by Judy Soborowicz
When walking through the produce section of any grocery store, it is pleasing to view the selection of fruits and vegetables available. Not so long ago, it was very common to find only the staples of the region on display and, on rare occasion, a tropical fruit available for a very short period. Agriculture and food marketing has developed at such a rate over the last sixty years that many people today find it hard to imagine not having such a wide array of foods to choose from. Yet behind this abundance of food there has been a steady leaching of nutrient value. Since the 1950s, crops have been bred for yield, appearance, uniformity (of both size and ripening time), disease resistance, and shipping and storage qualities; I know of no mass scale crop that has been bred for nutrient content alone.
Those varieties of crop which meet the mass production requirements (remaining edible longer) are often the varieties with less flavor. The historically well cared for soil of the 1920s combined with the introduction of fertilization using a mixture of nitrogen, phosphorus, and potassium led to a dramatic rise in crop yields. In result, care of soil fertility suddenly appeared less necessary. Artificial fertilization led to growth in plant size, larger yields and loss of soil maintenance. Prior farming methods had set care of soil fertility as paramount, as healthy soil led to a more survivable and robust crop. Methods of nutrient recycling, composting, and effectively returning the waste products of agriculture back to the land resulted in fertile, bacteria-rich soil, leading to nutrient rich and hearty, strong plants. With the loss of recycling of the waste products (rich in over 20 different minerals) came further soil depletion. Minerals are truly a renewable resource; when recycled through composting, minerals can be used repeatedly to grow healthy plants, livestock and people (mammals require over 20 essential minerals). As the soil began to lose its rich and vast supply of minerals, plants became less nutrient rich and robust, fertilization had achieved a larger, faster-growing weaker plant. This led to increasing need for methods to protect the weaker crop, thus increasing the use of pesticides and herbicides. Pesticide use diminished soil microbes and bacteria. Certain soil microbes live in symbiotic relationships with plant roots and produce vitamin B12, which enhance the health of plants and, consequently, the people who eat them.
According to the US Department of Agriculture, only 7% of the soil today can grow and reproduce viable seed with nothing added to assist in the seed maturation. If it is not in the soil it cannot grow into the plant. The Journal of the American College of Nutrition studied US Department of Agriculture nutritional data from both 1950 and 1999 for 43 different fruits and vegetables and found “reliable declines” in the amount of protein, calcium, phosphorus, iron, riboflavin, and vitamin C. Research done at the University of Washington State on winter wheat revealed a trend of mineral depletion. After looking at the mineral content of the plants recorded from 1940 to current times, researchers uncovered a startling drop in the mineral selenium — more than 59% over the last sixty years. Low levels of soil selenium have been linked to increases in cancers in the United States and Finland. Both zinc and iron, protective minerals for the immune system and the prevention of anemia, showed a 25% and 11% drop, respectively. A Kushi Institute analysis of nutrient data from 1975 to 1997 indicated average calcium levels in 12 fresh vegetables had dropped by 27%, iron 37%, and vitamin C 30%. Calcium, protein, and phosphorus, along with other minerals, are essential for establishing healthy bones and muscle tissue. The latest edition of The Composition of Food by McCance and Widdowson concluded that “There could be as much as a 76% decline in mineral content of the fruits and vegetables grown commercially.”
Hippocrates is quoted as saying “Let food be thy medicine and medicine be thy food.” The same nutrients and minerals found in the soil that make good strong produce, make good strong people, and vice versa. We are part of the recycling in the soil, not separate from it. Attention to the cycle of our growing process is wise. Vegetables are still one of the best ways to gain essential vitamins and minerals for your body. Consider buying local and or organic to get the most value for your health. Eating robust, strong plants picked at the right time and grown on nutrient rich soil translates into a much more concentrated infusion of essential nutrients and minerals for your ability to fully express health.
Judy Soborowicz practices chiropractic and nutrition at Active Health along with her husband John. She enjoys writing, researching and lecturing on topics concerning chiropractic, healthcare and experience gained along the way.