Foods that “talk to genes” to lower disease risk
As mentioned last week phytonutrients (plant nutrients), have an immense effect on our health. Fruits, vegetables, whole grains, nuts and seeds contain a lot more than carbohydrates, protein, fat, fibre, vitamins and minerals. All plants are loaded with phytonutrients like flavonoids, catechins, phenals, anthocyanins, isothiocyanates, carotenoids, terpenoids and a legion of other chemicals with tongue-twisting names. These phytonutrients modify gene expression, each promoting healthy physiological function in a slightly different way, while consumed.
To get the myriad benefits that occur when phytonutrients “talk” to our genes, we have to ingest them, and that means eating lots of whole, unprocessed, organically grown fruits, vegetables, nuts, seeds and whole grains.
Whole: Because many phytonutrients hang out in or immediately under a plants skin, preventing damage to the periphery and fortifying the borders against invaders. Processing often removes and discards the phytonutrient-rich outermost layer of plant foods.
Unprocessed: Because some phytonutrients are volatile and evaporate when exposed to heat, air and light. Others spring into action when a plant’s surface is out, expending their protective energies over the next several hours or days – long before a processed food gets shipped to market, bought and brought home to be part of your meal.
Organically grown: Because research shows that plants produce way more phytonutrients when they need to defend themselves against pests, and are not being covered by pesticides. Also when plant foods are conventionally grown, the pesticides and other potentially harmful agricultural chemicals used are typically concentrated in the skin. Removing the skin greatly lessens the amounts of these toxins we consume, but also deprives us of a significant portion of the plants phytochemicals.
From what we’ve learned so far, phytonutrients in whole foods interact with our genes to increase the expression of those that encode for the production of anti-oxidants and detoxification enzymes, while putting to sleep those that promote inflammation and the development of cancer. In doing so, phytonutrients turn up a profusion of protective processes in our bodies, while shutting down the damaging ones.
Next week we will be looking at individual food items and the effect they have on our genes.