Friday, March 20, 2009
The Good Old Salad Days: Why Vegetables Today Have Less Nutrition
I will confess I am a bit of a science geek. Not totally as I tend to skim all the statistical analysis parts where the nitty gritty details of the methodology are transcribed in excruciating detail (yawn). But I read enough of it to see if the b.s. detector goes off. I have a finely tuned b.s. detector.
So, when I tell you the broccoli you are eating is not what it used to be, well, it’s true. In fact, some 43 most commonly eaten vegetables have between six percent protein and up to 38 percent riboflavin amounts LESS than their 1950 counterparts. And less of other “good stuff” too.
So, are we going to have to eat more than five servings?
Well, most kids are not eating enough anyway, so this is really not good news. Read on.
The study, “Changes in USDA Food Composition Data for 43 Garden Crops, 1950 to 1999,” was published by Donald R. Davis, PhD, FACN, Melvin D. Epp, PhD and Hugh D. Riordan, MD. The research team narrowed suspected causes for this drop in nutrition to a few variables.
One theory was the difference in the environment and soil in which the crops where raised. They concluded while this is plausible (and previously proven that organic methods produce vegetables with more nutrition) the difference between these two was not enough to account for the total difference in nutrition found.
So, it is not just about organic versus industrial growing methods.
It’s actually more about the type, or cultivars, grown. You see, in the last 50 years large-scale growers have been selecting for varieties that grow quickly, grow larger and have higher yield. That, in addition to ones that ship well. Nutrition suffers in the tradeoff for yield (i.e. profit).
It’s kind of like that whole triangle diagram from work, the one where the three points say, “fast, good, cheap” and you can only pick two for a realistic project. In this triangle, however, you can’t pick good and fast or good and cheap. Fast trumps flavor and nutrition, and the only goal the growers have is fast and cheap.
Think of each little head of broccoli like a closed loop with the same amount of nutrition no matter what, it just gets spread thinner when the plant gets bigger faster.
Proof. Slow food really is best. Which can leave a health-minded eater wondering, “Where do I get me some of that 1950 broccoli?”
Your back yard is a good place, just like the Obamas. Or your farmers market if you have the right farmers selling there. However, you will want to be sure that the varieties you are buying are heirlooms. Heirloom varieties by name must be at least 50 years old for the seed origin and must open pollinate. These old varieties of seed are the kinds of things you don’t see on store shelves. Many don’t ship well, or don’t have the high yield that commercial farms require. Heirloom tomatoes are probably the most familiar, sexy, tasty, ugly tomatoes full of flavor and character, and apparently, more nutrition.
Heirlooms are not just tomatoes, however. Take a scan through my favorite seed porn and you will get a glimpse of what you are missing. Early Purple Sprouting Broccoli, Romanesco, Cosmic Purple Carrots. And some old varieties you’ve probably not tried; Amaranth greens, Cardoon, Salsify to name a few.
If you’re still standing in the grocery store produce section, well, you’re missing out on more than just nutrition.
Flavor, variety, new tastes. And nutrients. It’s a lot to miss.
*If you’re curious as to why organic methods produce more nutrition, (fellow geek!) it is because the artificial inputs cause the crop to grow in size and weight more rapidly. The plant doesn’t have enough time to reach its nutrition potential before it gets big enough to get chopped off and shipped.