Overfed, Nutritionally Starved

Learn about the serious reductions in our food’s nutrients in the past 100 years, and why homegrown produce is naturally superior.

| September/October 2017

  • Homegrown produce isn’t under pressure to survive long journeys or stay fresh on store shelves.
    Photo by iStock/XiXinXing
  • Buying produce from local, organic farms is one way to help ramp up your foods’ nutrient levels.
    Photo by iStock/branex
  • As large-scale agriculture advances, the quality and nutrition of the food produced declines.
    Photo by iStock/CasarsaGuru
  • Modern agriculture techniques contribute to “the dilution effect,” which reduces nutrient levels in food.
    Photo by iStock/valio84sl

Any home gardener will tell you supermarket produce is no match for freshly picked fruits and vegetables. But that’s more than lip service or homegrown pride. Actually, there’s plenty of scientific evidence to suggest that backyard produce doesn’t just taste better — it’s more nutritious, too.

In the United States, we consume an overabundance of calories, yet around a third of us don’t get the recommended levels of magnesium, vitamin A and vitamin C — all nutrients we get from plants, which we have more year-round access to than ever before. So what gives?

Part of the answer may lie in the plants themselves and how we process them. Instead of simply eating more servings of fruits and vegetables, we might want to focus on ensuring those servings are rich in the nutrients that do the hard work of keeping us healthy in the first place.

Large-scale agricultural producers utilize everything from fertilizers and pesticides to plowing and selective breeding to increase the uniformity and yield of crops. But in doing so, they may be inadvertently decreasing those crops’ ability to nourish us. Researchers have found a marked decline in the nutritional value of fresh food over the last 100 years. Today’s produce pales in nutritional value with fruits and vegetables grown before those agricultural practices became common, and many studies back that up.

A Brief History of Nutrition Research

The first federal funding for human nutrition research in the United States was earmarked in 1893, in large part because of the work of an American chemist named Wilbur Olin Atwater.

Atwater was one of few scientists at the time devoted to the studies of human nutrition and metabolism. His work in the late 19th and early 20th centuries informed much of what we now understand about food and nutrition.

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