I know I tend to go on about the benefits of eating a Plant Dense Diet but as many of us priorities a healthy immune system, the importance of plants should not be ignored. Most diets generally focus on carbs, proteins and fats and in the field of nutrition we know how beneficial vitamins and minerals can be and specific supplement protocols that help address chronic conditions. But this all misses how important plants are to our health. I keep coming back to a simple Michael Pollan truth “Eat Plants” If you make one change increase the amount of plant foods that you eat in a day. Getting 80% of your diet from plants would be doing a great service to your body and your long term health. The antioxidants found in plants are important to help combat oxidative stress but new research shows how plants can have an immuno-regenerating effect on the body. The amazing health benefits of plants is due to their phytonutrients.
What are Phytonutrients
There are more than 25,000 natural plant chemicals found in plants and these are called phytonutrients, they are the plant's secret weapon. They are responsible for the colour, taste and smell of plants. Our experience of different plant foods is very much based on the phytonutrients they contain. Phytonutrients are part of a plant’s immune system, protecting them from environmental threats such as ultraviolet radiation (sunburn), bacteria, fungi, parasites and insects. We evolved alongside plants and the natural world and since we are exposed to radiation and various environmental toxins just like plants, and the phytonutrients found in plants can help us too. Phytonutrients aren't essential for keeping us alive, but when we eat or drink phytonutrients, they may help prevent disease and keep us healthy. Phytonutrients can impact on our genes and how they express themselves, that puts us very much in charge of our health. The food choices we make every day impact on our health. We should be striving for that impact to be a positive one.
How they help the Immune System
Now more than ever we need to look after our immune system so it can protect us. We understand the importance of boosting or supporting our immune system but now we are beginning to understand that phytonutrients are immuno-regenerating. Even a damaged immune system can be repaired, we don’t just need to try and make a damaged system work better. When our body has to deal with ongoing chronic inflammation it can result in a dysfunctional immune system. Inflammation has been linked to many common chronic conditions such as diabetes, cardiovascular diseases, autoimmune diseases and dementia. Certain phytonutrients help reduce inflammation. Some plant chemicals are anti-microbial, this helps to reduce the potential risk of infection. They are found most abundantly in herbs and spices. Phytonutrients also have a positive effect on our gut microbiome and since a large portion of our immune system is found on our gut lining, keeping the microbiome healthy is key to keeping our immune system healthy. (Read Looking After your Microbiome) Some plants are of particular benefit to digestive health, containing enzymes that help with digestion and prebiotic fibre that helps to feed the microbiome. Stress can also impact our immune system. Stress can be physical or emotional, certain phytonutrients help to support the endocrine system including the adrenal glands which are where our stress hormones are made. Many plants are high in vitamin C, essential in helping the body deal with stress.
What to Eat
Phytonutrients are only found in plants: vegetables, fruits, legumes, whole grains (unprocessed), nuts and seeds. Plants are nutrient-dense foods but we also need nutrient diversity. Our diets used to contain over 3,000 plant species we now eat only about 100 different plants within a year. Why not try a 50-Food Challenge and try to eat 50 different plant foods within a week. It is much harder than you think. The time of year can also dictate the diversity of foods available. Organically grown plants have higher levels of phytonutrients. This is because organically grown plants have to work harder to keep pests and disease at bay. They do this by producing more plant chemicals to protect themselves. So when we eat organically grown (or home-grown) food we eat food that is richer in these important phytonutrients. Studies have also shown that eating more plants have psychological benefits. Eating a Plant Dense Diet has been linked to increased happiness, life satisfaction and well-being. Plants also help us to be more curious and creative. Which all sounds like a bonus to me. Plants connect us to the natural world, reminding us that we are part of nature and we need nature to be able to thrive and survive. A Deeper Understanding of Phytonutrients Dr Deanna Minich has a wonderful resource that can be downloaded that explains each colour and the health benefits of these foods. She also lists the foods for each colour and offers some healthy recipes. Please find it here https://www.deannaminich.com/downloads/
Then click on The Rainbow Diet e-booklet