People have said that it is of course important to watch out for food scams, as fraud could exist on food labels. Pardon the thought but today, when so many people are concerned about issues like housing and work place discrimination, fashion, entertainment, real estate, mortgages, vacations and the like, issues like food quality and food awareness may become unnecessarily overshadowed.

Everyone knows that vegetables form an important part of a nutritionally balanced diet, but science has only fairly recently begun to observe that there is a whole lot more to veggies than carbs, some protein, and a lot of vitamins and minerals. Each and every type of plant – including vegetables – contain many thousands of protective compounds collectively called phytonutrients, “phyto” from the Greek meaning “plant.”

In common cause with vitamins and minerals, phytonutrients are chemicals which help the plant defend itself against, among other things, the damaging oxidative effects of respiration. Some examples of phytonutrients include flavonoids, catechins, carotenoids, terpenoids, phenols, anthocyanins, isothiocyanates, and a whole host of other compounds with tongue-twisting names. It is thought that phytonutrients (sometimes also called “phytochemicals”) modify gene expression, each one promoting different healthy physiological functions in human beings. To receive all the benefits that come with phytonutrients’ interactions with our genes, we need to daily enjoy a wide variety of locally grown organic produce. A good rule-of-thumb is to eat five different colors of vegetables a day for good health.

Many phytonutrients are found in or just right underneath the skin of a vegetable, and processing typically removes this nutritionally rich layer, so fresh produce is recommended over any that has been canned or even flash-frozen. Many phytonutrients also evaporate or are otherwise damaged upon exposure to heat, light, and air, and processing generally involves some sort of sterilization by heat. And many phytonutrients are activated once a plant’s surface has been breached, as from being cut and picked, with reserves used up within hours or days, long before it has become a part of our meals. Research also suggests that plants produce many more phytonutrients when they are not being helped along by pesticides. Pesticides, of course, can often be harmful to human beings. For this and many other similar reasons, buying organic and buying local is highly recommended.

Each vegetable has developed its own unique array of phytonutrients for its own defense and growth. Fortunately, these mysterious compounds which are only just beginning to lend themselves to scientific scrutiny seem to be very beneficial to human beings, perhaps helping to protect us against premature aging and chronic disease. They may interact with our genes to increase the expression of those which encode for antioxidization and detoxification while inhibiting harmful ones which promote inflammation or cancer. Many more years of careful research are needed, but it’s a certainty right now that phytonutrients are a good thing overall.

This writing has been posted strictly for information and human interest purposes only, not for medical or advisory purposes and does not necessarily constitute the opinions or conclusions of the provider. The reader should not rely upon the validity of any of the information contained herein. The reader should consult a doctor, nutritionist, and other medical professionals when seek advice about food, nutrition, diet, and physiology.

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