Just as the Farming practices of animal products have an impact upon the nutritional density of those products, the same applies to the plant world. Many studies have been done over the years comparing nutrient density now relative to the past. Here are a few examples:
A team of researchers from the University of Texas at Austin’s Department of Chemistry and Biochemistry published in the December 2004 Journal of the American College of Nutrition. They studied the U.S. Department of Agriculture data from both 1950 and 1999 for 43 different fruits and vegetables. They found “reliable declines” in the amount of protein, calcium, phosphorus, iron, riboflavin (Vitamin B2 and Vitamin C over the past 50 years. Magnesium, zinc and Vitamins B6 and E were not studied in 1950 but it was “assumed” that similar decreases existed.
The Organic Consumers Association cited several studies with similar results:
- The Kushi Institute analysis of data from 1975 to 1997 found the average calcium levels in 12 fresh vegetables dropped 27%; iron levels down 37%, vitamin A levels down 21% and vitamin C 30%.
- A British study published in the British Food Journal looked at data from 1930 to 1980. They found that in 20 vegetables the calcium content declined 19%; iron 22%; and potassium 14%.
- Another British study saw a drop of between 2 and 84% in mineral content between 1940 and 2002.
I could go into additional comparisons but why bother, the results are essentially the same. In general, the fruits and vegetables grown, sold and consumed contain less nutrition today than have in the past. What this means is that you would have to consume more fruits and vegetables today to obtain the same amount of nutrients that your grandparents had to. Howe much more will depend upon some variables.
This being said, I have to wonder if the current labels on food contain nutritional information that is accurate relative to this type of data.
It has gotten so bad that in 2002 The journal of the American Medical Association published a study warning that people can’t get enough vitamins from diet alone. Supplementation in all adults is recommended, if not necessary.
It gets even better. In 2006 the United Nations admitted to a new type of malnutrition, suggesting that the problem is not always food availability, but rather food quality. This has been called “type B malnutrition” and considers farming practices as the reason for micronutrient depletion.
What is the likely culprit?
There are two primary reasons for this nutrient depletion:
Poor Farming Methods:
- Monoculture – The growing of one crop only. This does not exist in nature. The end result is a reduction in nutrients as the one plant continues annually to remove nutrients without other plants replenishing them.
- Lack of Crop Rotation – Every year crops should be rotated to a new plot. Each plant grown will remove specific nutrients while replenishing other nutrients. Rotation decreases the likelihood of deletion. One plot should remain unplanted and rotated every season.
- Lack of Cover Crops – Cover crops are used in the offseason specifically to restore nutrients as it is sown back into the soil after its growing season.
- Lack of Proper Composting – A traditional and effective method to ensure soil nutrients is to spread compost over the fields. This compost in polyculture farms typically involves animal waste along with other plant remains that have broken down into rich live soil
- Use of Chemical Fertilizers – Most chemical fertilizers are predominately Nitrogen, Phosphorus, Potassium (NPK), which will stimulate plant growth but don’t ensure nutrient density as plants require more than just these three minerals.
- Use of Chemical Pesticides – As the above farming methods are used, there is a domino effect revolving around unhealthy plants. Healthy plants are not prone to bug infestations, the bugs present tend to be of the healthier variety, having a symbiotic relationship. An infestation means there is something wrong. Often, the problem is deficient soil health and vitality. Soil is a living material. Pesticides kill more than just bugs, they kill organisms within the soil. The end result is soil insufficient to grow healthy plants which attracts unwanted bugs whose job it is to take down the plant and return it to the soil to feed the organisms and heal the soil. The pesticides interfere with the natural laws of nature.
- Poor Seed Selection modern farming is all about crop yields, consistency in appearance (size, shape, color) and durability (handle storage, shipping and handling). Nutrition is secondary at best and ignored at worst. To meet these needs plants are hybridized or worse, Genetically Modified. Maximizing profit at the expense of the consumer’s health is wrong no matter how you view it.
Long-haul trans-continental and international imports.
- We have the ability to move fruits and vegetables over long distances at prices that are competitive. Plus we Americans expect to have access to everything whenever it is wanted. Strawberries and Tomatoes in the dead of winter is not possible unless the product is shipped from a long distance, plus, they taste awful. Long distance travel can mean that food does not get to the store shelf until up to seven weeks after harvesting. In spite of all the cool chemicals and preservation methods, once picked the plant will begin rotting and lose beneficial antioxidants and polyphenols.
What can you do?
Know your Farmer: Buy local, utilize your local farmers market where the plants are as fresh as possible unless grown in your own back yard. Ask your farmer how they grow the food, if they use composting and if they spray chemicals on the crops. Better yet, ask if you can visit. A real farmer is proud of what they do. Real farming requires intelligence, industrial food farming does not.
Eat Seasonally: Eat seasonally and you will get the bes
t quality and also ensure a greater more diverse selection of plants year round. Plus, you are less likely to develop a food sensitivity from over-exposure. The typical American consumes roughly 10 different foods a week and repeats them weekly. This is a guaranteed catalyst for malnutrition.
Eat Wild/Heirloom Plants: Wild native plants can often be found in the backyard and local woods/fields if foraging. Just make sure the area is free of pesticides and chemical fertilizers. Another option is Heirloom varieties that are essentially old-school or the original versions of the modern hybrids. For example:
- Wild dandelions have seven times more nutrients than spinach
- Purple potatoes from Peru have 28 times more anthocyanin than Russet Potatoes
- Some select native apples no larger than a cherry have 100 times more phytonutrients than the common Golden Delicious
- Wild Blueberries have twice the antioxidants of ordinary blueberries
Final Thoughts – What you eat is important. The quality of what you eat is even more important. Regardless of whether it is a plant or a flesh food, you want to consume that which was as healthy as possible so that you can take that health and energy and integrate it into your own cells, tissue, glands, organs and complex systems. No one accidental gets healthy. Real health comes from the environment you live in plus the lifestyle and behavioral choices you make within that environment. Food is one of if not the most important pillar of health building. What food are you made out of?
“Let thy food be thy medicine, and thy medicine thy food.”