Navigating the overwhelming information about agriculture, nutrient density, and fruits and vegetables can get all too complicated. So, let’s break down some of the key subjects and learn how to approach this issue head-on. We'll talk about what causes the loss of key nutrients and how you should modify your diet as a result of that.
As a result of worsening soil fertility and quality over the past century, the essential nutrients and vitamins in fruits and vegetables have gradually been reduced. This concept is referred to as soil depletion and can be best understood through the following data. In 2004, the journal HortScience published a study analyzing the nutrient content of 43 different fruits and vegetables over time. Between 1950 and 1999, calcium levels dropped by 16%, iron by 15%, vitamin C by 20%, and riboflavin (vitamin B2) by 38% (Davis 2009). This decline in key nutrients in fruits and vegetables comes as a result of the following examples of modern intensive agricultural practices:
Monoculture is a cultivation technique in which farmers only grow the same high-yielding, genetically identical crop year after year. The practice of monoculture depletes the soil of its biodiversity, in turn, leading farmers to rely on synthetic fertilizers, herbicides, and pesticides. Overuse of these additives kills the microbial population in soil populations, causes nutrient runoff, and contributes to the growth of pesticide-resistant pests and weeds.
The agricultural practice of tilling involves loosening 6 to 9 inches of topsoil and breaking up compacted soil. Soil erosion, the removal of nutrient-dense topsoil layer, is typically a natural result of wind or water. However, excessive tilling can accelerate erosion as farmers remove weeds and crop residues. This disturbance of nutrients intact from previous plantings leads to nutrient loss and reduced soil fertility.
Overall, modern intensive agricultural practices contribute to a decline in soil fertility and biodiversity, which has heavily decreased the nutrient density of fruits and vegetables. While this fact is jarring and most certainly disheartening, there are still steps you can take to mitigate the negative impacts of soil depletion on our diet and reduce the risk of nutrient deficiencies. First, try consuming a diverse diet by eating a variety of foods. This can help you obtain a wide spectrum of essential nutrients. Second, consider purchasing fortified products such as milk. When milk is fortified, it means that nutrients and minerals are added to its composition. Third, advocate for regenerative agriculture and sustainable farming practices. Let’s talk a bit more about this.
Beyond taking steps to ensure nutritional intake, it is essential to support the restoration of soil fertility for long-term sustainable agriculture and for the sake of strengthening the nutrient density of highly consumed produce. In order to do so, we must advocate for sustainable agricultural practices such as crop rotation, conservation tillage, and the use of organic amendments. But don’t get overwhelmed. Instead, start small: learn about local farms, challenge local administrators of agricultural practices, and maybe try growing your own crops!
To become more educated on this issue, I suggest reading the following article: Discover Soil Degradation