Modern intensive agricultural methods as well as GMO practices and other factors have resulted in an alarming depletion of the nutrients in our diet. “Efforts to breed new varieties of crops that provide greater yield, pest resistance and climate adaptability have allowed crops to grow bigger and more rapidly. But their ability to manufacture or uptake nutrients has not kept pace with their rapid growth,” reported biochemist Donald Davis of the University of Texas, author of a landmark study on the subject.
Much more is known today than 60 years ago about the positive and negative effects of diet on wellness. Research has revealed how food constituents like antioxidants and fatty acids reduce the risk of disease. Studies have also shown a direct correlation between consuming unhealthful foods and an increased likelihood of developing maladies that plague modern society. It’s ironic that as enlightenment has increased, the health-promoting impact of food has diminished to some extent.
The primary cause of death of our early ancestors was infection and injury rather than degenerative disorders like cancer, diabetes and heart disease. What did they do that protected them from these ills? They didn’t eat processed food. This food is filled with chemicals and devoid of nutrition. Their diet consisted of foods grown organically on their own land.
How Nutrients in Food Have Declined in Modern History
Here are highlights of studies that show how nutrients in food have decreased in the 20th and early part of the 21st century.
- In 2011, Davis compared the nutrients in crops grown in 1950 and 2009. Notable reductions in five nutrients were found in several fruits and vegetables. These included eggplants, tomatoes and squash. Among the declines were a 43 percent drop in iron and a 12 percent drop in calcium.
- Another study by Davis published in the Journal of the American College of Nutrition compared the nutrients of primarily vegetables that were grown in 1950 and 1999. Findings included a 38 percent fall in vitamin B2 and a 15 percent fall in vitamin C.
- Research published in 1997 in the British Food Journal compared nutrient data from food grown in the 1930s and 1980s. The results showed calcium decreased by 19 percent and iron by 22 percent. A 2005 reanalysis indicated the vegetables of 1980 had lower amounts of magnesium, sodium and copper, while fruits had lower amounts of potassium, iron and copper.
Comparison of Nutrients Between Organic Foods and GMO Foods
The emergence of GMOs in the 1980s had a devastatingly unhealthful effect on the food supply.
- A 2016 study published in the Journal of Agricultural and Food Chemistry compared nutrients of tomatoes grown organically with those of tomatoes grown in the conventional GMO method. The organic tomatoes had significantly greater amounts of phenolic compounds.
- In 2008, research published in the Journal of Agricultural and Food Chemistry showed organic apples had a 15 percent higher antioxidant content than GMO apples.
A key factor responsible for the nutrient depletion is glyphosate, the herbicide used in GMO crops. This chemical deprives plants of vital nutrients and raises cellular toxicity. The lower nutrient value is disturbing. But the toxicity presents a much more troubling problem. Research has linked glyphosate to cancer and other ills.
The Dilution Effect: Bigger Vegetables Have Less Nutrients
In a 2011 study at the U.S. Department of Agriculture, scientists found an inverse relationship between the mineral content and size in different varieties of broccoli. After measuring the amounts of 11 minerals in 14 cultivars, they discovered what is called the dilution effect. The larger broccoli varieties favored by today’s consumers had lower mineral levels than a smaller 1950 variety called Waltham 29. A 2004 broccoli cultivar had 30 percent less magnesium, 18 percent less iron and 28 percent less zinc than the 1950 broccoli cultivar.
The Trade-Off of Less Nutrition for a Bigger Food Supply
Modern agricultural methods have led to a trade-off of less nutrition for a bigger food supply. The more nutritious Waltham 29 broccoli from 1950 isn’t as hardy as newer varieties, so it wouldn’t be likely to succeed today. Since farmers must feed a much larger population, food is grown for yield rather than quality.
Environmental Pollution Will Deplete Nutrients in Future Crops
As farmers strive to feed the world in an era of environmental change, the problem of nutrient depletion is likely to worsen. Last year, Harvard scientists warned future crops would probably have less nutrients due to higher levels of carbon dioxide from fossil fuels. Based on their research, they predict many kinds of grains and legumes grown 40 to 60 years from now will contain 9 percent less zinc, 6 percent less protein and 5 percent less iron than a crop grown at current carbon dioxide levels.
Food Transport System Depletes Nutrition
Part of the nutrient depletion problem is caused by the system of getting food from the farm to local supermarkets.
- A 2003 study published in the Journal of Agricultural and Food Chemistry assessed the nutrients in broccoli in conditions that simulated the storage and transportation involved in a retail environment. It found a 71 to 80 percent loss of cancer-fighting sulphur compounds. A 60 percent loss of flavonoid antioxidants was also revealed.
- Many fruits and vegetables, most notably tomatoes, are picked unripe to prevent bruising during transit. This practice also takes a toll on nutrients, as studies suggest that early harvested tomatoes have lower amounts of antioxidants.
- The light and dark connected with shipping and storage depletes nutrients. Vitamin C deteriorates in the dark, while glocosinolates in cabbage and broccoli break down in the light.
Putting Nutrient Depletion in Perspective
GMOs are the single most harmful threat to the food supply and health. So putting a stop to this practice is of paramount importance. Another helpful step would be to alternate fields between growing seasons to allow time for soil restoration. Organic growing methods are another critical part of the solution.
Despite the fact that fresh produce isn’t as healthful as it was in past decades, it is still much more nutritious than the typical Western diet of sugary and highly refined foods. “If you’re worrying about nutrient losses from cooking or whether your food is straight from the farm — those differences are minor compared to the differences you’d get from eating unprocessed foods,” says Davis. “Vegetables are extraordinarily rich in nutrients and beneficial phytochemicals. They are still there, and vegetables and fruits are our best sources for these.”
Mary West is a natural health enthusiast, as she believes this area can profoundly enhance wellness. She is the creator of a natural healing website where she focuses on solutions to health problems that work without side effects. You can visit her site and learn more at http://www.alternativemedicinetruth.com. Ms. West is also the author of Fight Cancer Through Powerful Natural Strategies.