Toxins in plants?
In my recent post, Seeking energy with the least effort , we did a fast track though the evolution of animal instincts to seek energy with the least effort, showing how that instinct gets us into trouble today. During our travels we happened on ways that plants protect themselves from animals and insects who want to eat them. In case you don’t remember, there are two primary tactics.
Plant protection tactics
One tactic is building up chemical toxins inside themselves intended to make the eater sick or even kill them. Message? “Eat me if you want but be prepared for the worst.” Another inhibits the ability of the eater to digest the plant, making it nutritionally useless. Anything that gets in the way of digestion is called an anti-nutrient.
No matter what your diet, you are getting plants. Some animals (like cows, deer, rabbits, and gorillas) eat plants only. Other animals (like cats, hyenas, and sharks) eat the animals that ate the plants. Some animals (like humans) can eat both. We are all getting the potential nutritional value in plants directly or indirectly, one way or another.
Yet if we know there are toxins and digestion blockers in those plants, how is it that animals that eat plants are surviving? The answer is the brilliance of our genetic design. Somewhere in the genetic make up of every animal is the immune system that recognizes toxins and eliminate them. Smart, huh?
Yes indeed, smart. However over the last two hundred years or so we human have gotten really good at using technology to create all new kinds and levels of toxins. Plant food is only one source. Consequently many animals including people are accumulating toxin levels that exceed the capabilities of their personal genetic design. And then they get sick.
The number of toxins and anti-nutrients boggle the mind. But when it comes to food, there are two foods that are particular game changers. Those would be high carbohydrate (sugar containing) grains and beans.
Grains and beans (high carbohydrate – sugar)
Grains are the big winner because they seem to be in everything- bread, cereal, pie crust, cakes, pizza crust, etal. They contain both protective toxins and digestion inhibitors (anti-nutrients).
Lectins are grain proteins, particularly in wheat and beans, which are primarily found in the outside layer, the covering of a seed. Their presence in your body damages your own protein and triggers the immune system big time. Your sensitivity to Lectins (when your own protective systems start to fail) determines when you get gastrointestinal or other symptoms and eventual illness. A study of lectins will help you to understand the association with joint issues like arthritis and goiters.
Glutens, on the other hand, are found on the inside, the endosperm (sugar) layer of the seed. This is the nifty stuff that causes bread to rise. And in fact, gluten is only found in wheat, rye, barley, and triticale. Gluten causes digestive and immune response in everybody but may not be symptomatic for all. Those whose protective system has failed are famous for having Celiac disease.
Then there is phytic acid, an anti-nutrient. The vast majority of it is located in seeds, where its job is to hold on tightly to the essential minerals (phosphorus, iron, zinc, etc.) that a baby plant will need to grow. Once the seed begins to sprout, phytic acid gets broken down by an enzyme that is also stored in the plant. Thus vital minerals can be released to the baby plant. That same breakdown is required for your digestion and your body does not make the required enzyme.
Vegetables – (low carbohydrate – sugar)
Finally, there are oxalates which are both toxic and an anti-nutrient. They bind to calcium in plant storage for a baby plant and reduce its availability to your body. But when accumulating in your body, the oxalates also bind to your calcium which is not good news. Oxalates are stored in the plant and your body as sharp edged crystals. This definitely convinces insects to avoid the plant but in your body those crystals could be stored anywhere in soft tissue which helps explains kidney stones and potential impact on joints and skin.
Oxalates are in vegetables but in very high levels in some like spinach and kale. So if you think a regular diet of hearty vegetable smoothies and a couple of salads are the way to go, you may be setting yourself up for trouble as the oxalates accumulate.
The presence of an anti-nutrient explains why the potential nutrition in a plant as described in all the USDA literature may not actually make it into your needy body. Spinach has extraordinary potential calcium that will actually be almost completely tied up in oxalates.
Minimize toxins and maximize digestion
Plants are abundant sources of nutrients. It is important to know how to minimize the toxins and maximize digestion. We get to that in my next post, Plants are just chock-full of nutrition? . Click and read it now.
Have a blessed Thanksgiving. I don’t know about your house but lectins and glutens will be ever present at our celebratory meal. But as I have said before, your health is about what you eat most days. This is NOT what we eat most days.
In the meantime, if you would like to know a lot more about this subject, I can suggest the following website links.
https://www.diagnosisdiet.com/food/grains-beans-nuts-and-seeds/ Dr. Georgia Ede, website Diagnosis Diet.
https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC1115436/ Do Dietary Lectins Cause Disease? National Institutes of Health.
https://www.kevinstock.io/health/health-dangers-of-oxalates/ Health Dangers of Oxalates, Dr. Kevin Stock
Pat Smith is the author of “It’s All About the Food,” a book that guides nutritious food choices as the way to avoid illness and maintain a healthy weight. Pat is a resident of Montgomery County, AR, president of Ouachita Village, Inc. board of directors (Montgomery County Food Pantry), and president of the Mount Ida Area Chamber of Commerce board of directors. Her email address is firstname.lastname@example.org; phone number is 870-490-1836; visit her website at allaboutthefood.org