How Kinds of Plants Stack Up for Health

What follows is a brief description of four kinds of plants humans can utilize as food and the benefits/detriments of those plants to world health.

Wild Plants.  These are species that grow outside of cultivation and their genomes have not been intentionally manipulated by humans (save for rare cultivated species that can naturalize).  They are documented as the most nutrient-dense plants on the planet.  Because they have not been genetically modified through breeding, they possess unmodified levels of phytochemicals (i.e., plant compounds) that present potent anti-inflammatory, antioxidant, immune-boosting, cardiotonic, anti-cancer, pain-relieving, and genoprotective actions (among many others).  Their growth occurs outside of intentional landscape manipulation by humans (though they may take advantage of human-caused disturbance).  No pesticides, no herbicides, no fungicides, and no fossil fuels are needed for their growth.  Wild plants are a resource that humans and wild animals compete for; therefore, conscientious collecting is a must to sustain wild plant populations and share foods with the other-than-human persons we live alongside.  Wild plants represent the most eco-conscientious foods on the planet.

Organically Raised Plants.  These are cultivated plants that have, to some degree (sometimes extensively), been modified by people to present desired qualities (e.g., sweetness, flavor, shelf-life, greater size, shortened period to maturation, seedlessness).  As a result, there have been documented losses in nutrition, phytochemistry, and fiber in these plants.  Their growth often requires dramatic alterations to the landscape to clear forests, drain or alter wetlands, and plow the soil.  In large scale agriculture, organically raised plants require large amounts of fossil fuels to perform a variety of actions on the farms (e.g., tilling, planting, fertilizing, burning weeds, harvesting).  Fortunately, these plants still need to defend themselves against insect herbivores and pathogens, so they do produce various phytochemicals to protect themselves.  In regard to these types of plants, the more the plant resembles its wild progenitor in form and flavor, the more healthful it is likely to be.

Conventionally Raised Plants.  These are species that have all of the drawbacks of organically raised plants, plus they are raised in a chemical-laden fashion that pollutes the soil, water, and air.  Chemical herbicides, fungicides, and/or pesticides are used to grow such cultivars.  Industrially created fertilizers (from fossil fuels) may be used to enrich soils in a few key nutrients; however, many minerals are known to be depleted in the soils using this practice alone.  Because these plants do not need to protect themselves from insect herbivores and pathogens, their already muted levels of phytochemistry (due to breeding) are further suppressed by the absence of need to defend themselves (human growers take care of this).  Conventionally raised plants supply less nutrition to humans directly, less nutrition to animals who are fed these plants (hence, less nutrition to humans indirectly), and pollute the landscape (sometimes at great distances from where the chemicals are used).

Roundup Ready GMO plants.  These represent the least healthy and most damaging plants on the planet.  They have all of the drawbacks of organically raised plants and conventionally raised plants, plus they provide even less mineral nutrition, harm the health of the people who consume them, and genetically contaminate other species of plants.  Compounds in the herbicide Roundup bind with soil minerals and prevent plants from taking them up, which means the plants can’t supply them to the animals (including people) who consume them.  Building evidence suggests these plants may not be substantially equivalent, in regard to health, as non-laboratory GMO plants (as stated by the companies that create them).  Further, these species ultimately contaminate nearby fields of plants because the pollinators (e.g., wind, flying insects) do not limit their travels to fields where Roundup Ready plants are grown, transferring genetic material to closely-related plants.  Given all of the drawbacks, one has to wonder why anyone would consume these plants or feed them to animals.

Moral of story:  If you truly care about the health of your family and the landscapes we rely upon, acquire as much of your calories from as high on this list as you can.