Getting the most nutrition for every dollar spent is of great concern for those interested in maintaining good health. Yet for the average consumer, the nutrition derived from fresh food dollars has substantially decreased over the past three decades. Why is this happening and what can be done about it?
Everyone wants good nutrition from the foods we eat and we are encouraged to eat five or more servings of fruits and vegetables every day. Yet in light of the methods used to bring food to our tables, getting even minimal levels of nutrients from the foods we eat can be a challenge. Why is it such a challenge to get good nutrition from our most basic foods?
The answer lies in many of the habits of our modern lifestyle. We no longer live on farms, so our foods often must travel great distances from field to table. Because consumers demand produce with an attractive (read perfect) appearance, the food industry focus is on producing fruits and vegetables that ship well, not nutrient content. Picked green in the field and shipped in cold storage, many types of produce that look great in the store fail to produce optimal nutrients that develop only in the ripe state, or lose much of their nutrients in cold dark conditions. Examples of this are tomatoes and lettuce. Vine ripened tomatoes are proven to contain higher levels of beta-carotene, lycopene and soluble fiber than green picked fruit. Lettuce loses up to 46% of certain nutrients within 7 days of cold, dark storage.
Another reason for nutrient poor produce is the very soils they are grown in. Soils throughout North America have been depleted since the dust bowl years of the 1930s. Soil depletion is a problem worldwide, because of poor farming methods that take from the soil without returning the minerals vital to good health. Modern methods replace only the minerals necessary for good plant growth, not trace minerals essential for human health. Although this trend is beginning to be reversed by todays organic farmers careful cultivation of the soil, depletion continues to be a problem throughout the world with little attention paid to the contribution of trace minerals to good health.
How food is stored on the grocery shelf also has an impact on nutrition. Tomato juice retains vitamin C better in cans than in glass containers, whereas orange juice retains its vitamin C better in glass than plastic or glass containers. Vitamin K as well as some B vitamins is depleted by exposure to light, including fluorescent light present in grocery stores. For example, enriched pastas can lose up to 80% riboflavin content if stored in lighted conditions for just 12 weeks.
Other factors that influence nutritional quality of fresh fruits and vegetables include washing, preparation (chopping, slicing, etc.), and cooking and storage methods in the home. There are too many known variables in preserving food nutritional quality to list in this brief article. Yet, very little research has been done to fully determine nutrient losses in our modern food system.
There is a very good source available which summarizes much of what is known. Written by Jane Ramberg, MS and Bill McAnalley, PhD and titled, From Farm to the Kitchen Table: A Review of the Nutrient Losses in Foods, published in the Glycoscience & Nutrition journal, September 1, 2002 issue, volume 3, number 5, this informative summary is the basis for information provided in this article. Anyone who desires a free copy of the entire summary may obtain one by contacting the author at the source listed in the authors bio.
The best defense against nutritionally depleted foods is careful supplementation followed by purchasing fresh foods as close to the source and organically grown whenever feasible. Maximizing your nutrition dollar by getting optimal nutrition from all sources is your best offensive move for maintaining good health.