We could dissect all the parts of a food that are good for us, but do you know where the real health comes from?
We've all heard that we should eat more whole plant foods for better long-term health. From admonishments like, "No dessert until you finish your vegetables!" to the saying, "An apple a day keeps the doctor away," this idea is familiar to virtually everyone. However, in recent times, people have been consuming fewer and fewer whole plant foods like fruits, vegetables, whole grains, and legumes, and are instead getting the bulk of their calories from processed foods and animal products.
It should come as no surprise, then, that our collective health is the worst it's ever been, and that eating more whole plant foods is the first step to improving it. Many doctors and nutrition researchers have rapidly reversed life-threatening chronic diseases such as heart disease, cancer, and diabetes in their patients solely by prescribing a whole-foods plant-based diet, so there is clearly something to this concept! But what is it that makes whole foods so vitally important to having good health?
Why are Whole Foods Important?
I would argue that one of the most significant things whole plant-foods have which cannot be found in processed foods and animal products is this: phytochemicals.
The term phytochemicals simply means naturally occurring plant chemicals found in whole plant foods. There are literally thousands of different types in every kind of plant we eat. Some you may have heard of, like resveratrol (from grapes), lycopene (from tomatoes), or quercetin (from apples). Often when a new phytochemical known to promote health is studied, it turns out to have a myriad of health benefits. And since there are so very many that have never been studied at all, there are likely many more in the whole foods we eat, doing wonderful things to promote our health and reduce our disease risks.
The Effect of Synergy
And the really cool part? Many of these compounds are able to work together to magnify each other's beneficial effects! This is called synergy: when the health promoting benefits of the whole are greater than the sum of its parts. A striking example I heard recently in a lecture by Dr. T. Colin Campbell had to do with apples and their vitamin C content. He cited a colleague's research which measured the biological activity of vitamin C in an apple as 1500 mg (a hefty dose!), whereas the actual amount of vitamin C within the apple was found to be just 7 mg. That's a 214-fold increase in potency when consuming the whole apple! There are obviously other compounds at work making the vitamin C within the apple pack a serious punch.
The take-home message is clear: Eat more whole plant foods and your body will be sure to thank you. I know that anyone following Sunwarrior is looking out for their long-term health, so strive to consume the bulk of your daily calories from fruits, vegetables, whole grains, beans, nuts, and seeds and then sit back and enjoy the synergy at work!