Scientists have spent years marveling over the smarts of certain animals on our planet (and they are smart!). But much less attention has been put on how smart plants are.
Now, it might seem a little strange to talk about “smart plants” – they don’t have brains, right? But let‘s not forget that plants are indeed living, breathing entities. In fact, the only reason we can breathe at all is that plants supply our oxygen!
So, What Makes Plants Smart?
Plant intelligence is more complex than many experts ever imagined. Though plants can’t move or extend claws to protect themselves, scientists have discovered that they can indeed fight for territory, sense things, smell, and even see.1
They are able to respond to odors and light (though they have no noses or eyes) and some smart plants can even defend themselves against predators that seek to eat them.
They do this by leaching out proteins and chemicals to dissuade predators or make them sick enough to stay away. One of these proteins is known as the lectin – and you’ve definitely read about lectins here.
This may sound like a real-life Little Shop of Horrors scenario but all in all, smart plants are just trying to survive (and procreate) like humans.
A Lectin Recap
Lectins are plant proteins that occur in some plants. They are “plant defenses” and they act as a toxin to anything that might try to eat the plant.
Plants need to spread their seed to ensure the survival of their entire species. But when we, or animals, eat plants, we mess up the life cycle of the plant and the plants punish us for it.
Animals who eat these plants will often become sick, register that this is not a great plant to eat right now, and not return. Humans, not so much. We may experience nausea, diarrhea, weight gain, lethargy, and other digestive stress but we just keep returning to eat that plant!
Gluten is a prime example of a lectin, coming primarily from the grain family. But there are other types of lectins that lurk in some pretty common foods. One of those foods is tomatoes.
Tomatoes And The Nightshade Family
The nightshade family of vegetables consists of tomatoes, peppers, eggplant, and potatoes. The problem with these veggies is that they are all high in lectins. You can learn a lot from our nightshade vegetables list.
If we look at the tomato specifically, those lectins are found in the skin and the seeds of the tomato. Interestingly, the Italian and the French have been using tomatoes in their cooking for centuries – but they have traditionally always peeled and deseeded them. Perhaps always knowing that those two elements would cause them digestive distress.
But scientists have recently found that tomato plants are even smarter than we could imagine.
Smart Plants: Tomato
A new study on the defense mechanisms of tomato plants has showed that tomatoes can sense a predator from its bite, turn on an extra powerful chemical, send out a message to surrounding plants that a predator is on the loose, and – WARNING: this is where we enter horror film territory – even turn hungry caterpillars into cannibals!
In the study, scientists encouraged tomato plants to go into attack mode by spraying them with varying amounts of a chemical known as methyl jasmonate which they knew would amp up the defense mechanism quicker in the tomato plants. Once their defenses were on high alert they started to produce nasty proteins to protect themselves.2
Scientists then placed eight caterpillars on each plant and watched how the caterpillars would handle their food choices when faced with the toxic proteins. After a few days, the caterpillars decided to eat each other instead!
They concluded that encouraging cannibalism certainly has some big benefits for plants!
Finally, The Smart Human
All of this highlights just how toxic plants can become if they don’t wish to be eaten. Sure, they’re not toxic enough to kill a human on the spot, nor turn us into cannibals but that toxicity over time can still make you very, very sick. Especially in those that have a stronger sensitivity to lectins.
Which is why a lectin-free diet is a smart way to go when faced with smart plants. It is one reason why we prefer tomato free bbq sauce for instance.
Some people choose to cut lectins out for good. But for others, this doesn’t mean that you can never eat tomatoes (or other lectin-rich foods) again. By learning how to at least lower the lectins within a food, it could still change your life.
In The End…
Smart plants don’t actually hate you. When it’s the correct season to harvest their fruits, plants bloom with beautiful colors and smells to entice the animal kingdom to eat them. Because they still need animals to carry and spread their seed back into the ground for their next generation. Need any more proof of plant intelligence?
15 Ways to Reduce Lectins in Your Diet
Dr. Gundry’s Tomato-Free BBQ Sauce Recipe