Plants as food

To date research has recorded the amazing healing properties that have been observed in many plants. Not only are we learning about the health benefits of plants, we now can also find exactly which components of the plant are active and which particular biological mechanism they engage with. Rapid scientific advances are lifting the veil on plant power. There were more than 3000 studies in just last 12 months. Yet most of the active components in the fruits, vegetables, herbs and spices that we consume have not been put through this process of study. There are still more questions that biochemistry has to answer about why exactly we turn to plants for nutrition and health. As we know, many traditional uses of plant based food and medicine have continued through the ages without the exact cataloging of their properties.

The timing of recent surge of plant studies is significant as it coincides with developments in epigenetics. Epigenetics is a field of biology that explains how although our DNA remains the same, our lifestyle, diet and environment can alter its structures causing some genes to express while others may be suppressed. so they  behave accordingly. For example genes that make more anti – inflammatory molecules or increase stress molecules may be expressed continuously thus giving rise of symptoms of chronic inflammation or stress. Epigenetics is actually a clue to why different people experience health and diseases differently even if they share the same DNA structures.

At the same time we see the emergence of Nutrigenomics, a science that focuses on how more specifically food constituents influence gene expressions and their physiological impact. At cell level all foods provide signals to which the cell ecology has to adapt and changes of gene protein expression result accordingly. Gene expression can therefore be regulated by devising specific diets to supply the necessary message to the cells.

It is exciting to think that nutrigenomics is  able to demonstrate the effect of health foods on health, which is gradually resulting in the development of  functional foods that will keep people healthy according to their individual needs.  Many of these functional foods are actually plants. It is exciting to know that currently we are seeing only the tip of the iceberg in our knowledge of plant power and that a constant stream of new findings are being added to the literature with important clinical application. Regarding plants, curcumin alone has featured in more than 16000 studies in the last year. We now also have evidence of the exact genetic markers targeted by rosemary, grapes, green tea and ginseng, to name but a few.

Finally these developments seem to also coincide with the growth of the most drug-resistant chronic diseases. Often a person would have several overlapping conditions. So different fields of science come together as always and give us the understanding of how we can use food in specific ways to support the diseases most prevalent in our time.

Green Tea

Aside from water, tea is the most commonly consumed beverage in the world. ‘In the US, black tea is by far the most popular, but green tea  may have particularly powerful health benefits’, writes Clare Collins, Professor in Nutrition and Dietetics at University of Newcastle.

Green tea it seems is particularly helpful to kidney health. Evidence of the benefits in this area and of the mechanisms that bring these benefits is growing. For instance, scientists have shown how green tea can normalize  kidney function following damage by antibiotics, halt the proliferation of kidney cancer cells, inhibit the formation of urinary stones  or inhibit a number of other kidney conditions.

With green tea being such a potent plant, it is not surprising that research also warns that the benefits of green tea are best achieved at moderate use (three cups a day have been suggested). Furthermore, green tea (or any tea) is a source of caffeine which is best consumed in moderation. Also aluminum or especially fluoride  may be present in tea so moderate consumption of good quality organic teas is recommended.

As always caution applies to pregnant women.

We use milk to cut the bitter falvour of black tea. With green tea a slice of lemon has the same effect.

 

 

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