What are phytochemicals?
Phytochemicals are compounds naturally produced by plants that help the plants thrive in challenging conditions, fight off competitors, pest insects, and disease.
When you bite into a juicy strawberry or blueberry, enjoy vibrant green lettuce or spinach, munch on a tomato, or chow down on a juicy steak or hamburger you consume much more than vitamins, minerals, protein and fiber. You also benefit from the incredible richness of phytochemicals.
Phytochemicals are comprised of four main categories:
- Ellegic acid
- Allium compounds
All big words, and they have BIG impacts on our health.
All of these phytonutrients contain powerful antioxidant and anti-inflammatory properties that are crucial to our health and well-being, and our eventual longevity.
Here’s how phytochemicals can impact human health:
- Benefit immune health, particularly important amid the COVID-19 pandemic
- Protect eye health by decreasing risk of macular degeneration
- Protect us against cancer and cardiovascular disease
- Detoxify our bodies
- Decrease inflammation
- Reduce the risk of tumors
There are tens of thousands of these phytonutrients found in plants, and in the meat of animals that eat those plants.
So, what’s the catch?
Why do we all eat, and yet we still have significant health problems in the U.S.?
It is because not all foods are created equal.
Not all tomatoes are the same, not all chicken is the same, not all beef is the same, not all pork is the same.
The soil those plants grow in, the plants that are growing there, and the plants that the animals eat all determine the degree of phytonutrient richness in the foods we eat.
The problem with modern agriculture is its industrialized approach to food production — planting monoculture and near monoculture crops and pastures, degrading our soils, and destroying soil biology.
Plants thrive when grown in diversity, with many plant species all growing within close proximity of each other, able to share nutrients and phytochemicals through the vast underground network of mycorrhizal fungi.
Modern industrial practices like tillage and use of chemicals, synthetic fertilizers, fungicides, and insecticides can greatly reduce plant phytochemical production and richness.
This shift away from phytochemically rich plant and animal foods to the highly processed foods so many eat today has enabled more than 2.1 billion people to become overweight and obese.
This, in turn, has led to higher incidence of diet-related disease in humans, like diabetes, heart disease, autoimmune disorders, and even various types of cancer.
Evidence supports the hypothesis that phytochemical richness of herbivore diets significantly enhances the phytochemical and biochemical richness of the animal proteins that we eat.
Animal proteins from animals eating phytochemically rich diets do not lead to heart disease and cancer. Instead, they actually provide protection against those same diseases, just like the phytochemically rich plants do.
It is only when these same animals are fed high-grain rations and monoculture pastures that their protein becomes an issue for our health.
That methane issue we hear so much about with ruminant livestock? Plant phytochemical diversity stimulates microbes in the soil, such as methanotrophs, that digest that methane. This is how nature took care of methane from the hundreds of millions of wild ruminants that once roamed the face of the earth.
At Joyce Farms, we implement regenerative practices that create phytochemical diversity in our pastures. We restore our soils to their historical ecological context. We sequester carbon and return it to the soil so it can nourish the soil microbes vital to providing our plants and livestock with nutrients.
We recognize that our food is our medicine. We invite you to share in our phytochemically rich foods and enjoy truly healthy meals.
Written By Dr. Allen Williams, Ph.D.
“Allen is a founding partner of Understanding Ag, LLC and the Soil Health Academy, as well as being a regenerative farmer and rancher. Allen and his partners work with farmers and ranchers in North America across more than 22 million acres.”