The human body has the ability to heal itself if we would just give it what it needs. However, we are committing nutritional homicide with what we are feeding our bodies. I know, we have become more enlightened these days, and many have become vegetarians or vegans to exercise our new-found knowledge. We tout the benefits of eating organic, and willing spend the extra dollars organic food costs, but do we really know what we’re getting? What we, as consumers, are being exposed to is like a magician’s illusion. Our food appears to be healthy and full of vitamins and nutrients but is it?
What are phytochemicals and how do they work?
Phytochemicals are non-nutritive plant chemicals that have protective or disease preventive properties. Recent research demonstrates that they can also protect humans against diseases. According to phytochemicals.info, there are many phytochemicals and each works differently. These are some possible actions:
- Antioxidant – Most phytochemicals have antioxidant activity and protect our cells against oxidative damage and reduce the risk of developing certain types of cancer. Phytochemicals with antioxidant activity: allyl sulfides (onions, leeks, garlic), carotenoids (fruits, carrots), flavonoids (fruits, vegetables), polyphenols (tea, grapes).
- Hormonal action – Isoflavones, found in soy, imitate human estrogens and help to reduce menopausal symptoms and osteoporosis.
- Stimulation of enzymes – Indoles, which are found in cabbages, stimulate enzymes that make the estrogen less effective and could reduce the risk for breast cancer. Other phytochemicals, which interfere with enzymes, are protease inhibitors (soy and beans), terpenes (citrus fruits and cherries).
- Interference with DNA replication – Saponins found in beans interfere with the replication of cell DNA, thereby preventing the multiplication of cancer cells. Capsaicin, found in hot peppers, protects DNA from carcinogens.
- Anti-bacterial effect – The phytochemical allicin from garlic has anti-bacterial properties.
- Physical action – Some phytochemicals bind physically to cell walls thereby preventing the adhesion of pathogens to human cell walls. Proanthocyanidins are responsible for the anti-adhesion properties of cranberry. Consumption of cranberries will reduce the risk of urinary tract infections and will improve dental health.
Where do we get phytochemicals?
Phytochemicals are found mostly in the skin, stems, and seeds of our fruits and vegetables. These are all the parts we throw away! We buy broccoli floweret’s like crazy for their nutrition, but the phytochemicals are in the stem. Have you ever noticed how a lot of people who get plenty of vitamins, minerals, and enzymes still don’t look all that healthy? It’s because they’re not getting any phytochemicals, the main healing power within the plant kingdom.
Our food is less healthy
One major problem is the way we grow our fruits and vegetables. With the takeover of small farm suppliers by the major grocery chain stores, produce became mass-produced, depleting the soil of its nutrients. Another is our produce is picked to early to accommodate the stores who need the fruits and vegetables to look great and have a longer shelf life. (translation: to increase our profit margin.) This means, the produce you buy at the grocery store is lacking the nutrients and phytochemicals that used to be present when it was picked at the proper time, and supplied by the local farms.
It is best to buy produce from farmer’s markets, or fruit stands in your town. The items purchased from these locations have been picked at just the right time. A good example is strawberries. A truly ripe strawberry is deep red, inside and out, and has not white anywhere. The strawberries sold in the grocery stores are not ripe; just look at all the white on them. The thing about strawberries, once they are picked, unlike other fruit they stop ripening. Unripe strawberries can cause an upset stomach.
Know where you are buying your food. Ask questions like “Where did it come from?” “When was it picked?” “How long has it been here?” The answers will give you an idea of whether they have the necessary nutrients.