Our Foods, Less Nutrient-Dense?

A new study claims that many of our foods—fruits and veggies included—are losing their nutrients over time. Julie Deardorff of Julie’s Health Club is on it:
Here are more findings Halweil cited from Thomas' study that used data between 1940 to 1991:
  • "Spinach's potassium content dropped by 53 percent, its phosphorus by 70 percent, its iron by 60 percent and its copper by 96 percent."
  • "Substantial data show that in corn, wheat and soybeans, the higher the yield, the lower the protein and oil content."
  • "The higher tomato yields (in terms of harvest weight), the lower the concentration of vitamin C, levels of lycopene (the key antioxidant that make tomatoes red) and beta-carotene (a vitamin A precursor.)"
This is certainly fascinating stuff—reminds me of Dr. Fuhrman’s commentary on soil depletion in Eat to Live. Here’s an excerpt:
Soil depletion of nutrients is not the problem—our food choices are! Contrary to many of the horror stories you hear, our soil is not depleted of nutrients. California, Washington, Oregon, Texas, Florida, and other states still have rich, fertile land that produces most of our fruits, vegetables, beans, nuts, and seeds. America provides some of the most nutrient-rich produce in the world.


Our government publishes nutritional analyses of foods. It takes food from a variety of supermarkets across the country, analyzes it, and publishes the results. Contrary to claims of many health-food and supplement enthusiasts, the produce grown in this country is nutrient-rich and high in trace minerals, especially beans, nuts, seeds, fruits, and vegetables.1 American produced grains, however, do not have the mineral density of vegetables. Grains and animal-feed crops grown in the southeastern states are the most deficient, but even in those states only a small percentage of crops are shown to be deficient in minerals.2

Thankfully, by eating a diet with a wide variety of natural plant foods, from a variety of soils, the threat of nutritional deficiency merely as a result of soil inadequacy is eliminated. Americans are not nutrient-deficient because of our depleted soil, as some nutritional-supplement proponents claim. Americans are nutrient-deficient because they do not eat a sufficient quantity of fresh produce. Over 90 percent of the calories consumed by Americans come from refined foods or animal products. With such a small percentage of our diet consisting of unrefined plant foods, how could we not become nutrient-deficient? Since more than 40 percent of the calories in the American diet are derived from sugar or refined grains, both of which are nutrient-depleted, Americans are severely malnourished. Refined sugars cause us to be malnourished in direct proportion to how much we consume them. They are partially to blame for the high cancer and heart attack rates we see in America.
I got to side with Dr. Fuhrman on this. First, let’s get people eating more healthy plant foods and then we’ll deal with the other stuff—what do you think?
1. Pennington, J. A. 1996. Intakes of minerals from diets and foods: is there a need for concern? J. Nutr. 126 (9S): 2304–08S.

2. Dargatz, D. A., and P. F. Ross. 1996. Blood selenium concentration in cows and heifers on 253 cow-calf operations in 18 states. J. Anim. Sci. 74 (12): 2891–95.
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Comments (3) Read through and enter the discussion with the form at the end
don stewart - February 27, 2008 1:40 PM

I think it is a mistake to try to sweep concerns about the nutrient value of our foods under the rug. For example, at Neal Barnard's 2006 symposium for his Cancer Project, Paul Talalay of John's Hopkins talked about the cancer fighting potential of broccoli. Talalay had bought broccoli from many sources, and tested them for the cancer preventive components. He presented a chart which showed very wide variance. I don't have a copy of the chart, and my memory may be faulty, but I believe the range from the worst broccoli to the best broccoli was something like 10 to 1. With those sorts of variances, I believe it is important to have more fact finding into the reasons behind the variance. Similarly, if the single minded devotion to increased yields is simultaneously robbing us of nutrition per pound, then I think we need to know that.

Don Stewart

LLouise - February 28, 2008 2:44 PM

Don, I agree. It makes one wonder just how much nutrition we're getting from the foods. It makes me wonder, too, how this may relate to those who aren't getting the benefits they should be getting when they eat a nutrient-dense diet. And maybe this is contributing to their lack of or less-than-optimal healing/results. Even taking into consideration that we all have different levels of absorption and all the other factors, this just makes this issue of less-nutrient foods disturbing.

I've been wondering, myself, lately about all the manufactured foods, and general manipulation of our produce (not to mention how meat is being processed without informing the public).

George Philippou - January 1, 2009 4:57 PM

I have read a lot about nutrition ,do we supplement or not are soils depleted i,ve read Patrick Holford and i,ve read David Reuben (everything you wanted to know about nutrition),can,t make up my mind who,s right Holford argues oranges in one supermarket had zero vitamin c this surely is a problem if it is true as we need 60mg per day some people take 1000mg per day to compensate fro the effects of pollution e.t.c others say the body becomes saturated after 100mg of vitamin c it is utter confusion listening to everyone other people take a multivitamin daily just in case they are missing anything then we read too much vitamin a can be dangerous some children died from vitamin a overdoses in the 60,s if anyone can clear up some of my queries send me an email please ...

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