For many years, researchers have recognized that diets high in fruits, vegetables, herbs, grains, seeds, nuts and legumes prevent diseases such as heart disease, diabetes, cancer and high blood pressure. They once believed that it was the vitamin, mineral, fibre and enzyme contents of these plant-derived foods that were preventing malnutrition and disease.

However, in the 1990s, phytochemical compounds were discovered and modern science began acknowledging that nature, in its infinite wisdom, had designed plants to manufacture biodynamic disease-protective elements as successful defence from strong sunlight, oxidation, viruses, bacteria, insects, disease and background radiation. Garlic and onions, for instance, contain potent sulphur compounds that act as bug repellents to keep the vegetables healthy. Likewise, carrots and apricots contain alpha- and beta-carotene, vibrantly colourful plant pigments that protect them from potentially destructive, strong sunlight. It’s an amazing system, and we are the beneficiaries.

When we eat plants, these very same biodynamic disease-protective elements, which are now called phytonutrients or nutraceuticals, protect the bloodstream, cells, tissues, membranes, mitochondria, skin, organs and immune functions from the onslaught of synthetic chemicals, toxins, automobile or factory emissions, chemical intruders, bacteria, pesticides, viruses, fungi, yeast, microbes, mutagens, food additives, free radicals and carcinogens. This has brought the plant-disease prevention connection to the forefront of serious worldwide nutritional research.

Researchers presently estimate that there are 30,000 to 50,000 of these phytonutrients, although only about 1,000 have been isolated so far. Of these, a mere 100 have been analyzed and tested. Phytonutrients from the Greek word phyto (meaning "from plants") are neither vitamins nor minerals. It is now believed that they are what defend and protect our 100 trillion cells from excessive wear and tear and the onslaught of degenerative diseases.

Even more remarkable is the number of phytonutrients within a single, unprocessed, plant-derived food. The simple soybean, blueberry or brussels sprout, for example, is a miracle of complexity far more intricate than the latest version of Microsoft Windows or any other sophisticated computer program.

Protecting Cell Membranes

You can use the phytonutrients in bioenergetic whole foods to control the most fundamental aspects of your body’s basic chemistry, including the integrity of every one of your 100 trillion cell walls. Each cell contains fragile strands of deoxyribonucleic acid (DNA), the genetic message system that directs all of our body’s biochemical activities. One small nick in our DNA (from a free radical) can destroy a cell or make a cell lose control and begin multiplying unusually, causing cancer.

Cell membranes are what give our body tissue its shape to hold everything together. A cell without a healthy membrane is like a ripe blueberry without its skin; it is fragile and decays quickly. Bioenergetic whole foods contain phytonutrients and antioxidants that get into the cell membrane and protect it from attack and degradation by corrosive free radicals.

Favourite Phytonutrients

  • blueberries, strawberries and all colourful berries
  • phosphatidyl choline, phosphatidyl serine and glyceryl-phosphorylcholine sourced from organic, non-GMO soy lecithin granules
  • watercress and parsley
  • black cherries or unsweetened black cherry juice
  • non-GMO soy sprouts, soy beans
  • fermented soy (miso, natto, tempeh), all non-irradiated herbs such as turmeric, black pepper, ginger, rosemary, basil and coriander
  • all herbal extracts such as ginkgo biloba, milk thistle, grape seed and skin, green tea, Siberian ginseng and bilberry
  • bee pollen
  • apricots, red grapes, purple grapes or dark plums
  • carrots, tomatoes and red beets
  • yams, sweet potatoes, squash
  • all whole, organic, non-salted, raw seeds, nuts, legumes, whole grains and peas.

Purifying the Blood

Phytonutrients in the bloodstream are on constant patrol looking out for bacteria, viruses, parasites, fungi, toxins, cellular debris, pollutants and industrial chemicals–eliminating these toxic accumulated chemicals before you even know they are there. Some of my favourite phytonutrients include:

  • garlic, onions, scallions, shallots and chives
  • herbal extracts of bilberry, ginkgo biloba, milk thistle, grape seed and skin, green tea and Siberian ginseng
  • green tea
  • flax seeds, hemp seeds (or their fresh oils), evening primrose oil; fish oil capsules and sea algaes (spirulina, chlorella)
  • alfalfa, barley and wheat grasses (freshly juiced or dry powders)
  • broccoli sprouts, broccoli, cauliflower, brussels sprouts and cabbage
  • kale, Swiss chard, spinach, dandelions, asparagus
  • extra-virgin, cold-pressed olive oil and borage oil
  • green, red, yellow and orange peppers, red beets
  • apples, grapes, prunes, watermelon and fresh melons
  • sea vegetables (dulse, wakame, kombu, nori)
  • pink grapefruit, lemons, oranges, tangerines, limes (pulp and rind)
  • organically grown and non-GMO soy sprouts, edamame and fermented soy beans.

Herbs and Spice and Everything Nice

Cruciferous vegetables such as broccoli, brussels sprouts, kale, cauliflower and broccoli sprouts contain indole-3-carbinol. This powerful phytonutrient forms into di-indolylmethane in the stomach, which, according to research, significantly reduces the level of
16-alpha-hydroxyestrone–a known promoter of breast cancer. Cruciferous vegetables also increase the protective estrogen metabolites 2-hydroxyestrone and 2-methoxyestrone and, therefore, may reduce the risk of hormone- and estrogen replacement therapy-related cancer.

Curcumin, a naturally occurring yellow phytonutrient found in turmeric, is part of the ginger plant family and inhibits cancer cell proliferation by interfering with the cells’ protein-signalling pathways that typically ignite the cancer growth process. It is a powerful carcinogenic inhibitor, slowing cancerous cell proliferation by disrupting the capillary pathways that feed a cancer cell, resulting in its death. Look for capsules that contain curcumin and piperine, a black pepper extract, necessary to enhance the bio-availability of curcumin.

The skins and pulp of dark grapes contain a powerful carcinogenic inhibitor called resveratrol, thoroughly researched at the University of Chicago’s school of pharmacology. Full spectrum grape extract contains 463 parts per million of resveratrol per capsule.

Some extraordinary, water-extracted herbal extracts produce an enormous amount of a phytonutrient called glutathione, as well as its antioxidant enzymes, glutathione peroxidase and glutathione-S-transferase, in your cells, tissues and liver. The higher your plasma glutathione levels, the healthier you are and the longer you live. These extraordinary herbs are full-spectrum grape seed and skin extract, European bilberry extract, milk thistle extract, green tea extract and ginkgo biloba extract.

About the Author

Sam Graci is the author of The Food Connection.