In the last twenty years, numerous scientists have attempted to compare nutrient data collected in the 50s and 60s with more recent nutrient analyses.
Some of these studies have been summarized in the report “Still no free lunch” by Brian Halweil, researcher at the Worldwatch Institute. The alarming conclusion is that fruits and vegetables aren’t as nutritious as they used to be because of a variety of factors.
Soils are impoverished by intensive agriculture, the fruits or vegetables submitted to numerous treatments to be more resistant and a wide range of fertilizers is used to increase their growth. Seeds are selected to comply with standardized norms in spite of the negative effect this has on variety and nutritional value. Picked too soon in order to cope with perpetually increased yields, the apples, carrots or peaches in our supermarkets are nothing more than empty shells.
This report has been given lots of visibility lately in the social networks and in the Internet, especially on websites that sell nutritional supplements. Here are some of the most alarming statements:
An orange from the 1950’s was full of vitamin A, precious for our sight and our immune defenses. To attain the same amounts today, you would have to consume 21 of them. Onions and potatoes no longer contain any trace of it. The iron content in meat? Divided by 2. Calcium in broccoli? Divided by 4. To ingest the vitamin C contained in an apple from yesteryear, you would have to eat 100 today.
Many factors influence the nutritional value of fruits and vegetables — and many of them are actually trending in a positive direction. When you actually read the report, it becomes clear that a lot of the differences are most likely the result of changes in sampling methods and measurement techniques, geographical variation, and the random variation in nutrient values from one apple or strawberry to the next — which is much more significant than most people realize.
What should we do?
Even if some vegetables are a little lower in certain minerals, I don’t think we should be too worried. As long as we buy locally grown produce and eat a healthy Mediterranean diet with a nice variety of fresh fruits and vegetables, I believe we still have our bases covered.