Greens and Genes Lecture

Greens and Genes Lecture – Introduction

A long-held “fact” is that Greens and Genes have nothing to do with each other.  Stating it a different way is that food scientists have believed in the past that a gene is a gene and that they cannot be changed.  In other words whatever genes you are born with you are stuck with.  You will learn in this lecture about greens and genes that scientific research is showing that we can, in fact, change our genes!  Maybe not all of our genes can be changed 🙂 but some that are related to preventing diseases through proper nutrition.

Can We Change Our Genes?

Genes that are markers for certain diseases can be found, then manipulated through eating the proper nutrients that are found in not only greens, but many kinds of fruits and raw vegetables.  It seems that humans are actually killing themselves, not only by smoking one cigarette at a time, but also by eating one meal at a time.  The meals we eat are loaded with non-nutritional components that our bodies are not coded or programmed to eat and digest properly.

The lesson on origins of human diets, including the practicality of studying the evolution of primate diets, illustrated that we need to go back to basics.  Plant-based diets are the basics, and have been the norm over the long history of changes in human diets.  We know that a plant-based diet protects our bodies in a holistic (whole) way.  From the little rivers that are our blood vessels on the inside, to the largest organ of our body, the skin on the outside, plant nutrients are involved in keeping our complex bodies healthy and in shape.

The following blog by Dr. Pamela Peeke on WebMD deserves attention because she also points out how eating the proper foods can actually alter genes – making the Greens and Genes scenario even more important.

Most people recall with a bit of eye-rolling that frequent mealtime parental directive to “eat your vegetables”. Little did we know that years later, those daily entreaties would prove to be life-saving. The new news is that the latest science shows that food can actually alter your genes and send messages to the rest of the body, as well as affect the quality and quantity of your lifespan. How is this so?

Back in the 1990’s, scientists began to realize that DNA was not necessarily destiny as it related to common conditions such as heart disease, diabetes and cancer. Lifestyle habits and environmental influences became recognized as having a potent capacity to either activate or silence genes.

This was ground-breaking news and a game changer in the field of health and wellness where the new message transformed from one of despair over one’s genetic endowment to one of empowerment — choose a healthy lifestyle, alter genes positively and as a result, optimize your ability to decrease disease and disability.

Dr. Peeke lets us in on knowledge about the Human Epigenome Project, which is a “public/private collaboration by members of the multinational Human Epigenome Consortium.” (HEC)  The research and science involved in discovering genes that can be manipulated by proper nutrition was, “the product of years of work by dedicated scientists” that have been working within the HEC.

Now that we know that greens, and other fruits and raw vegetables can have an affect on our health, what are we going to do to get more people to eat more of the right nutrient-rich foods? How can we become activists for better foods that contribute to better health? It may be more difficult for those in under-privileged circumstances throughout the world to obtain foods with these life-giving nutrients.  However, the nations that lead in the largest numbers of obese people are ones where acquiring proper food should not be a problem.

This brings us to the larger problems of how bad things end up in the “good” foods that are brought to our tables.  An article by Radha Marcum, editor in chief of consumer publications serving the natural products industry, began a recent blog with the following statement: “You know the rule:  Only eat foods your grandmother would recognize.  But even if you’re opting for lots of wholesome produce, you may not be getting enough nutrients.  Turns out, even our plants are eating junk food.”

A Plant’s Nutrition Status

How does this work?  Plants being served “junk food?”  Dr. Benbrook, PhD, and chief scientist at the Organic Center, tells Marcum that, “Conventionally grown plants are fed their own junk food: nitrogen fertilizer.”  He further explains:

A big part of what’s wrong with the American diet can be traced to farmers using too much nitrogen fertilizer to keep pushing yields higher.  When they apply nitrogen to crop fields, the plants can’t filter it out–the roots are going to draw up those nutrients.  When a plant pulls extra nitrogen, the easiest thing it can do is to convert it into simple carbohydrates.  So it gets converted to a form of sugar or starch.  Both of those do little to add to the nutritional quality of food and they increase the likelihood that whatever antioxidants, vitamins, or minerals are going to get bound up into sugar, in a less bioavailable form.

The previous statement by Dr. Benbrook is the most important reason to opt for buying organic produce.  “The fact that organic food is typically produced with less available nitrogen translates into lower sugar content; because of that, the nutrients tend to be present in aglycone [more bioavailable] form.”  It does not take much logic to figure out why so many people are obese, or why the obesity rate in children is now epidemic.  We are bombarded with blogs and news articles, and so much scientific information about how health is declining and people are dying because of poor nutritional habits.  We all know that added salt, fats, and sugars are not good for our health.

Interestingly a plant’s PH (potential hydrogen) optimum balance is about 7.0, the same as a human beings.  With added nitrogen to plant food to make for larger yields, plants suffer from an imbalance of acid/alkaline, (negative PH) which is passed on to the person eating the plant.  PH balance is important in soil, in aquarium water for fish, and vital for human health. Acid/alkaline imbalance in humans will be addressed in the next lesson when we discuss Paleolithic precursors for today’s diet changes.

Being aware of negative health consequences from improper eating, and realizing that poor nutrition affects our genes adds an additional burden to our food choices.  Research now tells us that there is an important relation between not only greens and genes, but between our diets and whether we contract diseases such as heart diseases, diabetes, and obesity, which are preventable through proper consumption of organic and whole foods.

Another very important association with food is how food impacts cognitive health, especially in  young children and older people.  We know that cognitive performances decline with age; and recent studies show that eating a diet rich in vegetables, especially the ones we have been talking about in this lesson – the green leafy type, may possibly slow down cognitive degeneration by as much as 40%.  That is no small percentage!

Leafy greens are very vitamin E-rich, which Dr. Martha Clare Morris of Rush University Medical Center, says have the potential to slow down declining memory in old age. After her study, Dr. Morris wrote, “Of the different types of vegetables, green leafy vegetables had the strongest association.  This was unanticipated and raises several questions. It may be due to vegetables containing high amounts of Vitamin E, which helps lower the risk of cognitive decline.  Vegetables, but not fruits, are also typically consumed with added fats such as salad dressings, and fats increase the absorption of vitamin E.”  She brought up another point which scientists are also beginning to look into.  Dr. Morris said,  “Further study is required to understand why fruit is not associated with cognitive change.”  It makes one wonder if sugar may have something to do with not promoting cognitive health in older people.  A Mayo Clinic study just last year made this very connection.  Their study of 1,230 people ages 70-89 found that those who ate foods high in carbohydrates had four times the risk of developing cognitive impairment.  The danger rises further with a heavy-sugar diet!


Changes in human diets were few and far between in the evolutionary trajectory of our anatomy and digestive systems. Changes over the last fifty years: the way crops are raised, the way foods are manufactured and refined, the way animals are raised in disease laden environments with antibiotics, the chemicalization of everything, and the recent science of genetically modified seeds for crops can only lead one to wonder about the future of humanity and our world.

Eating our greens may seem like a small thing, but small things can often determine the outcome of larger things to come.  Especially when it involves being able to influence our own genetic makeup, which we never thought possible.

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