that may be beneficial with respect to hormone-dependent cancer of the breast and uterus.

Collectively, these potentially protective non-nutrients in plant foods are known as phytochemicals or phytoceuticals. They are not classified as nutrients because they do not have a clear function in the body, and deficiency does not lead to any specific lesions. Nevertheless, they are important in the diet, and provide a sound basis for increasing intake of fruits and vegetables, quite apart from the beneficial effects of increased intake of non-starch polysaccharides, vitamins and minerals and reduced intake of fat (and especially saturated fat).

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