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Published On: Mon, Dec 10th, 2012

Nutritional Foods: Getting Back To The Good Old Days!


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-Kristie Leong, M.D.

You already know how important it is to get your “five-a-day”, but these days many nutritional experts recommend eating five to nine servings of fruits and vegetables daily. No wonder. Fruits and vegetables are one of the best sources of disease-fighting antioxidants, vitamins and minerals. Unfortunately, the vegetables and fruits you buy at your local supermarket may not be as good for you as the ones from decades past.

Has the Quality of Our Fruits and Vegetables Declined?

The United States Department of Agriculture compared the levels of 13 key vitamins and minerals in 43 different fruits and vegetables grown in the 1950s  to ones produced more recently. When they did, they found significant differences in nutrient levels. Of the 13 nutrients they tested, 6 were present in smaller amounts than they were almost 50 years ago!  Was food really that much more nutritious in the good old days?

Another concern about modern produce is the wide variation in quantities of nutrients and phytonutrients from one vegetable crop to another.  For example, a head of cauliflower from one producer might have 5 times more cancer-fighting phytonutrients than cauliflower from another produce stand. When you buy fruits and vegetables from your local supermarket, you don’t know whether you’re getting vitamins, minerals and phytonutrients or eating a head of cabbage that’s almost devoid of nutritional value.

Why the decline in nutritional value? A variety of factors are at play. Farmers feel pressure to produce crops and get them to market more quickly these days. When crops spend less time in the soil, their nutritional content suffers.  Even the soil itself is depleted of nutrients from excessive tillage, acid rain, and use of nitrogen-based fertilizers. To add to the problem, when fruits and vegetables travel long distances to reach their market they lose some of their nutritional value along the way.  By the time fruits and veggies reach their destination, their already reduced nutritional content has dwindled even further.  So much for the health benefits of fruits and vegetables!

Then there’s the issue of pesticides. Pesticides contain chemicals called xenoestrogens that mimic the effects of estrogen in the body. There’s concern that these xenoestrogens can disrupt the endocrine system, leading to fertility problems in men and an increased risk of breast and uterine cancer in women; and you thought fruits and vegetables helped to prevent cancer!

So where does this leave you if you want to enjoy the health benefits of fruits and vegetables without sacrificing your health in the process?  One solution is to buy organic and local, but you still have no way of knowing what type of soil your vegetables were grown in.  Ideally, you’d buy fruits and vegetables that haven’t touched the soil at all.

Fortunately, there is a way to grow vegetables without using soil. There’s a system called “Organic E.V.E.” where vegetables are grown in enclosed chambers.  In these chambers, they’re exposed to a continuous flow of water and nutrients without ever touching soil.  They receive all of the nutrients, water and sunlight they need to grow into vitamin, mineral and antioxidant-rich vegetables without all the “bad stuff” like pesticides and fertilizers. This system produces vegetables you can feel confident serving your family.

You’ve read about the health benefits of fruits and vegetables, but you may not be getting them if you’re buying produce from your local supermarket.  At the very least, buy from a producer that farms organically and is as close to home as possible to avoid loss of nutrients, or grow your own.  An even better option is to see the “Organic E.V.E.” system of growing vegetables put into widespread use.

 References

Crit. Rev. Toxicol. 28 (2): 109–227.
NPR. “Grandma’s Veggies May Have Been More Nutritious”
 

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