Declining Nutrients in Today’s Produce

We should be consuming a combined 9 cups of vegetables and fruits a day according to the USDA guidelines. How many people are actually doing this? Not many. Then on top of that the nutrients in that 9 cups of greens is not nearly as high as it was once upon time, way back when…. You know like the 70’s. Oh wait, so that’s really not that long ago. There has been significant drops in the nutrients we find in our produce, so increased servings or supplements are becoming crucial to the maintenance of our bodies and minds.

According to Alex Jack, a nutritionist who compared published nutrient values from 1975 to 2001, there has been an enormous drop in nutrients over time. Jack found that there was a 50% drop in the amount of calcium in broccoli, watercress was down in iron content by 88% and cauliflower had 40% less vitamin C content.

Donald Davis and a team of researchers from the University of Texas compared nutritional data from 1950 and 1999 for 43 different vegetables and fruits. The findings from their landmark study were published in the Journal of the American College of Nutrition. They reported substantial declines in the amounts of protein, calcium, phosphorous, iron, riboflavin (vitamin B2) and vitamin C. With the findings Davis stated that magnesium, zinc and vitamins B-6 and E have likely declined as well but were not studied in the 50’s so more data is needed to make a definitive statement.

Let’s take one vegetable that Davis and his team studied, broccoli. In 1950 broccoli had 130 mg of calcium, today it only has 48 mg. This is a big difference. And broccoli isn’t the only one. You would have to eat nearly eight oranges to get the nutritional value one orange use to have.

There are many factors that are contributing to the decline in nutrients in our produce including: the shift from decentralized local farms to a centralized industrial agri-business, breeding for higher yield, soil depletion, the processing process, the use of synthetic fertilizers, the list goes on and on.

“Efforts to breed new varieties of crops that provide greater yield, pest resistance and climate adaptability have allowed crops to grow bigger and more rapidly,” reported Davis, “but their ability to manufacture or uptake nutrients has not kept pace with their rapid growth.”

Alyson Mitchell, PhD, a professor of nutritional science at the University of California, told NBC news that “when plants experience stress, they protect themselves by producing phytochemicals.” These phytochemicals are crucial in creating nutrients in our food.

We need to take our health and nutrition into our own hands. Know what you are putting in your body and give yourself what you need.


Journal of the American College of Nutrition

Organic Consumers Association

NBC News Nutritional Value Fruits and Veggies Dwindling