According to a recent article in the New York Times, we’ve been breeding the nutrients out of our food since we first started growing our own fruits and vegetables. Apparently when you compare cultivated plants to wild plants the wild plants come out ahead, by leaps and bounds, for phytonutrient content. Now, not having seen nutrient comparisons of these foods I can’t comment on whether or not this is the case. Perhaps it is true. It’s entirely possible, and not really all that surprising considering the state of modern mass agriculture, that wild plants would contain more nutrients than cultivated plants. However, there are a couple of other concerns I have regarding the content of this article.
Firstly, you may be wondering what phytonutrients are. Essentially, they’re the nutrients in plants that give them their colours and provide you with health benefits (1). They’re things like anthocyanin in beets, lycopene in tomatoes, catechins in teas, etc. While no one phytonutrient (also known as phytochemical) has been proven to be responsible for a specific health benefit they are all widely regarded to be beneficial and provide protection from certain diseases such as cancers.
While phytonutrients provide many benefits, they are not the only form of nutrients present in plant foods. Even if, as the article states, these nutrients are vanishing from our food supply, there are other essential vitamins and minerals, as well as things like fibre and water, present in fruits and vegetables. Are we also breeding these nutrients out of our foods? Hard to say, as the article does not address this at all and there has been little, if any, sound research on this subject.
Lastly, the author of the article (Jo Robinson) is selling a book on the merits of consuming a “wild” food diet. Thus, she has a vested interest in convincing us that our fruits and vegetables are nutritionally lacking and the article itself lacks a balanced approach. I’m not saying that she’s wrong, I’m just saying that there is more to the story of nutrition than phytonutrients and I would like to see some unbiased research before I draw any conclusions myself.