By now you’ve heard over and over that eating a plant-based/plant-forward diet is better for you and helps prevent disease, but you might not understand why. You know plant foods are nutritious, but how does that help?
The nutrients in plant foods — vitamins, antioxidants, and other phytochemicals, trigger changes within your body when you eat them. They interact with your cells, enzymes, hormones, and DNA to play a role in how the information in your genes affects how your cells function. Some of these plant compounds, like the lycopene in tomatoes or anthocyanins in berries, help reduce the chance of developing certain cancers or heart disease.
One of the natural process of metabolism in your body is to produce free radicals which can attack healthy cells and damage them. Free radicals are also caused by other factors like a poor diet or environmental toxins and stress. When too many free radicals are produced in your body, it experiences oxidative stress which causes chronic inflammation and can lead to chronic illnesses like cancer, diabetes, asthma, Alzheimer’s, and heart disease.
Antioxidants work against oxidative stress by neutralizing free radicals. Your body is not able to produce enough antioxidants on its own, so it’s especially important for you to consume a diet rich in antioxidants, which are found in plant foods. Plant foods and those emphasized in the Mediterranean diet help your body fight inflammation and they include:
- Broccoli and other cruciferous vegetables
- Spices like turmeric, clove, and ginger
- Green tea
- Omega-3 fatty acids found in fatty fish like salmon, tuna, and sardines
- Olive oil
- Green leafy vegetables
Numerous studies have shown that cultures that have not adopted the Western diet and instead eat diets rich in vegetables, fruits, and whole grains have a much lower incidence of disease.