Most health organizations are united in recommending we eat 5 portions of fruit and vegetables per day, but researchers from the University of Texas found there has been a decline in the nutritional content of produce over the last 50 years. The study compared modern-day fruit and vegetables with produce grown in the 1950s. It reported a significant decline in the amount of protein, calcium, iron, phosphorous, riboflavin (vitamin B2) and vitamin C found in crops grown today.
Head of the research team, Donald Davis, attributed this decline in nutritional goodness to modern-day agricultural practice. Efforts to breed new crop varieties that provide a greater yield and are pest resistant has allowed crops to grow bigger faster. Unfortunately, the new species do not take up nutrients in proportion to their size, due to their rapid growth.
There is a general agreement that the main culprit is soil depletion. Intensive agricultural methods have stripped the soil of nutrients, so with each generation the nutritional value of the crops is less than the one before.
The Organic Consumers Association cites other studies with similar findings. The Kushi Institute studied nutrient content in crops between 1975 and 1997. It found that calcium levels had dropped 27%, iron levels 37%, vitamin A 21% and vitamin C 30%. Other declines were found in magnesium, zinc, vitamin B6 and vitamin E.
New Species of Fruits and Vegetables
Our ancestors would have had a diet that was at least 50% fruit and vegetables, compared to the average American who consumes just 13%. The wild fruits that were eaten in ancient times were smaller than the modern-day hybrid varieties. If you have ever seen a wild strawberry you will know that it is deliciously tasty, but is about the size of a blueberry!
Our plump cultivated fruits are much larger, which means they have more sweet fruit inside and proportionally less skin and seeds. However, it is the skin that provides the all-important antioxidants while the inner flesh provides the fructose. This means we are consuming more fructose, a natural sugar, and less antioxidants, even though we are eating the same fruits that our forefathers did.
Antioxidants are nature’s way of countering the free radicals that are produced with everyday living processes such as breathing, exercise and eating. If you do not have sufficient antioxidants to combat these free radicals, it leads to oxidative stress and eventual cell damage.
Just because fruits and vegetables are not as healthy and nutrient-rich as they used to be, they are still a vital source of nutrition and 5 portions per day should be considered the absolute minimum. Consuming raw, locally harvested, organic vegetables is still the best source of vitamins, minerals and antioxidants. Fruits are also a good source of these essential nutrients, but be aware that the fructose can cause problems with blood sugar and can actually create oxidative stress.