Phytochemicals are the new stars a healthful diet. Here's how to get enough.

THEY'RE NOT VITAMINS. Theire not minerals. But some experts say "phytochemicals"—unique plant chemicals in fruits and vegetables—are essential in boosting health and preventing diseases, including heart disease and cancer. You'll have no trouble finding them:

One chemist says Americans eat 15 times more antioxidant phytochemicals than they do antioxidant vitamins like E and C. Antioxidants, you'll recall, prevent cellular damage that leads to disease and aging.

Here's the latest scientific news on six super disease-fighting phytochemicals and where to find them. If you eat a serving a day of what's listed below, you'll meet the National Cancer Institute's recommendation to eat at least five fruits and vegetables a day. If you add a variety of other plant foods to make it nine a day, you should be in great shape.

IN GARLIC, ALLICIN FIGHTS THE FLU. Garlic is packed with unique allicin and sulfur compounds, odoriferous chemicals released when garlic is crushed. Virtually , it, all garlic's antibiotic and anti-viral activity against infectious diseases such as colds and the flu comes from allicin, says Larry D. Lawson, a leading garlic authority and a researcher at Nature's Way Products. Allicin is the main reason garlic tends to lower blood cholesterol and thin the blood, warding off blood clots, he says. Allicin and other garlic agents have anti cancer activity.

You get the most allicin in raw crushed garlic. Add it to your diet by crushing a raw garlic clove and tossing it on top of pasta, salads and soups. Cooking destroys allicin but releases other agents, such as ajoene and adenosine, that act as anti coagulants. Thus, raw and cooked garlic have different medicinal properties. Commercial garlic pills, except Kyolic brand, contain various amounts of allicin. A good low-cost source of allicin is plain garlic powder from the supermarket, says an analysis by the Center for Science in the Public Interest.

IN GREENS, LUTEIN TOPS. If you don't eat kale, you're missing the richest source of the antioxidant lutein. This carotenoid is also concentrated in collard greens, spinach and other leafy green vegetables. Frederick Khachik, research chemist at the U.S. Department of Agriculture, calls lutein, "fully as or even more important to health than beta carotene." He estimates people need twice as much tutein as beta carotene to stay healthy.

Specifically, researchers at Harvard University found that people who eat the most lutein-rich foods are 43 percent less likely to develop age-related macular degenerration, a common cause of blindness. To get the most lutein, "choose vegetables with the deepest, most intese green," Khachik advises. You also can get lutein in a pill.

IN TOMATOES, LYCOPENE SAVES LIVES. Tomatoes are the principal source of lycopene, a red pigment and strong antioxidant that provides overall bodily protection.Researchers at Harvard University recently found that men who ate 10 servings of tomato-based foods weekly were half as likely to develop prostate cancer as men who ate four servings. They credited Iycopene. Research at Johns Hopkins linked pancreatic cancer to low levels of Iycopene in the blood. Investigators at the University of Kentucky noted that elderly nuns who had the highest blood levels of Iycopene were more physically and mentally active.Fortunately, lycopene is not destroyed by heat, so raw, canned and cooked tomatoes, including tomato and pizza sauce, are excellent sources. (The Iycopene in tomato juice, however, is not absorbed as well.) Watermelon also is rich in Iycopene.

ONIONS PACK QUERCETIN POWER. Quercetin, a formidable antioxidant with wide-ranging activity' is concentrated in onions. Studies show that quercetin is anti-cancer, anti-fungal, anti-inflammatory, anti-viral and anti-bacterial. It also helps block the formation of blood clots and processes that lead to artery-clogging. A recent Dutch study found that those who ate half an onion a day cut their risk of stomach cancer in half. In another Dutch study, those eating the most "bioflavonoids," mainly quercetin, were least apt to suffer fatal heart attacks. For the most quercetin, eat red and yellow onions; white onions have very little. Red wine, broccoli and tea also are rich in quercetin ·

GRAPE FLAVONOIDS THIN BLOOD. Red and purple grapes, red grape juice and red wine are abundant in antioxidants known as flavonoids, phenols or proanthocyanidins. They are concentrated in grape skins and seeds. Their discoverer, French scientist Jack Masquelier, professor emeritus of the University of Bordeaux, says research shows that grape chemicals help thin the blood, detoxify bad LDL cholesterol, strengthen blood vessels, boost immunity. fight allergies and inhibit cancer. Several studies have linked wine, notably red wine, to less heart disease. John Folts at the University of Wisconsin showed that red wme, red grape juice and the pure grape chemicals themselves all have anti-coagulant activity. He says three glasses of red grape juice and one glass of red wine have equal blood-thinning activity. Concentrated grape seed extract is available in health food stores.

SOY WITH HORMONES. Asians who eat lots of soybeans are less likely than Westerners to have ovarian, breast and prostate cancers. Sovbeans possess an anticancer plant hormone called genistein, says researcher Stephen Barnes at the University of Alabama at Birmingham. Genistein, Barnes finds, helps fight cancer by manipulating hormones much as the breast cancer drug tamoxifen does. Genistein also helps reduce blood cholesterol and the problems of menopause, such as hot flashes. Genistein is in soy protein foods, such as tofu, soy milk, soy flour and tenured soy protein, and soybeans themselves. Soy sauce, soybean oil and soy-based ice cream are not sources of genistein.

Credit given to USA Weekend, Jan. 31-Feb. 2, 1997