Fruits and vegetables are not what they used to be

Give Me that Old Time Nutrition

If time travel ever becomes a reality, and if you ever find yourself back in the 1950s, you’ve got to try the tomatoes. And while you’re at it, try the strawberries, peaches, broccoli, and onions too. They’ll be so delicious that you might not want to return to the 21st Century.

Taste won’t be the only difference. A colleague recently sent me an article that makes this claim: You’d have to eat more than half a dozen 2009 peaches to equal the nutritional content of a single 1959 peach.

The article features a 2004 study in which USDA researchers compared nutrient data published in 1950 with similar data published in 1999. The match-up included more than 40 garden crops, including broccoli, carrots, spinach, corn, tomatoes, and strawberries.

Results showed overall declines for several nutrient factors, including protein, calcium, iron, riboflavin and ascorbic acid. For instance, the representative ascorbic acid value per 100 grams of spinach in 1950 was 59. In 1999 that value dropped to 28.

The USDA team believes that changes in cultivated varieties are responsible for the sharp decrease in nutritional value, adding: “…there may be trade-offs between yield and nutrient content.”

Trade-offs? That’s a nice way of saying that varieties have been purposely cultivated to create extra hardy fruits and vegetables that withstand long-distance shipping with minimum damage or spoilage. And you can see the result in the average supermarket: beautiful unbruised fruits and vegetables…with bland flavors and dense textures.

Mineral infusion

The article about the USDA study appears in an online magazine called Natural Foods Merchandiser. And a couple of readers’ comments about the article are worth noting.

A reader named Cyndi points out another reason why mass-produced garden foods are weak on nutrition and taste: Fertilizers increase water uptake, but not vegetable matter. She advises sticking with heirloom varieties of foods – that is, the same varieties found in gardens in 1950. Those varieties didn’t ship well, but they were packed with nutrients and had rich, satisfying flavors.

Another reader, Joanna, participates in a wider strategy to promote nutrient-dense produce: soil remineralization. She’s involved with an organization called Remineralize the Earth (, which works with farmers, scientists, retailers and other groups to replenish farm soils with mineral nutrients.

Meanwhile, what steps can you take to ensure a nutrient-rich diet?

You can use heirloom seeds in mineral-rich soil to grow your own fruits and vegetables. Next best: If you’re fortunate enough to have a farmers’ market in your area, that’s a likely place to find organic heirloom produce.

Of course, dietary supplements provide a nutrient insurance plan for millions of people who don’t have ready access to nutritious foods. Beyond multivitamins there are a number of supplements designed to naturally boost your nutrient intake.

In the February 2007 HSI Members Alert we told you about PomXel – a powerful antioxidant formula made from coffee berry and pomegranate extracts.

And in May 2008, the Members Alert featured Vital Purples, a supplement blend of 19 whole fruits and vegetables.

Every month, HSI members learn about unique alternative health care products in the HSI Members Alert. Find out how you can be among the first to get the lowdown on groundbreaking advances that the mainstream media routinely ignores.

“Changes in USDA Food Composition Data for 43 Garden Crops, 1950 to 1999” Journal of the American College of Nutrition, Vol. 23, No. 6, December 2004,
“Vegetables Are Not as Nutritious as They Were in the 1950s” Angela Cortez, Natural Foods Merchandiser, 9/3/09,