Since the beginning of plant cultivation, humans have been selecting plants that will produce more and larger fruits and vegetables. Unfortunately, by focusing on improving production, the quality or the nutrient content of the grown food is often negatively affected.
Since the turn of the millennium, a growing body of evidence has shown that the quality of the food we produce has slowly been declining. Regrettably, there seems to be an inverse relationship between crop yield and nutrient content which means that producing more food on the same land area leads to the harvesting of less nutritious food. This is particularly concerning given the improvements in food production over the last century with several crops such as wheat and corn now yielding twice the amount of food as their historical equivalents.
Modern agricultural techniques and practices are often blamed for this shift. The use of pesticides and fertilizers or the depletion of the top soil are often touted as explanations. Although many of these factors have been shown to indeed deplete nutrients in the food we eat, the evidence shows that the largest contributor to the declining quality of our food is the genetics of the plants themselves. The best indication for this comes from side-by-side comparisons where historical cultivars are grown next to their modern counterparts and the nutrient content of the food is examined.[i] One such study showed that the selection of plants producing larger broccoli heads, which are more appealing to customers, has resulted in lower mineral content.[ii] Other studies show similar results in wheat where an inverse relationship between production yield and nutrient density was clearly demonstrated.[iii] The authors estimated that over the last century the mineral content for wheat has decreased by about 22% to 39%. The situation is similar for corn with an 80-year study showing significant declines in protein and oil concentrations while starch content increased.
So what does this all mean for you and your family?
The average Canadian man only gets 3.5 servings of fruits and vegetables per day while women fare slightly better at 4.3 servings per day on average. This means that the first thing to do is to make sure you are meeting your recommended intake of fruits and vegetables (7-10 servings per day for Canadian adults).
Here are the easiest ways to improve the nutrient density of your diet:
- Avoid empty calories. Sugar and refined oils are considered empty calories – they are essentially pure energy devoid of virtually all nutrients. The more empty calories you chose the less nutritious your diet becomes and the more likely you are to developing chronic health problems such as diabetes and heart disease.
- Eat the recommended quantity of fruits and vegetables per day. Fruits and vegetables are nutrient dense, containing significant amounts of nutrients and comparatively few calories.
- Take a multivitamin. Multivitamins are full of nutrients and contain very few calories. The addition of a well formulated multivitamin to your daily routine is therefore a simple way to increase the nutrient density of your diet.
Ludo is an exceptional physician with strong clinical skills grounded in scientific knowledge. He has helped design and formulated several dietary supplements for some of the most advanced nutraceutical companies in Canada. Dr. Ludo has also helped develop and implement wellness strategies for corporations and businesses looking to improve the health and happiness of their employees.
[i] Davis DR. Declining Fruit and Vegetable Nutrient Composition: What Is the Evidence? Hort Sicence. 2009. 44(1).
[ii] Farnham, M.W., M.A. Grusak, and M. Wang. 2000. Calcium and magnesium concentration of inbred and hybrid broccoli heads. J. Amer. Soc. Hort. Sci. 125:344–349.
[iii] Garvin, D.F., R.M. Welch, and J.W. Finley. 2006. Historical shifts in the seed mineral micronutrient concentration of US hard red winter wheat germplasm. J. Sci. Food Agr. 86:2213– 2220.