Although you may eat a variety of fresh fruits and vegetables to nourish your body for maximum health and nutrition, the fruits and vegetables you eat today are not as nutritionally dense as the same foods that were grown decades ago. In a published 2004 landmark study, a team of researchers from the University of Texas compared the nutritional data from 1950 and 1999 for 43 varieties of fruits and vegetables. They discovered that the amounts of certain vital nutrients, such as calcium, protein, iron, vitamin C, phosphorus, and riboflavin (vitamin B2), had all declined between 6-38%.
How did this happen?
Industrial agriculture is now used on a large portion of American farmland. Developed during the decades following World War II, it is a system of chemically intensive food production methods featuring extremely large single-crop farms.
At the core of industrial farming is this monoculture, the growth of a single crop, which requires a heavy use of pesticides and synthetic fertilizers. Pesticides must be used because these single-crop fields attract certain insect pests and weeds which become difficult to control by any other means. Then growing the same crop in the same field year after year quickly uses up the nutrients in the soil requiring the heavy use of fertilizers to sustain plant life.
Although industrial farming produces large quantities of food quite economically, the practices used threaten human health and the environment.
An easily understood definition for sustainable farming would be: “the science of farming and raising livestock while maintaining an ecological balance and without exhausting the natural resources.” Sustainable farming practices allows for the production of healthy food without having a negative impact on a future generations’ ability to do the same.
It produces crops without the use of toxic chemical pesticides and fertilizers and without the use of genetically modified seeds. A variety of plants are grown using various techniques such as conservation tillage and crop rotation.
Sustainable farming practices are concerned not only with the ability to meet current food demands, but to also allow future generations to do the same, creating a healthier environment for all.
The Real Problem
As plants grow, they pull nutrients from the soil that must be replaced in order to produce and sustain future crops. Chemical fertilizers are used to replace these nutrients; however, these chemical fertilizers focus only on the three nutrients that plants require: nitrogen (N), phosphorus (P) and potassium (K).
The formula used to make the chemical fertilizer uses only 3 of the 77 essential nutrients that our bodies need for maximum health. Our bodies require over 60 of these essential nutrients to function optimally and prevent the development of disease.
Nutritional Deficiencies Cause Disease
Nutritional deficiencies have long been known to cause illness and disease. Scurvy, caused by a deficiency of vitamin C, became a bane to sailors of long voyages during the 15th century. Many died until citrus fruit, usually limes, was taken on these long voyages and consumed to prevent its occurrence.
There are many such examples of conditions caused by lack of nutrition throughout history. In fact, vitamins have been found to be very important to human health; and as many as 10 Nobel Prizes have been awarded for the isolation or discovery of various vitamins. Since their discoveries, many manufactured foods have been supplemented and the incidence of these conditions has dropped dramatically.
Which diseases, conditions and illnesses are affected by deficiencies of vitamins and minerals?
- Calcium deficiency – high blood pressure and arthritis
- Chromium deficiency – depression, diabetes and ADD
- Copper deficiency – varicose veins and aneurysms
- Iodine deficiency – increases risk of giving birth to a child with impaired mental abilities; goiter
- Iron deficiency – anemia; impairs fetal brain development
- Magnesium deficiency – tremors and vertigo
- Manganese deficiency – miscarriage and loss of libido
- Nickel deficiency – anemia and dermatitis
- Selenium deficiency – Keshan disease, scoliosis and systic fibrosis
- Vitamin A deficiency – impairs vision and causes blindness; impairs the immune system
- Vitamin B1 (thiamine) deficiency – beriberi, potentially fatal heart failure, and peripheral neuropathy
- Vitamin B2 (riboflavin) – weakness and fatigue, itching, burning eyes, mouth pain and brain dysfunction.
- Vitamin B3 (niacin) – pellagra, vomiting, diarrhea, fatigue, depression, and loss of memory
- Vitamin B6 (pyridoxine) – neurological disorders, anemia, and skin changes.
- Vitamin B9 (folate) – increases risk of giving birth to a child with birth defects such as spina bifida and anencephaly
- Vitamin B12 (cobalamin) – impaired immune system, megaloblastic anemia, and neurological deterioration
- Vitamin C deficiency – scurvy
- Vitamin D deficiency – rickets
- Zinc deficiency – hernia, Down’s syndrome, cleft palate, retarded growth, diarrhea, recurrent infections, and mental disturbances.
As the soil becomes more depleted, it is easy to see that the plants we consume will not contain the necessary nutrients to ward off illness and disease. Add to this the nutrients lost during processing, and our health suffers even more.
With two billion people worldwide suffering from various forms of malnutrition, it’s easy to see that something must change. Industrial farmers must focus on more than the bushels per acre output they can force from the land by the use of these synthetic chemical fertilizers. More sustainable farming practices are essential to preserve the health of both humans and the earth.