How Our Vegetables Became Less Nutritious than Our Parents'

Your grandparents got way more nutrition out of their vegetables.


Are the fruits and veggies we eat today less nutritious than they were years ago? The answer is yes, and the reasons why lie in how we farm.

The next question you might have is how bad is it? Well, it depends. Some studies have found median declines in mineral composition between 5 percent to 40 percent in vegetables. These declines were seen over the course of several decades, meaning the one zucchini your grandma ate when she was a child likely packed more of a nutritional punch than the one you're eating today.

Some studies have found median declines in mineral composition between 5 percent to 40 percent in vegetables.

Donald Davis of the University of Texas at Austin’s Department of Chemistry and Biochemistry headed up a study, published in December 2004 in the Journal of the American College of Nutrition, looking into this nutritional deficit. Davis and his team compared data from the U.S. Department of Agriculture from 1950 and 1999, looking at 43 different vegetables and fruits. They found declines in a number of minerals contained within these crops, including protein, calcium, phosphorus, iron, riboflavin, and vitamin C.

If you’re talking about small farming for a local community, “land-raised plants are far superior, period.” On a global scale, it’s a trickier call.


The difference is in the methods we use to farm, Davis reported: “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, but their ability to manufacture or uptake nutrients has not kept pace with their rapid growth.”

Farms that use high-yield plants may get more crops, but all that energy going toward a bigger bounty results in a shallower root system, which means less mineral absorption.

But there is hope to turn things around, writes Davis: “If modern vegetables, whole grains, and other nutrient-dense foods do provide sometimes less nutrition than they have in decades past, and we can learn to improve them in practical ways, so much the better they will be.”

Farms that use high-yield plants may get more crops, but all that energy going toward a bigger bounty results in a shallower root system, which means less mineral absorption. Likewise, crowded fields and the use of chemical fertilizers and pesticides also play a role in preventing more nutritious crops. Soil may also become depleted of its nutrients if farmers don't alternate fields each season to let the ground recuperate. But all these things can be fixed. However, reports of this nature have circulated for the past five years with little to show for it.

If you want quality fruits and veggies, you may have to look to local markets where the price per piece of food may be higher, but the quality of food may also be better. If these markets aren't available to you the solution is simple: Eat more fruits and vegetables.

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Natalie has been writing professionally for about 6 years. After graduating from Ithaca College with a degree in Feature Writing, she snagged a job at PCMag.com where she had the opportunity to review all the latest consumer gadgets. Since then she has become a writer for hire, freelancing for various websites. In her spare time, you may find her riding her motorcycle, reading YA novels, hiking, or playing video games. Follow her on Twitter: @nat_schumaker

Photo Credit: ALFREDO ESTRELLA / Getty Staff

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