The Garden Approach: Consuming a Wide Variety of Plant Products (excerpt from cookbook)
You will notice as you look through the recipes in this cookbook, that there are plant symbols denoting which part of the plant is being used in the recipe. One of the interpretations of my father’s research was that the consumption of a variety of whole foods promotes optimal health. Seeds, fruits, leaves, flowers and roots, almost every part of the plant, are edible, nutritious and delicious and each part has a different nutrient composition. Here are some examples:
- LEGUMES are a good source of protein, fiber and iron.
- CEREALS are rich in carbohydrates, fiber and niacin.
- GREEN LEAVES of plants are rich in antioxidant vitamins.
- ROOTS have lots of carbohydrates and in some, even carotenoids.
Thus, it’s important to consume a variety of plants so that you can obtain a full complement of nutrients. Each recipe contains plant icons, guiding you to see what part of the plant you are consuming, and to encourage you to consume as many different plant foods at a given meal, on a given day, and across a week or month.
Knowing how and why these nutrients act in the plant helps us to understand how they are used in the human body as well. For instance, roots, seeds and tree nuts store energy and are generally higher in fat and carbohydrates. They are critical components in starting the next generation of plants, especially to start plant growth when the weather becomes favorable. If fat is the form of energy storage, as in beans, peas and tree nuts, they also need to include substances that help to prevent the fat from spoiling and becoming rancid through oxidation. Antioxidants are therefore needed, like vitamins and some minerals (like vitamin E and selenium).
Some plants store carbohydrate as a source of energy for their offspring, like the starch in cereal grains and tubers. These energy-storing foods therefore provide their energy to us as well, thus we consume potatoes, nuts and many different kinds of grains. In a plant-based diet, about 80% of our total energy consumption is from these foods.
These energy-containing foods, when stored in a harsh environment while waiting for new plant growth, need to be protected from the elements. Thus they use tough fibers to create a shell-like outer coat, as in the ‘bran’ layer of grains that make them “whole” grains. Most plants use fiber to create a rigid structure to keep them erect. We humans use these fibers, many of which are not digested, to effectively carry our food through our intestinal tract–a very normal and healthy process.
Because plants use the carbon atom (1) to create the basic chemical structure of organic molecules (fats, carbohydrate, proteins, and vitamins) and (2) to transport energy during its metabolism in our bodies, it therefore needs to be ‘fixed’ in the plants. Carbon dioxide, in the air, is captured by the plants during photosynthesis then is loaded up with energy from the sunlight to form carbohydrates. When we humans consume these plants, we oxidize their carbohydrates to release their energy for our own use. Photosynthesis, taking place in the colored part of the plant that is rich in chlorophyll, involves a sensitive energy transfer process that is capable of leaking highly oxidizing chemicals (radicals) that could damage nearby plant tissue. Plants control this potential damage by surrounding the photosynthesis region with layers of antioxidants, like the hundreds (thousands?) of carotenoids (beta carotene, lycopene). This is why the colored parts of plants (greens, reds and yellow colors) contain so many antioxidants. These substances are very useful for humans in preventing cancers and cardiovascular diseases that develop because of their dependence on excessive oxidation.
Another connection between plant and animal functions concerns the formation and use of protein. This molecule is unique in the sense that it contains nitrogen, a basic atom of the amino acids of protein. Both, plants and animals need protein (that is, nitrogen) and, in doing so, recycle it as an essential part of Nature. Like carbon dioxide, plants ‘fix’ nitrogen from the air. Microorganisms living within nodules on the roots of legumes, beans and peas help to fix the nitrogen into the plants so that they can make their protein. These foods therefore are rich in protein.
There are many, many other examples demonstrating the dependence of humans on plants and vice versa. Plants gather chemicals from the air and water and soil to make nutrients that animals (humans) use. Humans break down these foods to extract their nutrients, use them, and then excrete their byproducts back into the environment for plants to use. The interdependence of animals and plants and microorganisms sustains life for all groups. Plants make or gather the nutrients essential for our existence (carbohydrates, proteins, fats, vitamins, minerals). With the exception of vitamin B12 made by microorganisms, plants provide all the nutrients that we need and in the right amounts and proportions.
In summary, it is very important to consume a variety of plants to make sure that we are getting all the nutrients that we need. Thus we are using the garden approach for all of our recipes, stressing the need to choose a wide variety of plant foods.