18 April 2016

Do today’s veggies have less nutrients than Granny’s?

My love of gardening really began with my Grandmother. While my mother was a keen gardener and I grew up amidst suburban gardens, my Granny had her backyard filled with veggies, fruit trees and quite a few ornamentals. Helping her as a teenager was a delight; and the veggies tasted terrific.

So how do today’s commercial crops compare? Is the sense many of us have that they are not so good, actually true? This week we examine the evidence and what we can do to ensure we are getting the nutrients we need from our food, but first

           Thought for the Day

       Let yourself be silently drawn 
      By the strange pull of what you really love. 
      It will not lead you astray.


                         My favourite photo with produce                            from our summer garden

Most of us will be aware of the steady rise in the chronic degenerative diseases and the fact that more and more younger people are affected. Many ask me “is it because our food is becoming depleted or denatured by modern farming practices? Have modern farming practices affected the mineral and vitamin content of what we eat?

The raw facts
In 2011, Donald Davis, then a biochemist at the University of Texas compared the nutrients in US crops from 1950 and 2009. 

Davis found notable declines in five nutrients in various fruits, including tomatoes, eggplants and squash. For example, there was a 43 % drop in iron and a 12 % decline in calcium. This was in line with his 1999 study — mainly of vegetables — which found a 15 % drop in vitamin C and a 38 % fall in vitamin B2.

Other studies have shown similar depletions.

A 1997 comparison of data from the 1930s and 1980s found that calcium in fresh vegetables appeared to drop by 19 %, and iron by 22 %.

A reanalysis of the data in 2005 concluded that 1980s vegetables had less copper, magnesium and sodium, and fruit less copper, iron and potassium.

Tomatoes grown by organic methods have been shown to contain more phenolic compounds than those grown using commercial standards. One study compared the phenolic profiles of tomatoes grown using ‘conventional’ as opposed to organic methods. Those grown under organic conditions contained significantly higher levels of phenolic compounds.

The introduction of semi-dwarf, higher-yielding varieties of wheat in the green revolution of the 1960s means that modern crops contain lower levels of iron and zinc than old-fashioned varieties.

Research published in the Journal of Agricultural and Food Chemistry showed that organically produced apples have a 15 % higher antioxidant capacity than conventionally produced apples.

Storage is a big factor
Another study evaluated the nutritional content of broccoli kept in conditions that simulated commercial transport and distribution: film-wrapped and stored for seven days at 1°C, followed by three days at 15°C to replicate a retail environment. By the end, the broccoli had lost between 71 and 80 % of its glucosinolates — sulphur-containing compounds shown to have cancer-fighting properties — and around 60 % of its flavonoid antioxidants.

What is causing the decline?
Part of it may well be related to the broad-spectrum systemic herbicide glyphosate (Roundup) that shall be discussed more in a coming post (that is still being researched).

Also, contrary to what we often read - that there is no evidence of dangers to health from GM foods and crops - peer-reviewed studies have found harmful effects on the health of laboratory and livestock animals fed GMOs. Effects include toxic and allergenic effects and altered nutritional value.

Speed of growth
Davis and others offer a simpler explanation. They assert that high-yielding crops produce more food, more rapidly, but these fast growing plants cannot make or absorb nutrients at the same pace, so the nutrition is diluted.

To test this notion, researchers measured the concentrations of 11 minerals in 14 commercial varieties of broccoli launched between 1950 and 2004. They grew old and new varieties of broccoli side-by-side.

The year that a particular cultivar was released made no difference, however, there was a dilution effect: the varieties with bigger heads – as favoured today - had lower levels of some minerals relative to the 1950 variety called Waltham 29.

But, as the study also noted, Waltham 29 is less tough than modern cultivars and so would be unlikely to succeed if grown in the same way.

The dilemma
So here is the problem. While modern agricultural methods may mean that our vegetables contain less nutrients than those of our grandparents, they have led to a huge increase in food supply. If you are hungry, this is a distinct advantage. For putting food on the table, modern practices are very efficient; there is just a question regarding the long-term cost.

“There is a chance that ready prepared vegetables may have a lower content of some vitamins,” says Judy Buttriss, director general of the British Nutrition Foundation in London. “But if their availability means that such vegetables are consumed in greater quantities, then the net effect is beneficial.“

“The most important thing you can do is eat more fruit, vegetables and wholegrains, and cut down on highly refined, human-made foods, vegetable oils and added sugars,” says Davis. “If you’re worrying about nutrient losses from cooking or whether your food is straight from the farm — those differences are minor compared to the differences you’d get from eating unprocessed foods."

Our choice
So how fortunate are we. So many of us have the possibility of growing much of our own food in our own veggie gardens – like my Granny really did do! And if not, we can afford to buy organic produce… A wise choice it would seem. And great for our home – this planet we all live upon.




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5 Day Meditation Immersion with Ian and Ruth Gawler

JUNE 2016 – Monday 6th to Friday the 10th

While this retreat will include ample instruction, the focus will be upon direct experience; finding and immersing ourselves in the deep inner peace, the regenerative power and the clarity of our own stillness.

For details CLICK HERE

1 comment:

  1. The photo says everything Ian...the joy of gardening is clearly highly nutritious for the soul :) Thanks for another interesting and informative post.