20th Century Drop in Nutrient Levels of Food

What Can be Done to Increase the Nutrients in Our Food?


To some extent, if crop breeders focus on nutrient value a little more, they can increase nutrient value of crops without changing yield much.

Additionally, switching to organic food more is an option.

“Moreover, given that part of nutrient decline has resulted from farmers pushing crops towards maximum yields, changing certain farming strategies should help reverse the decline. For instance, although organic farming results in lower yields in many cases, studies show that it also tends to produce crops with higher concentrations of micronutrients, phytochemicals and other health-promoting compounds. The increases range from a few percent to sometimes 20 percent or more for certain minerals, and on average, about 30 percent in the case of antioxidants.

Some studies have reported even more dramatic differences in concentrations of specific phytochemicalsβ€”for example, nearly twice as much of two common antioxidants in organic tomatoes compared to conventional tomatoes. Organic forms of fertilizer, like manure or cover crops that offer more balanced mixes of nutrients
and release the nutrients more gradually, encourage plants to develop more robust root systems that more aggressively absorb nutrients. At the same time, for a wide range of fruits, vegetables and grains, reducing pesticide use has been shown to boost phytochemical content, sometimes dramatically.

Might this general nutritional superiority of organic produce help justify the premium that consumers typically pay for organic food, or government policies to encourage a shift towards organic practices? Clearly, advantages linked to organic management will vary depending on the crop, soil quality and growing conditions, as well as on the technologies, inputs and systems in use on nearby conventional farms growing the same crop.”

Whatever the solution, in order to achieve the goal, the focus on producing higher yields needs to at least be balanced with a focus on maintaining or improving nutrient levels of our food.

Image Credit: Bruno. C. via flickr/CC license

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  1. Thomas Hager

    Oh, please. . . . there are plenty of good reasons for going organic without bringing up this slanted, three-year-old, slickly designed opinions piece. Any number of more recent, better-controlled studies have shown negligible differences in most nutrient values between organic and conventional crops. Seehttp://www.sciencedirect.com/science?_ob=ArticleU… for a very recent synopsis.

    Readers interested in a full-throated debate between organic and conventional farming should check out the Food Fight over at Seed Magazinehttp://seedmagazine.com/content/article/food_fight/ .

  2. kate sisco

    Amazing that the scientists who appeared before Congress before WWII said our soils were deficient in nutrients necessary for health. One would imagine that the response would be to adopt land cultivation practices, crop rotation, contour cultivation, drip watering, fencing pastures to be able to pass the livestock through one area for weeks, then on to the second and third before rotating back to the first. But all those are practices for the small farmer and the choice is for factory farms which do none of those above.
    Instead we 'genetic' the crop. I have found much the same as stated above: golden rice is not better, one has to consume 3x as much for the stated value. Corn achieves a surplus due to being planted closer, not a more productive plant. Genetic improvement does not stand a close examination.

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