We know that plant nutrients, or phytonutrients, are specialized substances that plants use to optimize their growth, immune protection, reproduction, and survival. For more on the ways phytonutrients impact immunity, read my previous post on Immunity + Polyphenols.
We also know that vitamins, minerals, omega-3 fats, and other food nutrients are necessary for optimal human health. For people who want to build and maintain high levels of vitality and performance, phytonutrients may be virtually as essential as vitamins.
The benefits of plant wisdom
Why is this? Historically, humans have eaten large amounts of food plants and have received relatively high levels of phytonutrients. The dense nutrient content of our ancestral diet helped guide our bodies — and especially our brains and immune systems — towards higher intelligence and greater resistance to infection.
In contrast to the healthful dietary patterns of our past, modern diets now feature highly-processed foods rich in calories but low in nutrients and phytonutrients.
In response to the stresses of life, strategic creation of phytonutrients is a plant’s best survival strategy, and this wisdom is chemically transmitted to us whenever we eat these food plants. Ideally, we should get phytonutrients with every meal and snack.
How to top up your phytonutrient reserves
- Enjoy fresh produce every day. For effective immune cell renewal, deeper sleep, and healthier use of caloric energy by your body, it’s much better if the last thing you eat during your day is a big handful of fresh berries and a cup of herbal tea rather than fatty snacks, a rich dessert, or an alcoholic libation. This is not a food police rule, though! It’s just that your body is better empowered to carry out its genetically-programmed health maintenance programs with the lower-calorie phytonutrient-rich foods. In essence, the healing and immune surveillance programs in our bodies are effectively shut down by hefty doses of calories or alcohol.
- When you feel thirsty, think of plants! Plant-based beverages from nuts, seeds, legumes, and grains (such as oats, hemp, or soybeans) are a great way to benefit from plants’ phytonutrient riches while limiting your intake of cholesterol and sodium (but look out for added sugars, which are often snuck into these beverages). Teas represent an important historical way people have gotten phytonutrients from plants and parts of plants we might not otherwise eat. Some examples include raspberry leaves, green tea, and flower petals.
- Look into locally-grown produce from your area’s farmer’s markets. Pay special attention to heirloom or wildcrafted varieties of fruits, veggies, and other plants. These old-time plant species often contain much higher levels of phytonutrients — not to mention flavor — compared to their modern relatives, and your immune system will notice and appreciate the difference! Of course, produce grown in your own garden will be very wise to dealing with the environmental challenges you face each day, and will upgrade its phytonutrient levels in a healthy response to adversity.
For a deeper dive
Here’s an interesting article looking into the health benefits of organic produce including plants, meat, and dairy products. These scientists reached a compelling conclusion: organic growing practices are just as important for what they don’t give — like pesticides, heavy metals, antibiotic resistance to harmful microbes — as for the nutrition they provide consumers. This is really important food for thought!