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Secondary plant substances

We can see, smell, taste and feel them: secondary plant substances, or phytonutrients, are what the little health helpers in fruit, vegetables, pulses and grains are called. Plants need them to survive. And they provide us with the best possible form of natural health protection.

Secondary plant substances

Their protective effects are scientifically proven

In fact, it has now been scientifically proven what scientists have long suspected: secondary plant substances have a range of effects which are beneficial to your health. For example, they can provide protection from viruses, bacteria and fungi – they might even help prevent cancer. They strengthen our immune and circulatory system and have a balancing effect on blood sugar level. Genuine all-rounders that nature provides for us. If you make sure you eat an assortment of fruit and vegetables and plenty of wholemeal products then you are on the right track.

Plenty of variety does you good

With the wide range of secondary plant substances, variety is what we need on the menu. Here’s a summary of the effective health-helpers (often with complicated names) in our food:  


Function and possible effect

contained in, for example

Carotinoids Strengthen the immune system, protect the skin and mucous membranes, provide protection against cancer Tomatoes, carrots, kale, fennel, spinach, chicory, peppers, apricots, mangos, pumpkins
Protease inhibitors Provide protection against cancer Soya beans, potatoes
Glucosinolates Decrease the risk of certain types of cancer Greens, radish, cress, sauerkraut, mustard
Monoterpenes Provide protection against cancer, antimicrobial Citrus fruits, spices such as caraway, aniseed, fennel, coriander, basil
Phyto-oestrogens Provide protection against cancer, circulatory illnesses, lower the cholesterol level Soya beans, avocados, pulses, nuts, sesame seeds, sunflower seeds
Polyphenols Provide protection against cancer, circulatory illnesses, cell damage, infections, inflammation Red cabbage, radishes, red onions, red salads, aubergines, cherries, grapes, plums, strawberries, cocoa, red wine, coffee, black and green tea
Saponins Provide protection against cancer, circulatory illnesses, infections, strengthen the immune system, lower the cholesterol level Oats, pulses, asparagus, spinach
Sulphides Provide protection against cancer, circulatory illnesses, cell damage, infections, inflammation, indigestion Garlic, onions, leeks, chives

Source: “Gesund mit Obst und Gemüse” [“Healthy with fruit and vegetables”], AID booklet (2004) Secondary plant substances

Quantity makes all the difference

How many portions of fruit and vegetables have you eaten today? Experts recommend eating at least 3 portions of vegetables and 2 portions of fruit every day to take advantage of all the health benefits. If you prefer juice, you can also drink fruit and vegetable juices. Replace one of the five daily portions with a glass of fruit or vegetable juice. If at all possible, try to eat a small portion of vegetables, salad or fruit at every meal.