Where Have All the Nutrients Gone?

Craig McCord

Craig McCord › Craig possesses 23 guitars and cannot play any of them. He likes fresh grilled sardines with a ...


Recently, this article caught my attention.

Writing in the Sunday Review section of the May 26, 2013 New York Times, author Jo Robinson explains how produce available in supermarkets is something less than nutritious.

In her article, Breeding the Nutrition Out of Our Food, she explains how we’re told “If we heap our plates with fresh fruits and vegetables, we will come closer to optimum health.”

Ms. Robinson writes:

Each fruit and vegetable in our stores has a unique history of nutrient loss, I’ve discovered, but there are two common themes. Throughout the ages, our farming ancestors have chosen the least bitter plants to grow in their gardens. It is now known that many of the most beneficial phytonutrients have a bitter, sour or astringent taste. Second, early farmers favored plants that were relatively low in fiber and high in sugar, starch and oil. These energy-dense plants were pleasurable to eat and provided the calories needed to fuel a strenuous lifestyle. The more palatable our fruits and vegetables became, however, the less advantageous they were for our health.

What are phytonutrients, you may ask? The author explains they are “are the compounds with the potential to reduce the risk of four of our modern scourges: cancer, cardiovascular disease, diabetes and dementia.

Sounds reasonable on the surface. The problem, as Ms. Robinson explains, is that our modern, mono-cropped versions of fruits and vegetables lack the levels of phytonutrients to provide the health benefits implicit in the ‘heap our plate’ directive.

Each fruit and vegetable in our stores has a unique history of nutrient loss.

That is not to say all is lost. Of course there are phytonutrient dense foods out there. Ms. Robinson offers some excellent advice on choosing corn, arugula, scallions and herbs to best recoup the loss of nutrients. (Adding my two cents, I would say buy your produce from your local family farmer and you’ll get all the phytonutrient density you want.)

She concludes her article with this:

The United States Department of Agriculture exerts far more effort developing disease-resistant fruits and vegetables than creating new varieties to enhance the disease resistance of consumers. In fact, I’ve interviewed U.S.D.A. plant breeders who have spent a decade or more developing a new variety of pear or carrot without once measuring its nutritional content.

We can’t increase the health benefits of our produce if we don’t know which nutrients it contains. Ultimately, we need more than an admonition to eat a greater quantity of fruits and vegetables: we need more fruits and vegetables that have the nutrients we require for optimum health.

I’m sure there will be folks on both sides of the ideas offered in Ms. Robinson’s article. It will be interesting to see where the discussion goes from here.

Click here to read the rest of the article at NYTimes.com

This article originally appeared at NYTimes.com.

Jo Robinson is the author of the forthcoming book, Eating on the Wild Side: The Missing Link to Optimum Health.

After you’ve read her article, share your opinion about what you took from it.

Photo credit: Craig McCord