Phytochemicals, antioxidants, and research- oh my!

Kim McCorquodale RD, CSO

Now, you may think these topics can’t possibly be covered in 3 short paragraphs, and you are probably right, but here goes…

Phytochemicals are “plant chemicals.” They give color, odor, and taste to the plants they call home. More interesting for us humans, eating phytochemicals improves how our bodies work and helps protect us from disease. Some of the benefits include reducing inflammation, encouraging our immune system, and blocking the growth of cancerous cells.  Colorful fruits and vegetables are especially packed with phytochemicals, so aim for at least 5 servings each day. To some, that sounds too hard, and they may wonder, “why not just take a pill?” Taking supplements can lead to overdosing, and research suggests phytochemicals are less effective in pill form. To get the most benefit from these powerful substances- eat a wide variety of fruits and vegetables every day.


Antioxidants are vitamins, minerals, or phytochemicals found in many whole plant-based foods . And, most importantly, when eaten in adequate amounts they help protect our cells from damage that can lead to cancer and other diseases. We are beginning to understand how they work, the best way to consume them, and that mega-doses of any one substance is not a ‘magic bullet.’ We are also realizing there are thousands of substances in plants that interact in interesting ways, and that some antioxidants work better when eaten with others. So, the bottom line is-

Your best source for antioxidants is… wait for it…

the produce section of your local market

I mentioned research, so it’s time to add some tips on understanding what those scientists are saying. The phrase “is associated with” does not always mean cause and effect. In other words, “may” or “suggests” do not necessarily mean “will.” They are only saying a trend has been noticed. Here’s an obvious example of a trend not showing cause and effect:

“As ice cream sales increase, so does the rate of drowning. Therefore, ice cream causes drowning.”

The take home message- It’s up to you to become research–savvy. Make sure you read the whole story when the latest and greatest findings are announced. Remember- one study does not a recommendation make. And keep eating those fruits and vegetables!

Visit the American Institute for Cancer Research and order some of their free pamphlets to read more reliable information on these topics.

North Star Lodge dietitian becomes Board-Certified in Oncology Nutrition

Kim McCorquodale, a dietitian at Memorial’s North Star Lodge Cancer Center recently achieved Board Certification as a specialist in Oncology Nutrition. McCorquodale is one of only thirteen specialists in the state of Washington to have this qualification along with Lena Gill and Carli Hill who both also work at North Star Lodge. She successfully met the rigorous specialty practice requirements and passed a nationally administered examination from the Commission of Dietetic Registration (CDR), the credentialing agency for the American Dietition Association (ADA).

“Nutrition plays a critical role in the fight against cancer,” says Mary Marsh, Director of North Star Lodge. “Eating the right kinds of foods before, during, and after treatment can help patients feel better and stay stronger. We are very fortunate to have Kim’s knowledge and expertise working alongside Lena and Carli, treating our patients here at North Star Lodge.”

For many patients, the side effects of cancer and cancer treatments make it difficult to eat well. Appetite, taste, smell, and the ability to eat enough food or absorb the nutrients from food may be affected. Dietitians specializing in Oncology Nutrition can develop nutrition therapies to help cancer patients get the nutrients needed to maintain body weight and strength, prevent body tissue from breaking down, rebuild tissue, and help fight infection. According to the National Cancer Institute, being well-nourished has been linked to a better prognosis (chance of recovery) in cancer patients.


The American Dietetic Association is the world’s largest organization of food and nutrition professionals. The mission of the Commission on Dietetic Registration (CDR) is to protect the nutritional health and welfare health of the public through dietetics certification. CDR currently awards seven separate and distinct credentials.