Like many of their generation, our grandparents had a garden out back. It wasn’t huge – just a fruit tree or two, tomatoes, some root veggies, and a few rows of corn. It was a long time ago now, but we can still remember the flavors coming out of our grandmother’s kitchen, thanks to the picked-the-same day freshness of those vegetables. They were delicious enough to make us actually want to eat our vegetables, and healthy enough to give us the energy to run around all day. Nothing bought in a grocery store today can compare.
As it turns out, that’s not just our opinion, either. Fruits and vegetables grown today aren’t as nutritious as the food grown in the 1950s. They aren’t even as nutritious as the food grown in the 1970s. And it isn’t just about pesticides – at least not directly.
Looking the Same Doesn’t Make Them the Same
You would think that a tomato is a tomato, and a carrot is a carrot. If there was some way you could compare a carrot from our grandparents’ garden to a carrot you bought at the grocery store yesterday, they’d probably both look like, well, carrots. The modern one may be larger, but it’ll still look like a carrot. However, even if you couldn’t see or taste much of a difference, there’d be one.
Comparing nutritional analysis of fruits and vegetables taken in the 1950s to those taken in 1999, there’ve been statistically significant declines in the amount of protein, calcium, phosphorus iron riboflavin/vitamin B2, and vitamin C. And scientists expect similar declines in magnesium, zinc, and vitamins B6 and E, but those nutrients weren’t studied in the ‘50s, so there’s no baseline.
Never mind the 1950’s, given the declines just between 1975 and 1997, it’s good bet there have been even further declines in the 20 years since then. We just haven’t gotten around to studying those, yet. As of 1997, though, you would need to eat eight oranges to get the same amount of vitamin C that a single orange would’ve given you just a few generations ago.
So what happened?
Soil Matters More Than Seed
When it comes to nutritional value, what’s in the soil matters – A LOT. As a plant grows, it gets many of the nutrients it needs, and the ones it passes along to you, from the soil. But decades of focusing on other aspects of farming have left the soil ignored and unattended.
Remember the modern carrot might be larger? That’s part of the problem. Research and technology focused on growing larger vegetables, faster – but didn’t address how to make sure the nutrients were passed on in a shorter amount of time. The chemicals that make the vegetables grow – and keep away the pests – are also damaging and depleting the soil of the nutrients.
That’s not all – because the crops grow faster, they get turned over faster. This leads to nutrient depletion because the soil doesn’t have time to, in essence, recharge. Fewer nutrients in the soil mean fewer nutrients in your food.
But you can’t – and you shouldn’t – stop eating fresh fruits and vegetables! Just be a little picky about your pickings:
- Buy organic whenever possible. Most grocery stores offer at least some organic options in their produce sections. You’ll pay more, but you will get more.
- Hit up the farmers’ markets. Local farmers are making a difference. Smaller farms with fewer chemicals adds up to healthier vegetables for you.
- Take a high quality multivitamin. Getting your nutrients from food is ideal, but since that’s harder these days – who can eat eight oranges? – supplement with a good multivitamin.