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The government has made official what’s been common knowledge among nutritionally oriented practitioners for years: the vitamin and mineral content of our fruits and vegetables has been in steady decline since the 1950s, when scientists first began to measure them.
Researchers sampled produce from grocery stores all over the country and compared the current nutritional content to levels in those same fruits and veggies measured a half century ago.
Calcium, iron, and some of the B vitamins were all down by five, ten, even twenty percent. Even worse, there was surprising variation between samples of the same vegetable. One tomato might have lots of the antioxidant lycopene, while another tomato, looking exactly like its cousin, had very little. The cancer protection from one stalk of broccoli could be utterly missing from another.
There are several theories as to why this is occurring. The people at Rodale Institute, publishers of “Prevention” and “Organic Farming” magazines, have monitored their test fields for years and are convinced that conventional farming methods deplete the soil and yield malnourished produce. Other researchers believe that genetic manipulation to yield larger and stronger crops has failed to take into account the effect of this tinkering on vitamin and mineral levels.
What should you do? First and foremost, don’t plunge into a world of corn dogs and Dr. Pepper in some sort of existential despair.
What the nutritional news means is this: even healthy eaters need a supplement boost. At minimum, you’ll want to take:
a really good high potency vitamin/mineral supplement with iron (for menstruating women) or without iron.
extra calcium, magnesium, and vitamin D
fish oil, for the omega-3s
And definitely, if you’re already eating well, keep up the good work. Your salad might be less nutritious than the one your grandmother enjoyed, but all those fruits, veggies, legumes, nuts, and whole grains are still very good for you.