Tag Archives: nutrient

Fruit, Vegetables Not as Nutritious as 50 Years Ago

In today’s world, food and health related media is everywhere, but according to a commentary published in the Journal of the National Cancer Institute, this has not brought clarity to or improved understanding of a topic of such obvious impact. Therefore, as communicators of food-related science we must be diligent in our communication to ensure that it is effective in serving both public understanding and the objectives of the communicators.

Dr. Weil, a well-established practitioner in the field of integrative medicine, does a great job of this. In his post How Nutritious is Your Produce?, he discusses research indicating that the nutrient value of fruits and vegetables in the U.S. and Great Britain has declined significantly over the last 50 years.

After reading Dr. Weil’s post, I decided to read the report myself. Declining Fruit and Vegetable Nutrient Composition: What Is the Evidence? highlights three types of evidence that point toward declines of nutrients in fruits and vegetables: (1) early studies of fertilization found inverse relationships between crop yield and mineral concentrations—the widely cited “dilution effect”; (2) three recent studies of historical food composition data found apparent median declines of 5% to 40% or more in some minerals in groups of vegetables and perhaps fruits; one study also evaluated vitamins and protein with similar results; (3) recent side-by-side plantings of low-and high-yield cultivars of broccoli and grains found consistently negative correlations between yield and concentrations of minerals and protein, a newly recognized genetic dilution effect.

Dr. Weil’s post appears to be credible for he represented the findings of the report accurately and in a way that is both informative and beneficial to the public and their understanding of food and health. Below I’ve highlighted why this post is an effective form of communication on food-science to the public:

  • Post includes the study’s limitations
  • Focuses on the most vital information (i.e. health implications), allowing the public to form the most useful net impression of the study’s findings
  • Includes hyperlink to the report published in the February, 2009 Journal of HortScience so that viewers can easily read the original research article.

Additional information from the report that I consider important to include are:

  • The fact that evidence for nutrient declines began to accumulate in the 1940s with observations of (environmental) dilution effects on minerals in many foods and diverse plants.
  • USDA’s data suggests that yields have increased more in vegetables than in fruits, which may help explain the findings of larger nutrient declines in vegetables.

WP 3/2

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Food as Medicine

I had a remarkable discovery the other day at City Market. It started when I spotted a lady in aisle 2 holding two different brands of coconut oil. Clearly, she was trying to decide which to purchase. As she asked for some assistance from a worker passing by, the two got to talking. From overhearing their conversation, I learned that coconut oil is stocked not only in aisle 2 with other products for ethnic foods, but also in the health & wellness department. I headed over to health & wellness, and sure enough coconut oil was there.

After the lady left, I went up to Sam (the employee helping the lady) and asked why it’s stocked in two different departments. He explained that coconut oil’s one of the most versatile products, for it can be used internally and topically, therefore it is a prominent feature in body care and a lot of ethnic cuisine. Sam said that City Market has it in a couple of locations to cater to the customers needs, “to give those folks looking to use it in food and those folks looking to use it on hair an easier time locating it”.

After talking to Sam, I learned that there’s really no difference in the coconut oil stocked in the wellness department and in the grocery department– both are organic and unrefined. This sparked a broader thought about food and how its function is socially constructed. Generally speaking, as a society we see our “food” as separate from our “medicine”. But is it really? Is it possible that Hippocrates was onto something when he said “let thy food be thy medicine and thy medicine thy food”?

Does stocking the same food product in multiple departments remind people how versatile certain products can be? Or does it reaffirm the notion that our “food” should be separate from our “medicine”? What if grocery stores didn’t have a health & wellness department because everything sold genuinely contributed to our health and well-being? Which raises its own question: why are we selling things that aren’t good for us?

In City Market’s case, they sell a range of conventional products because they are the only grocery store downtown. Therefore, they have a contract with the city stating they’ll carry a certain number of conventional products to help out different types of people in town.

The coconut oil encounter led to a greater discovery that left me questioning how conventional medicine has gotten so far from the notion that food can treat and prevent many of our ailments. With more people on prescription medication due to increased diagnosis’ of chronic illnesses and serious diseases, our pharmaceutical industry is growing — meaning we’re actually getting sicker. At the same time, we have a food system that values highly processed, packaged, nutrient-deficient food that undoubtably contributes to overall poor health. There’s no question that as a society we could benefit from embracing the “food as medicine” philosophy, for it would inevitably place greater value on fresh, wholesome, nutrient rich foods. The question is, how do we do it? What kind of regulations, paradigm shits, etc. would need to occur?

FN 3/26