Fruits and Vegetables Declining in Nutrients

Mar 06, 2016 06:01 PM EST | By Mark Jason Alcala

Apparently, there is a current food trend, a long running one, that most people are probably unaware of. Thanks to a massive and constant information campaign by health and nutrition experts, almost all people in this planet are now aware that fruits and vegetable are the healthiest, most nutritious food option available. However, what most people do not know is that fruit and vegetables are not as nutritious as before. Of course they are still healthy; they just do not pack as much nutrients as they did decades ago.

According to an article by Marco Torres writing for Wake Up World, fruits and vegetable have been steadily declining in nutritional contents for the most part of the 20th century. Torres based this statement from a 2011 study made by Donald Davis, University of Texas biochemist at that time who is now retired. Davis compared nutrients between fruits and vegetables harvested in the 1950 and those harvested in 2009 and found an unsettling discovery:

1.       Vitamin C decreased by 15%

2.       Iron decreased by 15%

3.       Vitamin B2 decreased by 38%

4.       Calcium decreased by 16%

5.       Protein decreased by 6%

6.       Phosphorous decreased by 9%

Similar studies in the past have shown the same results such as Anne-Marie Mayer's study in 1997. Others have expressed similar concerns with this trend which includes a Scientific American article, Organic Consumers article and Cheryl Long writing for Mother Earth News.

Possible Causes

What could have caused this steady and alarming depletion of nutrients in recent harvests? All articles blame modern farming methods as the main reason for this decline in nutritional content.

1.       Quantity over Quality approach - Farmers choose crops that are high-yielding to maximize profits. Since these crops grow at such fantastic rates, they can't absorb nutrients from the soil fast enough, resulting in a dilution of nutrients, according to Torres.

2.       Depleted Soil - Another reason for the decreasing nutrient content in fruits and vegetable is that there is lesser nutrient found in the soil for the plants to absorb. Modern farming methods, such as fertilization and irrigation seem to decrease soil quality which inevitably result to a nutrient-deficient harvest.

3.       Crop Choice or Highly Selective Cultivation - There are actually varieties that are naturally more nutritious but are not cultivated. According to Torres, there are wild dandelions that contain seven times more phytonutrients than the spinach but it is the spinach that was given "superfood" status. A species of apple that contains 100 times more phytonutrients than those found in the supermarkets as well as a purple potato that has 28 time more anthocyanins, a cancer-fighting compound, than the common potato. In short, poor choice of plant species to cultivate. With the introduction of GMO crops, it becomes even worse.

How to add Nutrients Back

The next logical question would be what can be done? How can the depletion be reversed? Scientific American's answer is simple; "the key to healthier produce is healthier soil". The land must be given time to restore and this can be done by alternating fields between growing seasons. In addition, chemical pesticides and fertilizers must be abandoned in favor of organic means. Consumers can likewise pitch in by supporting farmers earnest in growing organic crops.

Mother Earth News writer Cheryl Long agrees to all the solutions offered by Scientific American. In addition, Long emphasizes that when consumers buy or grow their crops, they must choose heirloom,  non-hybrid, lower-yielding varieties because they are more nutrient-dense.

In the meantime, it would be wise to take nutritional supplements to augment the decreased nutrient one gets from vegetables and fruits these days.

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