If you’re old enough, you may realize that today’s fruits and vegetables just don’t taste like the ones you remember as a child.
It’s not your imagination, or nostalgia.
The drive to increase food production over the last fifty to a hundred years has been successful, but it’s come at a price.
Modern farming techniques have caused water and carbohydrate content to rise, while protein, vitamins and minerals have taken a dive. There’s even a term for it: “the dilution effect.” The result is much more serious than a mere lack of flavor. . .
While we’re urged to eat five fruits and vegetables a day to reduce disease and increase life expectancy, the dilution effect diminishes their health advantages.
Even organic produce does not contain all the missing nutrients.
Massive Increase in Yields
Most consumers aren’t aware of the drastic changes in farming and what they mean. This may give you an idea: A piece of California land that produced one pound of strawberries back in 1948 can now supply 5½ pounds.
Yields on onions and nectarines are up nearly 200%; celery and garlic, 250%; broccoli, beets and cantaloupe, 300%; tomatoes and almonds, 500%.
A century ago, a typical tomato plant would grow to 12 feet and produce five ripe tomatoes at a time. Today, the plant is half the height and produces twice the number of ripe, ready-to-eat tomatoes.
But because that dwarf of a plant doesn’t have enough biological power to supply so many tomatoes, it fills the fruit with water.1
Inferior nutrition is the result.
Calcium Levels Drop By Over a Quarter
Using government data, an independent researcher from England compared the mineral content of 20 fruits and vegetables between the 1930s and 1980s.
She found marked reductions in calcium, magnesium, copper (down a massive 80%) and sodium in the vegetables. Fruit was lower in magnesium, iron, copper and potassium.2
On this side of the Atlantic, researchers from the University of Texas compared the nutrient content of 43 garden crops between 1950 and 1999.
Of the 13 nutrients they evaluated using US Department of Agriculture (USDA) data, they saw notable declines for protein, calcium, phosphorus, iron, vitamin B2 and vitamin C.
To pick a few examples, celery had 42% less protein; cauliflower had half as much B1; the B2 content of kale had fallen by 50%, and the vitamin C content of asparagus dropped by nearly two-thirds.3
In a report called America’s Vanishing Nutrients, health researcher Alex Jack compared USDA data between 1975 and 1997 or 2001 for 12 fruits and 12 garden vegetables.
The average declines for veg\fruit, in percentages, were: calcium 26.5\28.9, iron 36.1\16.4, vitamin A 21.4\16.4, Vitamin C 29.9\1.9.4
The dilution of nutrients and genes caused by intensive farming and plant breeding means food no longer has the nutritional density it once had.
How can we fix this?
Boosting Nutrient Levels
Many studies have found no significant difference in vitamin and mineral content of organic compared to conventional produce. However, organic foods do have up to 69% more antioxidant plant compounds. These have profound health benefits and anti-cancer activity.
Physician and New York Times bestselling author Michael Greger, MD writes that compared to conventional crops, “based on antioxidant phytonutrient levels, organic produce may be considered 20 to 40% healthier.”5
So organic foods are certainly a better choice. In addition, to find produce with more vitamins and minerals,you should seek out those with flavor. In his book The Dorito Effect, author Mark Schatzker writes that the “true test of quality is the way food tastes.”
He suggests seeking out, for example, varieties of dark leaf flavorful lettuce, sweet and “carroty” carrots, juicy, tender and “peachy” peaches, and branded tomatoes.
I completely agree. All these items are a universe apart from supermarket produce when purchased in a farmer’s market or a specialty grocer’s, in season, preferably in organically grown heritage varieties.
If you’re unfamiliar with the “heritage” moniker, it means the varieties are those grown generations ago, before plant breeding (not to mention gene splicing) stripped the flavor and nutrition out of them.
“If you think it’s expensive” writes Mr. Schatzker “remember that it’s going to a very important place: your body.”
- The Dorito Effect by Mark Schatzker
- http://saveoursoils.com/userfiles/downloads/1351255687-Changes in USDA food composition data for 43 garden crops, 1950-1999.pdf