1. To Promote Intestinal Function There are more microorganisms in the human intestinal tract than there are known stars in the universe. Certain species of bacteria help us digest our food, manufacture vitamins and amino acids, repair our intestinal cells, and even calm our immune systems. Foods such as raw cultured vegetables, raw sauerkraut, unpasteurized miso, and kombucha are sources of these beneficial bacteria. Many plant foods, such as apricots, asparagus, burdock root, Jerusalem artichokes, and onions, provide compounds that feed these bacteria, allowing them to flourish. In addition, whole plant foods, such as beans and whole grains, provide soluble fibers that regulate bowel function, bind to cholesterol and toxins, and slow the release of sugars into our bloodstream. As the prime spot for both the absorption of nutrients and elimination of wastes, taking care of your intestines is a key to optimal health.
2. To Decrease Cellular Damage Whole foods offer potent phtyochemicals to counteract the negative effects that free radicals have on the body. Free radicals are unstable molecules that are toxic to our cells because they attack them at the molecular level, causing destruction, mutations, and cell death. Free radical damage can contribute to cancer, heart disease, arthritis, and many other diseases. Phytochemicals are naturally occurring compounds in plants. Phyto is the Greek word for “plant.” These plant chemicals have been formed by nature and work with the body to fight disease. Phytochemicals, which give plants their color, flavor, and natural disease resistance, are very powerful in preventing and treating cancer. Diet has been found to be one of the most important lifestyle factors in the development of chronic disease and has been estimated to account for up to 80% of cancers of the large bowel, breast, and prostate. Phytochemicals work within the body to prevent cell mutation while keeping cells reproducing normally. Common phytochemicals include carotenoids, flavonoids, phytosterols, isoflavones, and phenols. Phytochemicals work synergistically with other nutrients found in foods, so supplementing with these chemicals does not produce the same effect as eating them in their whole form, in whole foods.
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3. To Decrease Systemic Inflammation Low amounts of inflammation are needed to run a healthy body. Problems arise when you take in large amounts of factory-fed animal products, refined sugar, refined vegetable oils, and refined carbohydrates. These foods promote the conversion of fats, namely arachidonic acid, into proinflammatory compounds. Either directly or indirectly, these foods also have the ability to trigger the gene expression of hundreds of inflammatory chemicals. This can lead to an increase in pain, swelling, and cellular damage. When you are in a state of chronic inflammation, cholesterol can collect in your arteries, causing damaging plaque to build up, fat is deposited in the abdominal region around your organs, and cancerous cells may replicate unchecked. An increase in inflammatory chemicals has been associated with most chronic diseases including arthritis, heart disease, skin disorders, diabetes, obesity, high blood pressure, osteoporosis, and various cancers. When you consume an anti-inflammatory diet, or one that comes mainly from unrefined plant foods, your body produces chemicals that cause mild, rather than excessive, inflammatory reactions, which are conducive to health. Foods and compounds that trigger and increase inflammation: Refined polyunsaturated oils such as soy, canola, sunflower, safflower, and corn Grain-fed red meat Grilled and processed meats Refined carbohydrates and sugars Dairy products, especially highly processed Chemical additives and preservatives Pesticides and herbicides Foods to which you are allergic or sensitive Foods that decrease inflammation: Ginger, turmeric, and other spices Green tea, nettles, and other herbs Omega-3 fatty acids from wild salmon, flax, walnuts, leafy greens, and purified fish oil Foods rich in antioxidants such as fresh fruits and vegetables, particularly the cruciferous vegetables like broccoli, cauliflower, cabbage, kale, and Brussels sprouts Papaya, blueberries, shiitake mushrooms, sweet potatoes, and other fresh fruits and vegetables
4. To Support Optimum Organ Function Whole foods work synergistically to support the entire human body. Because whole foods have not undergone any processing, they retain all of their nutrients and fibers. These components slow the release of sugar into the bloodstream as well as optimize insulin signaling, thereby allowing for normal functioning of the pancreas. Whole foods contain all of the nutrients that are needed to support your liver. Your liver is an important organ in detoxification. Supporting your liver helps to maintain a healthy weight, keeps inflammation in check, and slows down the development of many chronic diseases. Brain function also is well supported by eating whole foods. A 2006 article from Neurology found that eating fresh vegetables, particularly dark leafy greens, helps to keep the brain young, improves memory, and slows the mental decline that is sometimes associated with growing old by 40%. When it comes to cardiovascular health, a diet rich in beans, whole grains, raw nuts, and plenty of fruits and vegetables has comparable benefits to many cardiovascular medications.
5. To Assist with Hormonal Balance In order to produce and metabolize hormones, our bodies need the proper ingredients. Estrogen, testosterone, and even the active form of vitamin D come from cholesterol. If our liver is functioning well, we produce all the necessary cholesterol-based hormones and still have normal cholesterol levels. Did you know that our liver also breaks down and transforms hormones when we are done with them? Let’s look at estrogen, for example. The liver has three choices when transforming the different forms of estrogen. It can transform estrogen into a helpful molecule, a harmful molecule, or a really harmful molecule. When we have certain foods in our diet, such as cruciferous vegetables (cabbage, broccoli, cauliflower, Brussels sprouts), flaxseeds, kudzu, green leafy vegetables, and beans, we have a tendency to transform estrogen into the beneficial form that protects our bodies. This is particularly important for women at risk with estrogen-positive cancers of the breast.
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6. To Regulate the Immune System Over 50% of your immune cells are located in your intestines with over 70% of the body’s antibodies being produced there! By eating plants rich in fibers that feed beneficial bacteria, you ensure a calm environment for the first stage of your immune system. According to an article in the journal Cell in 2004, our intestines actually sense when certain bacteria are present. When an abundance of beneficial bacteria are present, we have a tendency to have mild immune reactions throughout our bodies. If the intestines are out of balance, chemicals are sent throughout the body alerting other immune cells that there is a state of alarm. These alarm chemicals can lead to collateral damage of many cells, and increase our risk for disease. Additionally, our immune cells need to be fed just like any other cell in the body. Many of us take vitamin C to boost our immunity and decrease the intensity and duration of a cold. Eating whole foods ensures a diet rich in vitamins A, C, and E, and the minerals zinc and selenium, which are all needed for optimum immune cell function.
7. To Maintain a Healthy Weight Food is so much more than the calories it contains. It is a complex, life-giving substance rich in nutrients and phytochemicals that acts in our bodies to change the way our genes are expressed. Quality is the most important factor in any healthy diet and weight loss plan, not quantity. By eating a whole foods diet, you ensure that you are getting the highest-quality foods possible and all of the nutrients you need to maintain proper functioning of vital organs and glands. Your thyroid gland, for example, can become underactive when you have a gluten sensitivity and a diet low in nutrients necessary for healthy thyroid function. Weight gain can be a sign of a dysfunctioning thyroid
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