Phytochemicals

Prediction: Dieticians in the future will be more like the modern day herbalists are now/ When you only look at vitamins, minerals, EFA’s, sugars, calories and proteins, you are missing out on a much more holistic awareness of plant food and it’s dynamism. But there is so much more to the biochemistry of a plant than these very basic building blocks and even these aren’y very well understood because we so often insist on studying their effects in isolation from other nutrients and plant chemicals.

Plant chemicals are generally only discussed by herbalists, or scientists keen to come up with the next useful drug or chemical. You don’t hear much about the application of these biochemicals in healthy nutrition beyond the rather over-used word ‘antioxidants’. Yes, plant chemical protect us from ageing and cancer, but science is only just beginning to scratch the surface.

We have so much to learn, not just about the role of plant biochemistry in healthy nutrition, but about the importance of studying the effects of food on the body and mind, and doing it in a holistic manner. A plant can contain a chemical that causes diarrhoea if that chemical is isolated and concentrated (i.e. turned into a drug/supplement), but while it’s inside the plant alongside a broad range of other plant chemicals, it doesn’t have this action at all.

It’s a bit like someone asking me what colour their aura is, as though an aura is only one colour. We, like plants, are a bit more sophisticated than that. There is no one ingredient or colour that sums up the totality of a person or a plant food.

A plant food is like community. Every plant chemical is a member of that community and the community as a whole is shaped by all of it’s parts, not one person (nutrient) in isolation.

But you wouldn’t know it- you could be forgiven for thinking the sum total of an apple was the fact that it’s a carbohydrate, never knowing that it contains an extremely long list of proteins, fat, and fibres, not to mention a vast array of biochemicals. Last time I checked there were over 50 named chemicals in apples, and they are just the ones we are identified so far and consider ‘bio-active’.

Worshiping a single nutrient in isolation from a whole food is like finding something out about your new friend and thinking that one fact or aspect of their identity sums them up completely as a person. And researching an isolated, concentrated nutrient (e.g. iron) out of context from the whole food is has come from, is like trying to understand a person by separating them from their relationships and environment and putting them in a cage so you can study them properly.

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