There is no easy way to classify toxic food components of plant origin. Some are low-molecular-weight endogenous toxins and others are products of secondary metabolism. Primary metabolism involves processes involved in energy metabolism, such as photosynthesis, growth, and reproduction. Macro- and micronutrients are the products of primary plant metabolism. Secondary metabolism is species specific and includes compounds such as plant pigments, flavors, or those that serve as protective compounds. Some of the secondary metabolic products are known as growth inhibitors, neurotoxins, mutagens, carcinogens, and teratogenes. Many are not tested because no government regulations require such testing and such testing would be extremely costly. Our food contains, in addition to the many well-known major (protein, fat, carbohydrate, and fiber) and minor (vitamins, minerals, and nonessential compounds) nutrients, thousands of naturally present toxic plant compounds. Still, while popular notion remains that “natural is good,” it is clear that natural toxins pose a far greater health risk than that posed by synthetic chemicals in our foods.
Fortunately, our food also contains natural chemicals that can counteract the adverse effects of many natural and synthetic toxins. The data thus far are very encouraging that some plant foods can actually reduce the incidence of certain types of cancer. Hundreds of animal and epidemiological studies have identified several foods or specific compounds that offer protection against the carcinogenic effects of a wide variety of natural and synthetic chemicals. A few compounds have been shown to actually reverse the carcinogenic process in animals.
Natural Plant table