Think about all the stories your grandparents told you about growing their own vegetables and fruits in their backyard, and how tasty and nutritious they were. However, as you walk around the produce section of your local market today, you may be unaware that the nutritional quality of these foods has been declining over the past 70 years.
Rising evidence from multiple scientific studies demonstrates that many of today's fruits, vegetables, and grains carry less protein, calcium, phosphorus, iron, riboflavin (also known as vitamin B), and vitamin C than those grown decades ago. Scientists believe that the cause of the problem lies within the modern agricultural processes, such as irrigation, fertilization, and harvesting methods, that increase crop yields but disturb soil health. These procedures interrupt fundamental interactions between plants and soil fungi, which diminishes the absorption of nutrients from the soil.
Why is this a problem for our well-being?
The decline in protein, calcium, and phosphorus in raw fruits and vegetables profoundly affect human health since they’re essential for building and maintaining strong bones and teeth, and imperative for proper nerve function. Moreover, iron levels, which are also declining, are vital for carrying oxygen throughout the body, and riboflavin is crucial for the metabolism of fats and drugs. Levels of vitamin C, necessary for the growth and repair of various tissues in the body and immune function, are also declining. This is especially significant if more people switch to primarily plant-based diets since they will not consume as many bioavailable nutrients commonly found in animal products. The alarming decline has rippling effects for meat eaters too. Animals such as cows, pigs, goats, and lambs are now feasting on less nutritious grasses and grains, making animal-based foods less nutritious than they used to be. Experts believe that if this continues, some people may be at an elevated risk for developing deficiencies or less able to protect themselves from chronic diseases through good nutrition.
What can be done?
Experts say that the key to healthier produce is healthier soil. Alternating fields between growing seasons to give land time to restore is an important step. Those who want the most nutritious fruits and vegetables should regularly buy from local organic farmers. Supporting regenerative agriculture and supplementing accordingly are two important steps we can all take to combat the effects of soil depletion.