Nutrient-dense vegetables: appearances may be deceptive
After a heated #groundchat roundtable discussion last week about the connection between soil and nutrient-dense food — based on Monica Nickelsburg article’s Peak soil: Why nutrition is disappearing from our food — I have come to several conclusions.
Growing nutrient-dense vegetables
- First, people like their food and most people are attached to their way of growing.
- Second, most people agree that most soils are nutrient deficient, but not how to correct the problem.
- Third, appearances can be deceptive. Just because fruit and vegetables look healthy and attractive doesn’t mean it is nutrient-dense food.
It is alarming to think that our food — fruit, vegetables, grains and meat — have been losing their nutritional punch. The loss of nutrients in our produce has reduced our protection against prevalent diseases – cancer, cardiovascular disease Alzheimer’s and diabetes. And according to Steve Solomon and Erica Reinheimer’s The Intelligent Gardener, Growing Nutrient-Dense Food, depleted soil is the culprit.
NASA’s nutrient map supports this claim. Many of our world soils are mineral deficient, caused by leaching (in high rainfall areas), intense farming/gardening combined with insufficient repletion of the soil. Most agricultural colleges already teach about depleted minerals in soils.
What shocked most people on #groundchat was finding out that adding compost/manure isn’t enough. But it makes sense once you think about it. Compost made from plant material grown in nutrient-deficient soil would not accumulate the minerals that the soil needs. Simple.
However, some growers disagreed on the best method of remineralization. A few people objected to Steve Solomon’s method of remineralization. Soil testing followed by remediation with rock phosphate, fishmeal kelp meal and lime was either too complicated or ineffective for some.
Other methods remineralization methods that were suggested included biochar, mineral-retrieval by growing long-rooted plants and using electricity to reduce mineral leaching.
But even if we replenish the soil with the right balance of minerals and pH, it might not be enough. We may get enough minerals from our food, but not enough phytonutrients. Many of the vegetables and fruit that we are growing are low in protective phytonutrients. Jo Robinson’s New York Times article, Breeding the Nutrition Out of Our Food, clearly illustrates that our current food has had phytonutrients bred right over them in the last 10,000 years.
What a poke in eye! How did this happen? Well, food high in phytonutrients (i.e. anthocyanin and beta-carotene) tends to taste bitter, astringent or sour. So, we as a species have over the years selected fruits and vegetables lower in these beneficial phytonutrients. Wild dandelion has 7 times more phytonutrients than our cultivated spinach. The old Sikkim crabapple species has 100 times more phytonutrients than our beloved Golden Delicious. And the list goes on. Check out the New York Times’ Nutritional Weaklings in the Supermarket.
And we have also selected varieties that were relatively low in fiber, and high in sugar, starch and oil. Well, sugar and fat taste better don’t they? I am looking at my vegetable choices at President’s Choice and Stokes Seeds taste testing with a jaundiced eye now. Ha!
So what can we do? I can’t tell you what you should do, but I can tell you what I am doing.
- I am getting a soil test and then remineralizing my vegetable patch.
- I am also going to grow veggies that have had less breeding selection done, i.e. arugula and herbs.
- And yes, I am reading Jo Robinson’s blog, Eat Wild and buying her book, Eating on the Wild Side.
I have nothing to lose but my health.
Erica’s Reinheimer’s website: Grow Abundant Gardens
Michael Astera’s The Ideal Soil. A Handbook for the New Agriculture.
This is the book that got Steve Solomon started with soil and nutrient-dense food.
Soil Analyst Cooperative. People helping people grow nutrient dense foods
Helps you find a soil analyst in your area. And lots more information on soils and growing nutrient-dense food.