Phytonutrients are the compounds from plants that we need to stay healthy, they include vitamins, antioxidants and compounds thought to prevent cancers. Plants don’t see it like this. Plants don’t make phytonutrients, they just synthesise the compounds that they require for their own biology. They are compounds required for metabolism, stress resistance, disease resistance, development and growth of the plant. Yes, we have chosen to grow plants containing more phytonutrients but plants don’t give a dam that we need antioxidants!
What is interesting though, is that we as humans have evolved to eat plants. Take the classic example of vitamin C. Without vitamin C humans very quickly become unwell, remember the classic biology lesson about sailors suffering from scurvy when on long voyages. Most animals can make their own vitamin C, but humans, monkeys, some bats and guinea pigs do not. These animals have lost the ability through course of evolution to synthesise their own vitamin C. But why has this happened? Well, if you are obtaining an adequate supply of something from your diet, why go to the effort of making you own. It is all about conservation of energy and resources, and the basics of survival. Mutate a gene, live, reproduce, mutation propagates in a population, and there you have it evolution at work. So what does this tell us? It tells us that humans have evolved to eat a plant based diet and that it is likely that there are many plant compounds that we should be eating to keep well.
So should we be eating like a monkey? It estimated that chimpanzees diet consists of only around 2% animal products per year, they mainly eat fruit and plants. We are 98% genetically similar to chimpanzees, yet the western diet is far from that of a chimpanzee, most people eat animal product at every meal, and don’t consume anywhere near the recommended amount of fruit and vegetables. It certainly makes me wonder if this is one of the reasons for the increase in cancers, brain diseases and autoimmune diseases, maybe we are simply just not getting enough phytonutients…just a thought!