Health Benefits of Plant Foods: Parts of the Plant or the Sum of the Whole?

Berries, soy and other goodies.

You’ve probably heard that blueberries help your memory, tomatoes help fight prostate cancer, soy aids in the fight against heart disease or many of the other claims about the health benefits of plants but is the benefit a function of part of the plant or just the fact that you are eating plant foods? 

Last week, at the Institute of Food Technologists Wellness 2012 meeting, a session on “Phyto-nutrients from Plant-based Foods” looked at the state of current research and what the science means in terms of the food we consume.

The scientific evidence continues to show that eating more plant foods, especially those that are darkly colored or strongly flavored, helps to promote overall health and in some cases may fight disease. The questions that remain though are if the promotion of health comes from the whole plant or parts of the plant and what quantity of the plant is needed to aid in health promotion and disease prevention..

Foods that have some good evidence around them include the following:

  • Dark chocolate – helps reduce blood pressure
  • Garlic and onions – aid in the prevention of some forms of cancer
  • Tomatoes – help prevent prostate cancer
  • Spinach – promotes eye health
  • Soy foods – help reduce the risk of heart disease
  • Walnuts and almonds – help lower LDL or bad cholesterol
  • Broccoli, cauliflower, brussel sprouts – help reduce risk of colon cancer 

While these are only a few foods most plant foods are rich in compounds that promote health of the body and may aid in disease prevention. The important point tough is that research does not clearly show how foods provide these health benefits so inclusion of the food is the recommended way to maximize your health and prevent disease. 

If you consume limited plant foods the evidence is strong enough to say uou need to change your eating, so start now to build your menu around darkly colored and strongly-flavored fruits and vegetables.

  • Add berries to cereal
  • Make your salads with spinach leaves and a wide variety of veggies
  • Eat Edamame
  • Flavor meat, fish and poultry with garlic and onion — which also helps you reduce the salt you add
  • Choose dark chocolate as an occasional sweet treat
  • Snack on soy nuts, walnuts or almonds


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