At any grocery store in North America right now, there are shoppers cruising the isles, making thoughtful choices about their family's nutrition. Armed with the latest information about health, choosing foods high in nutrition is a primary goal. Unfortunately, no matter how carefully one shops, there is often little nutrition in the foods we consume. In fact, it is nearly impossible to consume adequate nutrients through diet alone in our modern world.
What causes our foods to be devoid of nutrition? There are many causes, primarily modern farming, storage, and preservation methods of food. Let's take a look at why this happens.
First, it is widely acknowledged that soils in North America have been depleted of many nutrients since the 1930's due to loss of topsoil and reliance on chemical fertilizers. Farmers replace the nitrogen, potassium and phosphorus depleted by agriculture in order to achieve optimum plant growth. However, little attention is paid to replacing trace minerals lost in soils.
Consumer demand for attractive produce also plays a role. This demand has resulted in plant breeding for appearance and storage longevity, ignoring nutritional quality. Fruits and vegetables are often picked in the green stage, ripening in transit to the store. Again, this prevents the production of nutrients which often occurs in the ripening stage while on the plant itself. One example of this is seen in fruits, where the cartenoid levels increase as fruit ripens naturally.
Produce now travels an average of 1500-2000 miles from farm to market, often in refrigerated trucks. There have been few studies done on the effects of storage on produce, especially in the area of overall phytonutrient levels. However, what we do know is most fresh vegetables steadily loose nutrients when stored in cold, dark conditions. Some types of produce are more vulnerable to these losses than others, losing fifty percent or more of phytonutrients in as little as five days storage.
Food preservation methods often play a role in nutrient depletion. When properly blanched prior to freezing, most-but not all-foods retain more nutrition when frozen as compared to canning methods. Interestingly, the container used in canning also makes a difference. Foods preserved in cans often retain more nutrients than those in glass or plastic containers as many nutrients are depleted by exposure to light.
Preparation methods further affects nutritional quality of food. Chopping, grinding, and heating foods depletes nutrients. Common preservatives added in processing cause depletion of nutrients and the use of antimicrobial preservatives may decrease the bacteria normally present in the colon, impeding the body's ability to absorb what nutrients are left in food after processing.
There has been very little research done comparing nutrients in food before and after processing. The result is that nutritional labels are calculated from unprocessed foods using what are called "nutrient retention factors". However, these formulas do not consider all aspects of nutrient loss and have been shown to be inaccurate in representing nutrient levels in foods after processing.
So what can be done to ensure adequate nutrition in our diets? The most sensible approach would be to eat only fresh, organically raised fruits and vegetables picked from the garden just prior to consumption, eaten in the whole, raw state. Of course, this is not possible for the vast majority of people. While eating foods as close to the ideals is a goal, it is no longer realistic to expect diet alone to provide adequate nutrition. Some form of supplementation is necessary.
In order to incorporate the proper nutrients, in the optimal amounts in ratio to other nutrients and in the most bioavailable form, great care must be taken in the selection of all supplements. Price is not necessarily an indication of quality. Taking the maximum amount safely possible is not a guarantee of maximum benefit, either. Due diligence is required in the selection process. Know that what you are taking is truly of benefit to your body.
Good nutrition is essential for healthy living, but obtaining sufficient nutrition from diet alone is nearly impossible due to modern farming, storage and preparation methods demanded by consumers. Careful use of supplementation is therefore a requirement for health.
Karen Walker is a wellness consultant and author. She works from her home in western Montana. She and her husband, Lynn McCormick, maintain a website to help those whose lives have been upset by catastrophic health events.