Let me start out by stating the obvious: crops grown decades ago were much richer in vitamins and minerals than the varieties that most of us get today. The culprit? Soil depletion. Modern intensive agricultural methods have stripped increasing amounts of nutrients from the soil in which the food that we eat grows. The trouble is that treating the plants this way actually diminishes their nutritional value! Sadly, each successive generation of fast-growing, pest-resistant carrot is truly less good for you than the one before.
Studies done on the U.S. Department of Agriculture nutritional data from both 1950 and 1999 for 43 different vegetables and fruits showed reliable declines in the amount of protein, calcium, phosphorus, iron, riboflavin (vitamin B2) and vitamin C over the past 50 years. Many researchers attribute this declining nutritional content to the preponderance of agricultural practices designed to improve traits (size, growth rate, pest resistance) other than nutrition.
Is there a solution?
The key to healthier produce is healthier soil. Setting up a crop rotation (alternating fields between growing seasons to give land time to restore) would be a great first step. This applies to both mass market vegetable growers as well as home gardeners… everyone’s garden can benefit from doing this.
In addition, switch over to organic fertilizers and methods of pest control instead of using pesticides and chemical fertilizers. Organic growing methods are good for the soil, the produce and its consumers.
Those who want to get the most nutritious fruits and vegetables should buy regularly from local organic farmers.
How much do we need?
Due to the fact that produce has less of a nutritious bang for your buck, should we just give up on vegetables entirely?
NO! NEVER!! Don’t even suggest such a terrible idea.
The obvious solution is to simply EAT MORE OF IT! Eat lots of fresh, green and brightly coloured things. Get into the sensations of it all – the crunch of the carrots, the smoothness of the flesh, the bright colours… food can be a total experience if you let it (which is something that I suggest!).
Vegetables and fruits are extraordinarily rich in nutrients and beneficial phytochemicals (various biologically active compounds that are found in plants). These nutrients are still there, though possibly in smaller amounts… but vegetables and fruits are still our best sources to get these nutrients.
Spring has sprung!
Because spring is here, that means that gardening season is just around the corner (yay!)… so fresh, often mostly-organic produce will be flying off the shelves in your local farmer’s market. Eating lots of fresh fruits and veggies is the best way to get your nutrients, and its easy during the warmer months… but what about during the months when these are not readily available? We have a long, harsh winter season up here in Canada, making having access to fresh produce more difficult for most of the year.
That’s one of the reasons why I start recommending supplementation to my clients. Even if all you add to your routine is a few of the vitamins or minerals that you might not be able to get enough of through your food alone, you will likely notice a huge change in the way your body feels and functions.
The basic things that all humans REALLY need to not just survive, but thrive, are magnesium calcium, potassium, and vitamins A, C and E. These will cover your nutritional bases, and most supplements will contain at least these nutrients.
- Vitamin A
- RDI:2,310 international units a day
- Benefits:Important for vision, red blood cell production, embryonic development, and immune function
- Sources:Organ meats; orange vegetables; green, leafy vegetables
- Try snacking on kale chips! These contain up to 25% of the RDI of Vitamin A, thanks to a few superfood ingredients, like kale, tahini, sunflower seeds and carrots
- Vitamin C
- RDI:75 milligrams a day
- Benefits:Acts as a disease-fighting antioxidant; may help to maintain a healthy immune system
- Sources:Fruits and vegetables, including citrus fruits, red and green peppers, kiwis, and guavas
- Oranges (or other citrus fruits) make a great midday snack!
- Vitamin E
- RDI:15 milligrams a day
- Benefits:Acts as a disease-fighting antioxidant; may support eye health
- Sources:Some ready-to-eat cereals, some oils, almonds, peanut butter
- Nuts are always a great go-to healthy snack… try adding lots of vitamin E-rich ingredients, like almonds and cashews, plus cranberries, which are high in antioxidants
- RDI:310 to 320 milligrams a day
- Benefits:Helps maintain normal muscle and nerve function and develop and maintain bones
- Sources:Nuts, seeds, bran, halibut and other fish
- Dark chocolate is a great source of magnesium, but make sure that you get the good stuff
- RDI:25 grams a day
- Benefits:Protects against coronary heart disease and reduces the risk of diabetes
- Sources:Fruits, vegetables, legumes, nuts, seeds, whole grains
- One of my favourite fibre-rich snacks is homemade granola – plus, you can use any flavour profile you want to! Feeling savoury? Sweet? A little spicy? The choice is yours!
- RDI: 1,000 milligrams a day
- Benefits:Bone health
- Sources:Dairy products; fish with bones; dark, leafy greens
- Mix in fresh berries, chia seeds, or pure vanilla extract for natural sweetness and bonus nutrients
- Watch out for yogurts that are loaded with extra fats and artificial sweeteners
- RDI:4,700 milligrams a day
- Benefits:Helps maintain healthy blood pressure and reduce the effects of salt; may reduce the risk of recurrent kidney stones and possibly decrease bone loss
- Sources:Potatoes, tomato paste and puree, white beans, yogurt, soybeans, bananas
- Bananas are a fruit that is rich in potassium – one banana alone contains 12% of the daily recommended value!
- They’re the perfect snack to stash on-the-go, toss them in a smoothie, add them to peanut butter toast or make healthy banana bread
As far as my recommendation for which supplement to choose from the literal wall of options at most pharmacies or natural health stores… it really depends on if you have other goals for your health other than just normal maintenance. Maybe you want to lose weight. Maybe you want more energy. Maybe you are after better sleep. Whatever it is that you want to achieve, I believe can be achieved through food.
I am offering *FREE* Vitamin & Mineral Lifestyle Assessments… if you have 15 minutes and want to improve your health and your life, please contact me!