Large strawberries, huge watermelons, bigger tomatoes -- it seems we have a fascination with large fruits and vegetables. However, in the quest to grow larger and higher-yielding produce, we may have lost something very important: the nutrients.
This decline in food quality is documented in a new report from the Worldwatch Institute called Still No Free Lunch: Nutrient levels in U.S. food supply eroded by pursuit of high yields. The report contends that while yields of most food crops have doubled or even tripled over the last 50 years, the nutrient density (concentration of nutrients per ounce, serving, or calorie of food) of those crops has declined. The report highlights the decline of nutrients in modern food varieties. For example, researchers at the USDA Vegetable Laboratory grew 43 broccoli varieties and found that as broccoli head size increased, the calcium and magnesium in those heads decreased. A British study showed that today you would have to eat three apples to get the same iron content that one apple provided in the 1940s.
Researchers attribute this decline to breeding for increased size and modern agricultural practices that emphasize yield over soil quality and health. They also state that by breeding for quicker maturity, plants have less time to accumulate nutrients from the soil. The solution, according to the report, includes growing a wider variety of crops, breeding for higher nutrient content, and using more organic farming techniques.
For more information on this research, go to: The Organic Center.
Article published on October 18, 2007.