Jed Fahey, a nutritional biochemist and former Assistant Professor at Johns Hopkins Medical School, has revealed that Phytochemicals in plants deserve more attention due to their role in protecting our health span.
Speaking on the Sleuth food program, Dr. Fahey explained the many benefits of phytochemicals, how and why we get a more significant phytochemical load from organically grown fruits and vegetables, and lamented the loss of biodiversity in vegetable seeds as depicted by the National Demographic.
“Phytochemicals are the dark matter of nutrition. These substances are found in plant-based foods such as fruits, vegetables, whole grains, nuts, seeds, and legumes. They give plants their color, flavor, and aroma. Phytochemicals are the chemicals, compounds, or agents present in plants at low levels compared to the proteins, carbohydrates, fats, and fiber that make up the bulk of their matter”.Dr. Fahey
Over the past decade, the world seems to have gradually moved to a plant-based diet. Much of the current evidence on the benefits of phytochemicals has come from observing people who eat mainly plant-based diets. These people have been shown to have significantly lower rates of certain types of cancers and heart diseases.
Dwindling food variety and safety
Dr. Fahey stressed the effects of climate change on plants and proposed solutions to maintain biodiversity in our plants.
“Whereas climate change threatens our food security, a phytochemical climate change is upon us. Phytochemical abundance appears to be declining in our food supply. This is due to multiple overlapping reasons, which can and should be debated and better understood. In modern times, plant breeding and selection have focused almost exclusively on yield (kilograms per hectare) and disease resistance, and adaptability to particular climates. Thus, the minor components (e.g., phytochemicals) are neglected in favor of carbohydrates, proteins, and fats. Once yield and disease resistance are taken care of, the target is the seduction of our sense of taste, primarily with sugar, fat, and salt.”Dr. Fahey
In stressing modern agriculture’s impact on our diet, Dr. Fahey said that agriculture and horticulture have overwhelmingly favored monoculture and the abundant application of synthetic herbicides, insecticides, growth promoters, waxes, and dyes, and preservatives. “These are antithetical to developing a healthy soil or plant microbiome and the natural result of a complex phytochemical milieu,” he noted
Dr. Fahey lamented that edible plant genetic diversity has plummeted in the last century in addition to the widely recognized decline in the diversity and number of species in the wild, the number of heirloom varieties and “cultivars” of essentially every herb, fruit, and vegetable in everyday use. That loss of within-species diversity has almost certainly had concomitant reductions in phytochemical availability to the consumers of those foods, he pinpointed.
Phytochemicals belong on our plate
To this effect, Dr. Fahey said phytochemicals belong on our plates for sustaining a healthy lifespan.
“I have indicated where I think the future is headed. Consumers all over the world appear fixated on increasing their vitamin, mineral, and supplement intake. Still, a clear-eyed look at what has happened to diet and nutrition over the past two decades, two generations, or two centuries, cannot help but bring one to conclude that a return to a more phytochemical-rich and diverse diet ought to be guiding us to sustained good health.”Dr. Fahey
Some healthy living advocates have suggested that Ghanaians also should pay attention to this critical aspect of the food component to abet any pending uncontrollable diseases.