FOOD AS MEDICINE - Nutrigenomics, phytonutrients & plants

“Let food be thy medicine and medicine be thy food.”

Hippocrates, father of medicine, 431B.C

Cultures around the world have been reporting on the healing properties of food for millennia. Although often feasible, these benefits have not been backed up by solid scientific evidence pretty much until the last few decades.

With the invention of nutrition science, clinical research has finally been able to show, understand and conclude how individual foods deliver their numerous beneficial health effects. Through observing specific nutrient(s) and phytochemical pathways, researchers have been able to unwrap and analyse the properties of individual foods and in turn, show how their proteins, carbohydrates, fats, fibres, vitamins, minerals and phytochemicals therapeutically act on the human body. In other words, how food enhances health, or degrades it.


We know that nutrient deficiencies and excesses from a poor diet are linked to majority of health conditions today. For example:

HIGH intakes of:

  • Calories is linked to obesity

  • Sodium is linked to high blood pressure

  • Refined starches is linked to fatty liver

  • Alcohol is linked to fatty liver

  • Saturated fats is linked to heart disease

  • Sugars is linked to high blood glucose levels (i.e. diabetes)

  • Processed carbohydrates is linked to gut issues

LOW intakes of:

  • Iron cause anemia

  • Iodine cause thyroid issues

  • Vitamin B12 impairs brain function

  • Calcium impairs bone health

  • Vitamin A causes eye damage

  • Magnesium affects energy levels

  • Fibre causes digestive issues

  • Folate causes growth problems

  • Zinc impairs appetite

  • Healthy fats cause skin conditions


Nutrigenomics is a fairly new science that looks at the interaction of nutrition and genes; specifically how nutrition impacts on the prevention and treatment of disease. Basically it is the scientific study of analysing how certain nutrients and dietary patterns affect the expression of certain genes in our bodies, particularly those genes related to health conditions and diseases. Numerous studies have demonstrated that macronutrients (e.g. fatty acids and proteins), micronutrients (e.g. vitamins) and naturally occurring phytochemicals (e.g. flavonoids, carotenoids, coumarins, and phytosterols), as well as long chain fatty acids (e.g. EPA and DHA) regulate gene expression in numerous ways. For example, the phytonutrients Genistein (found in fava beans and soy foods) and Resveratrol (found in red grapes and wine) are ligands (molecule binders) for transcription factors (involved in DNA replication), and thus directly alter the expression of genes. Which means they affect the switching on of certain genes that perform particular functions in your body.


Phytonutrients refers to a class of compounds produced by plants. It has been estimated that there are up to 4000 different phytonutrients out there, with each coming from different plant sources and having different proposed beneficial effects on the body. Phytonutrients are found in fruits, vegetables, legumes and whole grains. By eating a variety of plant-based foods, specifically a variety of colors, you will provide your body with a variety of beneficial compounds, including vitamins, minerals and phytonutrients. The following are particular types of phytonutrients and their proposed benefits:

  • Beta-carotene – Plays a role in skin health, bone health, eye health and immune function. Found in orange and dark green leafy vegetables (e.g. pumpkin, sweet potato, carrot, spinach, kale, broccoli).

  • Lycopene – Plays a role in cancer protection, as well as heart health. Found in tomatoes, red capsicum and watermelon.

  • Lutein – Involved in eye health, cancer protection and heart health. Found in collard greens, kale, spinach, broccoli, brussel sprouts and artichokes.

  • Resveratrol – Helps to protects the heart and reduce inflammation in the body. Found in red wine, peanuts and grapes.

  • Organosulfur compounds – May exert antioxidant, anti-inflammatory, antimicrobial, anticancer and cardioprotective activities. Found in fresh garlic.

Now that's food medicine.

Be proactive and not reactive.

Eat more plants.