By: Scott Johnson
Are your fruits and vegetables as healthy as the ones your parents ate? The answer to this question may surprise you — no. Research indicates that conventionally grown produce is losing valuable nutrients and it isn’t as healthful as it was 30 years ago. Nutrients like enzymes, flavonoids, vitamins and minerals that help promote optimal health and fight disease are diminishing. Modern agriculture methods have sacrificed nutrient quality for rapid growth and bigger produce. Selective breeding and synthetic fertilizers have decreased the ability of produce to absorb nutrients and depleted beneficial nutrients from the soil.
This is unfortunate given the disease preventing benefits of fruits and vegetables. Increased fruit and vegetable consumption is associated with a healthier weight and a decreased risk of stroke, cardiovascular disease and some cancers. To get the most benefit from your produce, eat a wide variety and diversity of colors. In general, the more colorful fruits and vegetables contain the most nutrients. The American Cancer Society recommends five or more servings each day to reduce cancer risk. Those who eat eight or more servings of fruits and vegetables daily decrease their risk of chronic disease by 20 percent, according to research published in the “Annals of Internal Medicine.”
According to Donald Davis, who retired from the Biochemical Institute at the University of Texas, produce has seen a significant decline in vitamins, minerals, and protein. His research team analyzed USDA data to compare nutrient quantities over a 50-year period. Davis found significant decreases in fruit and vegetable nutrients. For example, broccoli had an average of 130mg of calcium in 1950 and only 48mg in 1999. By contrast, Alyson Mitchell, professor and food chemist at the University of California at Davis, found that organic produce contains significantly greater quantities of phytochemicals. A study by Ren et. al. confirms Mitchell’s findings. This study determined that organically grown spinach contained 120 percent higher antioxidant activity and Chinese cabbage contained anywhere from 20 to 50 percent greater antioxidant activity than conventionally grown equivalents.
Despite these conclusions, vegetables and fruits remain the most important part of your diet. However, the research provides an important reminder to use good judgment and purchase your produce wisely. Here are some suggestions to get the most out of your produce: grow your own vegetables and fruits, and do it organically when possible; buy organic produce when available; eat produce in season and locally grown when feasible; purchase smaller produce — large produce likely has higher water levels and less nutrients; only cut or process produce right before consuming it to avoid nutrient loss; eat produce within one week of purchase; and eat produce raw or steamed to minimize nutrient loss from cooking. Lastly, consider taking a whole-food multivitamin and mineral to ensure you receiving adequate quantities of health-promoting nutrients. In general, organic produce is more expensive than conventionally grown produce. If organic produce doesn’t fit within your budget, buy conventional produce. Eating five to ten servings of fruits and vegetables is more important than simply focusing on organic produce.
- The American Cancer Society: Fruits & Vegetables: Do You Get Enough? http://www.cancer.org/Healthy/EatHealthyGetActive/EatHealthy/fruits-and-vegetables-do-you-get-enough
- “Annals of Internal Medicine”; The effect of fruit and vegetable intake on risk for coronary heart disease.; Joshipura KJ, Hu FB, Manson JE, et al.; 2001
- “HortScience”; Declining Fruit and Vegetable Nutrient Composition: What is the Evidence?; Donald Davis, PhD; 2009
- “Antioxidants and the Nutritional Quality of Organic Agriculture”; Alyson Mitchell, PhD & Alexander Chassy; 2009 http://mitchell.ucdavis.edu/Is%20Organic%20Better.pdf
- “Nippon Shokuhin Kagaku Kagaku Kaishi”; Antioxidative and antimicrobial activities and flavonoid contents of organically cultivated vegetables.; Ren, H, et al.; 2001