The Power of Plants
As with any living organism, plants are dependent on their environment to provide essential recourses for growth and survival. For a plant these include, sunlight, water, minerals, carbon dioxide and nitrogen. Different plant varietals require varying combinations of these recourses. For example, tropical fruit such as pineapples require extended exposure to sunlight making them impossible to cultivate in northern climates. Plants have been able to tailor their needs around their environment's recourses by evolving unique adaptive mechanisms. It is through inherited adaptability, available environmental ingredients, and the materials bestowed to it from its parent that plants are able to survive. Plants are the only organisms that possess the ability to convert inorganic resources into a variety of nutrients that can sustain human life. It is these nutrients that are acquired from the environment and synthesized during growth that provide both the plant and humans the ability to thrive within their own environments.
Seeds are the plants version of a human embryo and similarly require nutrients to grow. Nuts, legumes and whole grains can also be classified as seeds. Although they possess different culinary properties, they are all formed by their parent plant for the use of germination. Plants' ability to provide nutrients and even heal the body begins as a seedling. The initial nutrients found in the seed are provided by the parent plant in the form of complex carbohydrates, fat, fiber, protein, vitamins, minerals and phytochemicals (VMP).
The first interaction a seed experiences with its environment is with water. In the presence of water the seed can begin to utilizes its fatty acids and complex carbohydrates as an energy source to activate the sprouting process. The human body also requires energy to preform its vital functions. Digestion of complex carbohydrates is physiologically laboring for the digestive system. A slow breakdown process provides tight glycemic control and delivery of energy. The fatty acids found in several nuts and seeds, walnuts, flax and chia being the highest, often contain a special omega 3 fatty acid called alpha linolenic acid. The body is unable to synthesize this fat making its presence essential in the diet. Alpha linolenic acid is converted into many fatty acid derivatives that are involved with anti-inflammatory pathways and brain composition.
Seeds contain all of the proteins that are required for sprouting, making them a high protein food source. Proteins in both plants and the body use energy provided from fat and carbohydrates to carry out vital functions. For the seed this means a high concentration of proteins dedicated to the sprouting process. In the body proteins are involved with every biological reaction, structural component and immune response.
Fiber is, at this stage, found in the outer layer called the bran and Its presence protects the seed from the external environment. Although fiber is not absorbed into the blood stream, its impact on health is paramount. Fiber has the ability to influence the gastrointestinal tract's (GI) integrity and microbial biome. The emerging research on the GI's global effect on health is mounting and one of the most influencing contributors is fiber. It serves as a prebiotic or food for the beneficial bacteria in the gut call probiotics. Many probiotic supplements are available on the market but without strict regulations it is difficult to be confident in the supplement's claims . To have the greatest impact on the gut's bacterial flora is through the diet. Eating high fiber foods provides nourishment to bacteria that influence the gut's integrity, the immune system and even behavior in a favorable way. It is important to recognize that a probiotic supplement will not provide any of the previously mentioned or any of the following befits associated with plants. Only plants, in their whole form, are a comprehensive panacea.
The seeds of plants contain varying minerals that act as antioxidants to protect from rancidity or as contributing co-factors in biological pathways. Each seed, nut, whole grain and legume contains different concentrations of minerals based on the soil the parent plant was grown. Soil rich in minerals will produce plants with a higher concentration of minerals then if grown in depleted soil. Some plants are more efficient at extracting different minerals from the soil and therefore contain a higher concentration of that particular mineral. For example, almond trees are able to access calcium in the soil making almonds a good source of calcium. Many legumes are a good source of iron while some nuts are high in manganese. It is impossible to memorize all of the food and micronutrient combinations and unnecessary . A more effective approach is to focus on a variety of plant foods to ensure that the diet provides the body with adequate quantities of each. When plants are consumed in the diet the same minerals are then utilized by the body's own biological pathways in a similar fashion. Once absorbed the minerals become key components in vital biological reactions and antioxidant activity making them essential micronutrients.
Most B vitamins, except for B12, are found in high concentrations in seeds, nuts, legumes and whole grains. These particular vitamins are actively involved in pathways that convert fat and carbohydrates into energy in both plants and the body. Vitamin E is found in the seeds of plants as well. It's chemical structure allows it to be incorporated into the cellular membrane and protect against free radical activity in the plant and the body alike.
Finally, seeds are a host to a diverse family of bioactive chemical compounds called phytochemicals. There are several thousand of these molecules that are exclusively found in whole plant foods in varying combinations. In both the seed and the body they play bioactive roles in protective antioxidant activity and gene expression. Seeds also contain a chemical compounds called sterols. When consumed in the diet these molecules bind to dietary cholesterol and prohibits its absorption into the blood stream. It is clear that even as a neonate, all plants pack a potent disease fighting mixture.
Once the seed has sprouted it can now begin to interact with its environment and utilize the inorganic resources required for growth. It starts by seeking exposure to sunlight and carbon dioxide for the purpose of making sugar. The plant begins to form long chains of sugar molecules called starch or complex carbohydrates. It stores these complex carbohydrates in two conformations called amylose or amylopectin. They serve as an energy reserve for the plant throughout its life. These are the same carbohydrates that when eaten in the diet provide a slowly absorbed source of energy for the body. This time released mechanism is beneficial because it prevents blood sugar levels from fluctuating out of normal ranges. In this stage of development the sprout offers a unique nutritive composition. As a plant, it is not developed and has not had an opportunity to synthesize new proteins, vitamins, and phytochemicals. However, many of the nutrients that were not available in the seed form now become bioactive. Seeds must carry all of the necessary recourses for sprouting in a small package. Therefore, they are very dense and highly concentrated with nutrients. When consumed, the body does not have the ability to access all of these nutrients. Once the plant has sprouted, many of these nutrients become available for absorption. Including sprouts in the diet increases the body's exposure to disease fighting nutrients.
As the plant matures it begins to operate within its environment by manufacturing new proteins. These proteins will serve as the functioning component in all biological pathways for growth, survival and reproduction. It does this by using the nitrogen from the soil and incorporating it into varying amino acids. Many more minerals are acquired through the soil and continue to aid in vital biological pathways Phosphorous, potassium, iron, calcium, magnesium, manganese, selenium, copper, and zinc are the major atomic players in plant growth. Some of the new proteins will synthesize additional vitamins and phytochemicals to act as protective mechanisms to safe guard itself against environmental stressors. Some examples include vitamin C, vitamin K and beta- carotene. Portabella mushrooms have the ability to harvest UV light from the sun and synthesize vitamin D. Across the plant and fungus kingdoms an estimated four thousand phytochemicals are synthesized in varying combinations and concentrations depending on the species and the habitat. They serve the plant as guardians against the environment and bioactive regulators. Exposure to environmental stressors forces the plant to up-regulate the synthesis of vitamins and phytochemicals. In doing so they simultaneously increase their nutrient density. Fiber is also important in development as it provides structure and support for the plant as it grows.
In order for a plant to grow in the environment in which it lives, it must acquire or synthesize these nutrients to continue to survive and eventually reproduce.
Plants grow in varying locations and cope with their environment differently. Therefore, the composition of nutrients for each plant will be influenced by its environment and will differ. It is these same nutrients, fiber, essential fatty acids, complex carbohydrates, protein and VMP, that provide nourishment for the body as well as prevent and reverse disease. Each plant food offers a unique nutrient composition influenced by many factors such as environment, variety of plant and stage of life. The complexity of plants mirrors that of the body and provides a comprehensive approach to preventing and treating disease. These health promoting nutrients will not be identically found in a bottle of any sort but instead are found in your garden, farmers market, and produce section.