Vegetables are less nutritious than in past

>> Thursday, February 19, 2009

How many of you home gardeners think fruits and vegetables we find at the supermarket have fewer nutrients than what we grow at home? Without even peeking, I’m pretty sure all of you raised your hands.

Those vegetables and fruits at the supermarket are grown by big agriculture and those of us who grow our own avoid supermarket produce as much as possible.

A report in the February issue of the Journal of HortScience, says produce in the U.S. not only tastes worse than it did in your grandparents' day, it also contains fewer nutrients - at least according to Donald R. Davis, a former research associate with the Biochemical Institute at the University of Texas, Austin. Davis claims the average vegetable found in today's supermarket is anywhere from 5% to 40% lower in minerals (including magnesium, iron, calcium and zinc) than those harvested just 50 years ago.

Davis does admit the science of testing has improved over the years, and earlier results may not have been as accurate as they are today, and many of these vegetables travel quite a bit further today before they are put on display at our local supermarket, meaning they are older before they reach the consumer.

Just like the general population of humans, today’s vegetables are getting larger. But this doesn’t mean we are getting more nutrients. Most of this increase in produce size is in “dry matter” (90% of which is carbohydrates) spurred along by soil chemistry. Perhaps some of this “soil chemistry” is getting into out bodies and this is what is helping us to all ‘super-size’ our bodies. Scary thought. Also, selective breeding is favoring larger vegetables but for some reason they just are not getting a proportionate increase in nutrients. My feeling is that it is because of all the chemical fertilizers used to increase the farmers productivity.

In the good ole days, everything had to be fed with organic matter because the ‘miracle’ of chemical fertilizers didn’t appear until just after WWII.

Another factor concerning the use of chemically increasing the size is that vegetables are grown faster today, allowing farmers to get their produce to the consumer quicker. The downside to this is the vegetables are not given enough time to absorb nutrients. These are the vegetables whose seeds are being selected to grow the following years. Before long, the nutrients have been selected out.

These arguments backup the necessity to grow organically and to select and save heirloom seeds.

Monoculture farming practices - another hallmark of the Big Ag industry - have also led to soil-mineral depletion, which, in turn, affects the nutrient content of crops.

More than three billion people around the world suffer from malnourishment and yet, ironically, efforts to increase food production have actually produced food that is less nourishing.

Fruits seem to be less affected by genetic and environmental dilution, but one can't help but wonder how nutritionally bankrupt veggies can be avoided. Supplementing them is problematic, too: don't look to vitamin pills, as recent research indicates that those aren't very helpful either.

Further reading:
The Incredible, Edible Front Lawn
Saving Seed
Saving Seeds
Why should we save seed
Heirloom Seeds
Seed Savers Exchange


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