It’s true! I recently received my Agriculture and Life Sciences Alumni Newsletter from NC State University. One of the researchers is helping to shift the way the American public views and uses plant foods.
The comparison with medicine was in regards to blood sugar control. Their studies showed that the phytochemical in blueberries, anthocyanin, reduced blood sugar better than a widely used drug, metformin. This study was done in mice, and they concentrated the phytochemical, which could arguably be considered a medicine. However, I still find it exciting that everyday plant foods provide us with components that are proven to prevent disease and improve health!
Instead of simply consuming plant foods as a source of nutrients (although we know many Americans don’t get nearly enough nutrients from plants!), this researcher is helping people understand that the phytochemicals in plants can help protect and enhance human health.
Does this sound familiar to you? It should!! And I was excited to read how much research is going into determining which plant foods work to protect and enhance health and how they work, especially when it comes to cancer prevention!
Research vs. Traditional Healers
One of the most interesting concepts of the article is how the researchers decide which plants to study. They actually travel around the world looking for plants with medicinal properties. One of the places that they start is with traditional healers to test the medicinal properties of plants that the healers typically use for treatments.
Basically, while a “home remedy” may have been used for centuries, it probably hasn’t been tested or validated. These researchers are trying to show exactly how these home remedies work (or don’t work!).
Plant Extracts that Provide Phytochemicals
It should not surprise you to hear that the compounds they are researching are phytochemicals. I feel like I spend half of my life educating people on these phytochemicals!
This scientists explains phytochemicals as compounds that aren’t directly involved in the plants normal growth. Instead, they are created to help the plant protect and defend itself. In turn, when we eat these compounds, they interact with our body to counteract human disease (like cancer) and improve metabolism.
Who doesn’t want that??!! If they sold these in a pill, it would be selling like crazy! The good news is that these phytochemicals are available to us each and every day, in a quite affordable form. In fact, many people grow these phytochemicals in their yards!
In addition, there are so many different types of phytochemicals. Therefore, consuming a variety of plant foods really is the best way to get lots of different phytochemicals into your body. Pill form just won’t do it.
Wild vs. Farmed Plants
One other interesting point that the article made is that wild plants tend to have the highest concentrations of phytochemicals. Because the phytochemicals like carotenoids and anthocyanins accumulate in a plant under stress, wild plants tend to have the most phytochemicals.
I’m not suggesting that you should only eat plants grown in wild conditions. That’s probably impossible! However, it’s interesting to note how much our farming practices make a difference in the nutrient and phytochemical content of the plant. As many people would say… Know Your Farmer!
And be sure to eat your plant foods!