Is our food still thy medicine?

Better soils
with Brett Petersen
Kiwi Fertiliser & Golden Bay Dolomite

“Let your food be your medicine, and your medicine be your food.” Hippocrates coined the phrase almost 2500 years ago. Today, this phrase raises questions.

Many nutrients are essential for life, and an adequate amount of nutrients in the diet is necessary for providing energy, building, and maintaining body organs, and for various metabolic processes. People depend on nutrients in their diet because the human body is not able to produce many of these nutrients – or it cannot produce them in adequate amounts. Nutrients are essential to the human diet. Omitting the nutrient from the diet leads to a nutritional deficiency and a decline in health.

Green revolution

Since the birth of agriculture, farmers have typically measured their farming success by the weight of their crops, not the quality. Many methods can increase crop yields through means like chemical weed and pest control, irrigation, fertilisation, and plant breeding. Significantly, increased yields of wheat, rice, and maize, resulted in the ‘Green Revolution’ of the 1960-1970s. Unfortunately, it was noticed that increased yields involved reduced quality and concentrations of some nutrients.

During recent years a growing number of reports have appeared which conclude that today’s foods are not as nutritious as those from the past. A report in the ‘Journal of Complimentary Medicine’ in 2001 states US and UK Government statistics show a decline in trace minerals of up to 76 per cent in fruit and vegetables during the period 1940 to 1991. In 2003, News Canada reported that today’s fruit and vegetables contain far fewer nutrients than 50 years ago. The study found that the average potato has lost 100 per cent of its vitamin A (eyesight), 57 per cent of its vitamin C (immune system) and iron (blood), 28 per cent of its calcium (bones, teeth), 50 per cent of its riboflavin and 18 per cent of its thiamine. Of the seven key nutrients measured, only niacin levels have increased. The report went on to examine data, from the United States Department of Agriculture involving vegetable quality, which showed during the 20th Century the average mineral content of such vegetables as cabbage, lettuce, spinach, and tomatoes declined by 87.5 per cent.

Composition changes

In 2004 a report in the ‘Journal of the American College of Nutrition’ examined 43 crops for composition changes from 1950 to 1999. The conclusion was that there were significant declines for six nutrients. The declines were observed in protein (six per cent), calcium, phosphorous, iron, riboflavin (38 per cent) and ascorbic acid. The UK publication ‘Food Magazine’ published an analysis of food quality changes in the UK during the period 1940-2002. The analysis was based on the food composition tables published on a regular basis by McCance and Widdowson. In an analysis of milk, it was concluded that the iron content had fallen 62 per cent, magnesium, 21 per cent and the copper content had disappeared. With magnesium, levels fell in from four per cent to 70 per cent in almost all foods. The calcium and iron were reduced dramatically in every instance. For example, the iron content of a beef rump steak fell 55 per cent.

Many studies worldwide have concluded that a large percentage of people are lacking in many nutrients. Perhaps the largest analysis is presented in the US national and state statistics. It is clear that a large percentage of the US population is deficient in a wide variety of nutrients. For example, across the entire US population 68 per cent failed to meet the recommendation for magnesium, 91.4  per cent for fibre consumption, 85.9 per cent for vitamin E intake, and 48.3 per cent for the vitamin C requirement.


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