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The Benefits Of Eating Plants

Written by: Clare England, Executive Contributor

Executive Contributors at Brainz Magazine are handpicked and invited to contribute because of their knowledge and valuable insight within their area of expertise.

 

Plant-based, plant-powered, and plant-strong terms have become mainstream amid a food revolution. Information everywhere tells us that we need to eat more plants. So, what are these plants and why are we eating them?

Young woman holding spinach leafs salad

What are plants?


Plants are living things that are not animals. We’re talking about trees, grasses, vegetables, fruits, nuts, seeds and fungi. There are over 400,000 plants on earth of which 300,000 are edible, yet we only eat around 200 species globally. One reason for limiting our selection of plants is that many are poisonous. Our forefathers learnt the hard way which were safe, and which were not. They also learnt which grew well and which were particularly hard to cultivate. Over the many generations that we have been growing and eating plants, we have selectively bred them to taste better and perform better. We have worked to ensure the tastier plants grow more abundantly and on a very large scale. This has led us to have some very robust, colourful and nutrient-rich plants available to us throughout the year. Think of the fruit and vegetable section in the grocery store or supermarket. Think of the local farmer’s markets. They are filled with beautiful varieties of plants. We must also remember the canned or tinned section with beans, lentils, peas and corn. The snack section with nuts and dried fruit, and the frozen section with frozen fruits and vegetables. Plants are everywhere, so why should we eat more and what are they doing for us?


Plants contain nutrients.


Plants are some of the most nutrient-dense foods we can eat, they are packed full of vitamins and minerals. Vitamins and minerals have the role of keeping the body working properly, whether it be building bone with calcium, healing wounds with vitamin c, or keeping our skin healthy with vitamin a, we need all these vitamins and minerals to stay healthy. Fruits and vegetables are great sources of vitamin a, vitamin c, and minerals such as potassium and calcium. According to USDA food data, eating one serving of broccoli will give us all the vitamin c we need for a day plus some iron, calcium and magnesium. Eating a 100g serving of chickpeas will give us over a third of the iron we need in a day plus vitamin b6, calcium and magnesium. Eating an array of fruits and vegetables can quickly meet the recommended quantities of vitamins and minerals to keep us functioning at our best.

Plants contain phytochemicals.


Phytochemicals are compounds found within plants that act as antioxidants, and anti-inflammatory agents with other additional benefits to our health. Polyphenols, flavonoids, bioflavonoids, anthocyanidins, phytoestrogens, and carotenoids are some of the antioxidant-rich phytochemicals. They give us health benefits in a multitude of ways: reducing cell damage from free radicals caused by pollution; giving protection against some cancers by reducing DNA damage, mutation and transformation; reducing the risk of heart disease by reducing plaque build-up in blood vessels; and suppressing the growth of some tumours. These different phytochemicals are contained in the cells of plants, and during the process of digestion, they are made available for our bodies to use. We can eat the plants raw or cooked, steamed, stir-fried or boiled, and we still get the benefits of these amazing compounds.


Plants contain fibre.


All plants contain fibre. Fibre is a type of carbohydrate that we cannot digest and comes in two varieties, soluble and insoluble. Both varieties are beneficial for our health. Soluble fibre dissolves in water and can help lower blood glucose levels. It forms a gel in the intestines and slows digestion. We find it in lentils, peas, oats, barley, nuts and seeds, to name a few. Insoluble fibre does not dissolve in water and helps food move through the digestive system. Insoluble fibre can speed up digestion, adding bulk to be pushed through the system. It is found in whole wheat, wheat bran, whole grains, and many vegetables.


Fibre is important to our health; as such, recommendations are made for how much we should eat every day. Unfortunately, not many of us are meeting those recommendations. Eating more plants is a way to increase our fibre intake, which in turn reduces our risk of stroke, cardiovascular disease and type 2 diabetes. Whilst fibre plays a major role in our health, in the last decade we have found that fibre could be the key to health and that eating a wide variety of different plants could give us massive health benefits.


Effects on the microbiome.


Fibre wends its way through our digestive system to get to the colon. Here, gut bacteria use it as food. Our gut bacteria are very important to our overall health. We need to feed them with fibre to keep them alive. However, we have lots of different strains of bacteria and they all need different food. If we eat lots of different plants this will feed all the different types of bacteria in the gut. We recommend eating 30 different types of plants each week to keep gut bacteria thriving. Gut bacteria positively affect blood sugar control and the metabolism of fats. They reduce inflammation and improve overall immune function. It seems very clear that if we look after our gut by feeding it fibre, it will take care of us in a multitude of ways.


Eat more plants.


Eating plants should not be a chore. Get creative. Plants are packed full of flavour as well as nutrients. They are colourful, fun and so, so good for us. Snack on plants, feast on plants, and share plants with your friends and family. Embrace these fibre-filled, nutrient-packed, gut-loving foods. Aim for 30 different plants in a week, explore new varieties, and enjoy every mouthful, your body will love you for it.


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Clare England, Executive Contributor Brainz Magazine

Clare England MSc is a Registered Associate Nutritionist specialising in plant based nutrition and living. She is a talented recipe developer with specialist knowledge in chocolate, vegan, and non-dairy innovations. Clare takes great pleasure in sharing the joy of chocolate and educating people in the art of plant based living. A lifetime learner, Clare is always seeking to improve her knowledge and skills through continued research and education. She has a passion for sharing this learning and does so with warmth and integrity.

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