If you enjoy eating and breathing, then you need to eat an anti-inflammatory diet rich in plants, especially colorful fruits and vegetables. That statement raises three important questions: Why do you need to consume anti-inflammatory chemicals? Why are those chemicals found in plants? Why should you focus on the colorful ones?
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Why do you need to consume anti-inflammatory chemicals?
There are three things certain in life. You are already familiar with the first two: taxes and death. The third thing is inflammation. The more days you have been alive, the more inflammation exists inside your body. Why? What do you do every day that leads inexorably to this increase in inflammation? You have been eating and breathing.
Eating provides your body with the energy stored within the carbon bonds contained within the fats, carbohydrates, and proteins that make up your diet. Breathing brings oxygen to your mitochondria to carry away the carbon debris that forms when these bonds are broken apart.
This single critical activity, called oxidative metabolism or respiration, essential for your daily survival, is the most important factor that very slowly, minute-by-minute and day-by-day, produces the oxidative stress that leads to accumulating levels of inflammation. (View my TED Talk for a visual explanation of these processes.)
Oxidative stress directly damages cellular proteins throughout the body. Protein damage is a significant pathophysiological event leading to inflammation, disease, and aging.
Why are those chemicals found in plants?
In truth, plants have no interest in humans at all. Plants do not produce antioxidants and anti-inflammatory chemicals for our benefit. They produce these chemicals for their survival. Plants stand immobile, collecting solar radiation and producing lots of oxygen.
Consequently, plants are exposed to very high levels of oxidative stress and free radicals that can easily harm their proteins. In addition, similar to what happens in animal cells, the mitochondria and chloroplasts leak lots of free radicals during photosynthesis.
Plants use oxygen, water, and the hydrocarbons they create during photosynthesis to produce chemicals that can protect them from oxidative stress and these free radicals. One of the most famous antioxidants discovered in plants is Vitamin C.
Why should you focus on the colorful ones?
Fruits, vegetables, and food legumes contain high levels of phytochemicals that act as anti-inflammatories and antioxidants. The most common group of these are flavonoids. Flavonoids, such as anthocyanins, absorb specific wavelengths of light and give fruits and vegetables (and flowers) their vibrant blue, purple and red colors.
Another phytochemical critical for photosynthesis is chlorophyll, which makes plants green. It is thought that the flavonoids evolved to protect the chloroplasts, which contain chlorophyll, from photodamage due to direct sunlight. Anthocyanins also play significant roles in plant propagation, ecophysiology, and plant defense mechanisms.
You should eat these colorful phytochemicals every day; their effects need to be restored daily. Anthocyanins are absorbed well in the stomach and intestines and undergo extensive liver metabolism as soon as they are absorbed from the gut.
Some of these metabolites might be responsible for the health benefits. Anthocyanins that fail to be absorbed will reach the large intestine undergo decomposition by microbiota. The byproducts of consuming anthocyanins can be detected in the breath, urine, and feces rather quickly.
An anti-inflammatory diet rich in colorful fruits and vegetables will defend the body from the consequences of constantly eating and breathing and significantly slow all the known biochemical processes that underlie normal and pathological aging.