What’s In a Food With Modern Agriculture?

We grow a range of veges and they taste much better than anything we can buy in the supermarket or even the local market. These past few years my dearest and I have changed our eating habits quite a bit. We cut out bread and milk and eat little food that comes with a list of ingredients. We eat out much less and enjoy our degustation more than ever.

Up and coming zucchini in our garden

It is no real surprise that modern agriculture produces food that is less nourishing than that produced say 50 years ago. Here are just some of the conclusions from many scientific studies that have been done these past decades.

Fruit and veg from 1950 to 2000 – US survey of 43 crops found: Vitamin C: -15%, Iron: -15%, Vitamin B2: -38%, Calcium: -16%, Protein: -6%, Phosphorous: -9%

Broccoli has 18% less iron, 30% less magnesium and 28% less zinc.

Beef from cattle and milk from cows reared outdoors on grass rather than indoors has better nutritional profile of proteins, fatty acids and antioxidants.

Pasta: Since the 60’s yields of fast growing wheat have shot up and levels of zinc, iron and magnesium have decreased significantly.

It’s not all bad – some foods actually contain more nutrients.

Carrots are more orangey so contain twice as much vitamin A today as they did 50 years ago (which our body derives from beta-carotene). There is no evidence of any change in iron content of spinach but interestingly fluorescent lighting in shops does boost it’s vitamin levels. Eggs have more selenium and vitamin D due to improved feed.

It’s not just the way foods are grown. Much nutrition is lost because the fruit or vegetable is picked early for easy transport. Tomatoes are a case in point. Fruit left to ripen on the plant are able to recycle all available energy to sugars maximising the binding nutrients. Also vine ripened doesn’t necessarily mean picked when ripe. The vine or branch with all those lovely little tomatoes can be harvested then ripened later.

Time from harvest to plate is also another factor. The greater the time the greater the nutrient loss. Even a few days can make a big difference. Cold storage does mitigate nutrient loss to some extent. It is interesting to note that food such as beans that are snap frozen and eaten months later often contain more nutrients than beans that are harvested and shipped to the supermarket and eaten several days later.

What about organic food verses non-organic? Some studies show no difference in nutritional profile while others do. Intuitively for me organic wins hand down.

And what about the fatty acid profile of our food? An increasing number of health problems are being blamed on the inflammatory response in our bodies. The all important fatty acid ratio of omega-3 to omega-6 helps keep inflammation in check. This ratio has been skewed because of the overuse of vegetable oils. And not just direct consumption of foods but also indirectly with the feeding of livestock with grain and corn, and fish with vegetable oil foods. Grass and legume forages are the building blocks for omega-3 while corn is the basis for omega-6.

Ok so modern agriculture produces food that is less nutritious. But this is not as significant as the world’s penchant for processed food. My take on all this – we should be eating more good wholesome food (organic/home grown where possible) and less food that comes in a packet with a list of ingredients. Bon appetit!

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