We have lost our way when it comes to food and nutrition. We eat for the wrong reasons – we eat to fill ourselves physically and emotionally. We are hungry and we grab food that we know will satisfy our hunger, and not give thought to satisfying our body’s need for nutrition. We are emotionally hungry and we grab food that we know will satisfy our emotional needs, and not give thought to the damage we are doing to our body by eating sugary, highly processed foods.
There is continual contradiction with regards to the reports on what is good for us and what is not.
Eggs are bad – they raise your cholesterol (false). Then they don’t – you can eat them every day, they are good for you (true). Saturated fat is bad for you (false) – then it isn’t (true). Drinking fruit juice is good for you (false) – then it is bad for you because it has too much sugar (true). Don’t drink tap water because of the chemicals (true) – then it is OK to drink it (false). How is the average person supposed to decipher what is truth and what is not?
Have we just given up? Do we think “what’s the point, they change their mind all the time anyway?” Are we so busy and stressed that we can’t find the time – physically and emotionally – to nurture our bodies? Do we bury our head in the sand and just pretend we are healthy, despite the arthritis, high blood pressure, cardiovascular disease, diabetes, digestive disturbances, osteoporosis, obesity, mental health problems, stress and anxiety? Do most people not even understand that nutrition is the core aspect of good health? That we need to constantly supply our body with the nutrition it desperately craves?
I think all of the above. And we as a society and as individuals are paying the price. We get sick and go to the Doctor to get a pill to make us feel better. Problem is that that pill might seem to help us with whatever the problem was in the first place, (although it is usually just masking the symptoms) but then it creates other problems, often which are “solved” by taking another pill.
It is time that we all realised that if we ate as we are supposed to eat – nutrient dense food and as nature intended – most of these problems would go away. Our body would rejoice and thank us for caring!
But is that enough? We are eating foods that are mass grown on soil that has been depleted of its mineral content, food that has been fed chemical fertilisers which promote growth but which deplete nutrition. Is there really a difference between food now and in the past? Is organic really better for us than conventionally grown produce?
Before the agricultural era began around 10,000 years ago, people hunted and foraged for food. Wild grown fruit and vegetables were more bitter in taste than the modern fruit and vegetables we now grow. We have spent years cross breeding crops to produce plants with a higher sugar content and are growing less of the bitter tasting food – sweet is best! There are some fundamental problems with farming in this manner. The more bitter or sour fruits and vegetables contain some of the most beneficial phytochemicals – chemicals that protect us from cancer, cardiovascular disease, dementia, stroke, that reduce inflammation, regulate our cholesterol and fight the free radicals that are causing cellular damage all throughout our body.
By opting for the fruit and vegetables with higher sugar and starch content, we are continually bombarding our body with far too much sugar which can wreak havoc on our digestive and cardiovascular systems, which causes inflammation and can lead to diabetes, cancer and obesity.
We are also limiting the variety of plants we grow because it is more profitable to grow one type of corn, for example, especially if it is sweeter, rather than the many different coloured varieties. But by doing this we are lessening our range of vitamins, minerals and phytochemicals.
Before Europeans first arrived in Central America, the native Indians ate corn in a variety of colours – red, olive, blue, green, yellow and some even black. These different coloured corns had much higher levels of anthocyanin than the yellow variety. Anthocyanin is a phytochemical which protects us against cardiovascular disease, cancer, reduces inflammation in the body, lowers cholesterol and blood pressure and protects the brain.
We have “lost” many varieties of fruits and vegetables over the years and as a result we have lost much of the nutritional and phytochemical content of these foods. But it hasn’t just been happening recently, we have been gradually reducing the nutritional and phytochemical content of our food for the past 10,000 years, when we stopped foraging for food and became farmers.
Modern technology has allowed scientists to compare the phytochemical content of wild plants with modern produce and the results are astounding. We call modern spinach a “superfood” but it has only 14% of the phytochemicals that wild dandelions, a food eaten by Native Americans, has. There are 28 times more cancer fighting anthocyanins in the native purple potato of Peru than our common white russet potato.
Growing evidence suggests that the people who foraged for wild foods prior to the beginning of agriculture were much less likely to die from degenerative diseases. Their main cause of death, according to anthropologists, was infection and injury.
Published in 2004 in the Journal of the American College of Nutrition, a study by the University of Texas compared U.S. Department of Agriculture nutritional data from 1950 and 1999 for 43 different fruits and vegetable. They found “reliable declines” in the amount of many vitamins and minerals including calcium, iron, phosphorus, Vitamin B2 and Vitamin C.
There have been many other studies that have produced similar results.
The Kushi Institute in the United States analysed nutritional data from 1975 – 1997 and reported the following average decline in nutrients in 12 fresh vegetables:
Vitamin A 21%
Vitamin C 30%
The U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) has reported that the average calcium content of broccoli in 1950 was 12.9mg per gram but in 2003 was only 4.4mg per gram. That is a 65% decline.
Researchers from Washington State University found a 50% decline in selenium and a 25% decline in zinc in wheat grown between 1842 and 2003.
According to USDA data, from between 1963 and 2000 the Vitamin C content of capsicum has dropped by 69%, in beets by 50%, spinach by 45.09%, corn by 41.66% and collards by 61.95%.
On top of this dramatic decrease in the nutritional and phytochemical content, we are also heavily processing foods which destroys even more of the nutritional value. We are also storing fruit and vegetables for up to a year in cold storage, further depleting them of nutrients. We are microwaving foods, and although research seems to be pointing to the fact that microwaving doesn’t decrease the nutritional content of food, it does destroy those all important phytochemicals.
We need to eat up to twice the amount of fruit and vegetables to obtain the same level of nutrition from 50 years ago, and on top of that our body needs more nutrition overall because it is churning through vitamins and minerals trying to detoxify from all the pollution and chemicals we are ingesting, breathing and absorbing and from the high levels of chronic stress that most of us endure.
So what is the solution to this problem? We could take supplements, but they won’t give us those all important phytochemicals and can be a very expensive process. Or we could buy organic, shop at the local organic farmer’s markets and grow our own vegetables and fruit. We could also understand that we need to eat nutrient dense food and not fill up on grains and processed foods. We could start using spices and herbs which are full of phytochemicals. Our body is very resilient, it will carry on for as long as it can with sub-optimal nutrition, but eventually it will give up and disease will invade.
So do your body a favour – ditch the low nutrient processed foods and grains that are damaging your body and replace them with whole foods – fresh organic fruits, vegetables, nuts, seeds, eggs and quality organic meats, chicken and wild caught fish. Start experimenting with using spices and herbs. Use herbs as a tea. Grow your own vegetables and herbs and use the heirloom varieties whenever you can. Your body will thank you for it!
By Andrea Southern, Naturopath, Nutritionist, Herbalist Stafford and The Gap in Brisbane. For an appointment phone 0412 791 705