Plants as Food
Plants have the power to heal the body. When we eat plants as food, we don’t just get vitamins, minerals and macronutrients like carbohydrate, fat and protein. We also eat pigments and other compounds made by the plant that are generally called phytochemicals (phyto- from the Greek for “plant”) or phytonutrients.
These are compounds produced by the plant that give health to the plant, but also give health to our bodies. These types of compounds include flavonoids, polyphenols, antioxidants, carotenoids, and the list goes on.
WebMD reports that there are over 25,000 known phytonutrients.
In fact, those are just the ones that have been identified, and probably there are many more that we don’t know about yet.
Nutrientfacts.org reports the following:
“Researchers have found that a plant-based diet may help prevent, treat, or reverse some of our leading causes of death, including heart disease, type 2 diabetes, and hypertension. Studies of plant-based diets have shown, for example, 90 percent reductions in angina attacks within just a few weeks, and plant-based diet intervention groups have reported improved digestion, increased energy, and better sleep, and significant improvement in their physical functioning, general health, vitality, and mental health. Studies have also shown plant-based eating can improve not only body weight, blood sugar levels, and ability to control cholesterol, but also emotional states, including depression, anxiety, fatigue, sense of well-being, and daily functioning.”
Plants do all these things by optimizing vitamin and mineral consumption, and by providing a source of mostly low-starch high-fiber sources of carbohydrates necessary for proper metabolic function.
But eating plants also increases health by providing healing phytonutrients that can’t be obtained from other sources and have other functions than vitamins and minerals.
Phytonutrient Healing Properties
Each plant type has its own set of phytonutrients. Each phytonutrient can support different body systems or healthy metabolic function with its own healing properties.
Here are just a few examples:
- Hesperidin in citrus fruits increases vascular blood flow and is associated with decreased incidence of stroke.
- Carotenoids (there are more than 750 that have been identified) like lycopene in tomatoes (prostate health), beta-carotene in orange vegetables like carrots and leafy greens like kale (eye and skin health), lutein and zeaxanthin in dark leafy greens like cruciferous vegetables (absorb blue light for retinal health).
- Isothiocyanates which have been shown in animal studies to inhibit tumors caused by chemical carcinogens. For a more in-depth look as the phytonutrients in cruciferous vegetables please read, “The hImportance of Cruciferous Vegetables”.
- Allicins in garlic decrease platelet aggregation in the blood, and whole raw garlic decreases total cholesterol, LDL, and triglycerides.
- Catechins like those in cacao and ECGC in green tea are powerful antioxidants.
- Glutathione, a powerful antioxidant found in asparagus and the herb milk thistle, reduces oxidative stress, protects cell from damage due to fatty liver, and is used in some instance to treat lung diseases among many other things.
- Alliin, a sulfoxide in fresh garlic, contains the amino acid cysteine—a necessary building block for the antioxidant glutathione.
- Sulforaphane found in cruciferous vegetables causes the induction of enzymes that inhibits the effects of carcinogens and inhibits tumor cell growth.
- Carnosol, a phenolic diterpene found in rosemary and sage, is a powerful anti-oxidant. Studies have shown it to be effective at protecting brain tissues from degenerative diseases and increasing blood circulation to the brain.
- The flavonoid, apigenin found in parsley, thyme, celery, and chamomile flowers decreases inflammatory processes associated with autoimmune disease, diabetes, cancer, and degenerative conditions such as dementia and arthritis.
Each plant has a different set of those phytonutrients. Our goal should be to get as wide a variety of those nutrients as possible. We should eat as many different types of vegetables as we can, adding in herbs and spices to absolutely everything.
Since many phytonutrients work synergistically with others, consuming them as whole plant food as part of our daily food intake is ideal.
Now, I’m a meat, dairy and egg eater too. But it’s important to recognize that many of the phytonutrients we need for health come only from plants.
This is how to make food your medicine—eat whole, nutrient dense, God-made food that doesn’t raise blood sugar or increase inflammatory responses but DOES nourish the body and decrease inflammatory responses.
Plants as Medicine
Because of all the powerful healing properties in plants, they can be used to help treat inflammatory conditions that cause disease, infections and chronic pain.
However, our goal is to treat causes, not symptoms. It’s entirely possible to think that all you must do is substitute an herbal medication for a pharmaceutical one and that will “cure” the problem you may be facing.
This, I think, is the wrong way to approach health and healing. It is the western medicine mind-set that has been an absolute failure.
Whatever you use to try to mask symptoms will ultimately fail—herbal remedy or prescription medication alike.
There is no herb (or pharmaceutical!) that will cure lifestyle diseases like diabetes or dementia. Taking an herb to treat symptoms rather than changing the lifestyle choices that caused the problem in the first place, is no different than trying to treat the diseases with a prescription from the pharmacy.
Diseases caused by poor dietary choices (lifestyle diseases) cannot be reversed without changing the cause—dietary choices. Without the dietary changes, you might as well just continue taking prescription pharmaceuticals.
Herbal supplements (dried herbs, tinctures, teas, essential oils, etc.) should be used to give symptomatic relief or powerful system support while dietary changes reverse the real, underlying metabolic issues that are caused by eating a diet high in sugar and processed foods and low in nutrient dense vegetables, meats, eggs and dairy.
To begin learning how to eat in a way that manipulates the hormone driven system that causes weight gain and lifestyle diseases, please read about my plant-based approach to a ketogenic diet: “Khetogenic Diets: Harmful or Healthy?”, and the related articles on a ketogenic diet:
Our bodies are beautiful, complex systems with design built into them.
Healing happens when we understand how that design works and follow it.
Plants as Food and Medicine: A Gift from God
Plants are a gift. They aid in the nourishing and healing of our bodies. We should use plants in all their forms to help keep us healthy. All of them are food, all of them are medicine.
This week start adding as many servings of vegetables into your day as possible.
Be inspired and be creative. Look on line for easy simple recipes. The simpler, the better.
Roasted Cauliflower Recipe
If you think you don’t like vegetables, try roasting them! Roasting completely changes the taste of raw vegetables. Add herbs, spices, butter or olive oil (or both!) and enjoy!
Here’s a side dish for cauliflower that I LOVE from dietdoctor.com. I often add some cheddar and/or parmesan cheese for even more flavor, and I usually double the recipe, so we have plenty of leftovers to take to work or class the next day:
2 lbs. cauliflower (one head)
5 1⁄3 oz. butter
2 large cloves garlic, minced
1 to 2 Tbs. fresh chopped herbs like parsley and thyme (If using dried herbs, use ½ the amount).
salt and pepper
1.Preheat the oven to 400°F (200°C). Trim and cut the cauliflower into small florets; the smaller, the quicker they will be done.
2. Place cauliflower, herbs, garlic, salt and pepper in a large roasting pan and toss together.
3. Cover with thin slices of butter. Bake on upper rack in the oven and roast until nicely browned for about 20 minutes or more, depending on size of the florets.
Keto-Friendly Green Smoothie
Here’s a way to get even more vegetables into your day. Especially nice on those busy days.
Foundational Changes for True Health
Food is the foundation of either good health or bad health. There is no pill that will give you health, healing, energy, and vitality–only fresh, God-made foods can do all that!
Make some changes to your diet—you will never regret it!