Health Is Up For Sale in Texas: Nutrient Content of Crops Has Decreased In Recent Years

If you’ve ever been told by your elders that food “just doesn’t taste like it used to,” you might want to listen. According to recent reports, of the thirteen major nutrients present in fruits and vegetables, six have declined significantly, some up to 38%. Preliminary studies on grain crops show similar results.

Donald Davis, a biochemist from the University of Texas at Austin, analyzed data released by the U.S. Department of Agriculture and reported a decline in levels of protein, calcium, vitamin C, phosphorus, iron and riboflavin, when compared with crops from previous decades. What this could mean in terms of agriculture for states like Texas, with its long growing season, could be significant. What this could mean for everyone — from the individual consumer, to the local farmer, to your health insurance company — is also of great importance. If consumers aren’t happy, consumers aren’t buying.

This is not to imply that people will simply stop buying food. It’s more that where we buy it might change, particularly for residents of larger cities like Austin, Dallas, and Houston, with a wider selection of markets.

Jeff Cronin, of the Center for Science in the Public Interest, agrees with Davis’ findings. The shift to large-scale agri-business has pushed for higher production, he said, and higher yields are often obtained by finding methods to grow crops faster. Nutrients are absorbed through the sun and soil, however, so the less time plants have to mature, the less time they also have to develop those vitamins and minerals. While we may be growing a larger volume of food, that food is less nutritious. In terms of nutritional content per calorie, consumers may actually be losing money as prices decrease and yields increase.

Other factors affecting nutrient levels in fruits and vegetables include improper care of soil (i.e., depleting soil nutrients), failure to properly rotate crops, types of fertilizers, crop genetics, maturity of food at the time of harvest, and the distance food travels before it hits the table. The short-cutting of these practices by large-scale agriculture has been criticized in recent years as the development of the mega-industry has increased — not just for producing poorer quality food, but also for effects on the environment, as well.

Decreased nutrient content is of significance to all, obviously, but the issue is of considerably more concern to those with chronic diseases and immune or nutrient-absorption problems. The body’s ability to fight disease and maintain optimal health is dependent on levels of nutrition. Even when consuming proper amounts of fruits and vegetables, these patients may need to consume 40% more just to obtain adequate levels of vitamins and minerals — and not even know it.

All this just adds more fuel to the fire on the debate over organic, versus conventionally-grown foods. While the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s official stance is that conventionally-grown crops are no better or worse than those produced organically, many would argue differently.

Grassfed beef has already been shown to contain half as much fat as grain-fed beef raised on feedlots, as well as delivering higher levels of vitamins E, A, D, and betacarotene. Factory-farm dairy products show disturbingly similar results, attributed, in part, to the practice of inducing cows to produce twenty times their natural levels of milk through the administration of hormones. Free-range eggs contain up to 30% more vitamin E, 50% more folic acid, and 30% more B-12 than their factory farm counterparts.

Organic fruits and vegetables show similar results; longer growth times, lower yields, lack of chemical nitrogen fertilizers, good crop rotation practices, and less travel time — all factors believed to affect nutrient content — would seem to correlate well with these claims.

For all you broccoli-haters out there, this is no excuse to ignore those fruits and vegetables. No matter what your food choices — conventional or organic — fruits and veggies are, hands down, one of the best ways to obtain daily nutrients. Organic food tends to be more expensive, without argument, and so many simply can’t afford the higher price tag. The question is what we should do about this problem. Food is one of the few products we have to have, after all.

One way to rethink the situation is to analyze what we see as “more expensive.” At this point, that may be a matter of perspective. In terms of nutrient content per calorie, conventionally-grown foods do not seem to be the better deal, after all. The money we save now on the grocery bill may come back, ten-fold, in healthcare-related expenses. Buying organic products in bulk when possible, shopping at farmers’ markets, joining Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) groups, cooking at home, and growing a garden in the backyard can save time, cash, and nutrient content, as well as make it possible to buy more nutritious selections.

No one should have to choose between their budget and their nutrient levels. Our health is at stake, after all. One thing is certain in this unfortunate, chemical soup that has become our produce section, however: health is up for sale.

Positive food choices will have a positive effect on your overall health. Being aware of your health, and what you can do to safeguard it will certainly affect you as you age, and eventually your wallet, as well.

Pat Carpenter writes for Precedent Insurance Company. Precedent puts a new spin on health insurance. Learn more at

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