Your Grandma’s Not Crazy – Food DID Used to Be Better for You

Every generation has a tendency to decry the ignorance of the generations that came before it, and lament the progress of the generations that come after it.

But in some cases… we really would benefit from believing in the stories and lived experiences of our predecessors.

Now, there are myriad compoundable factors that have contributed to the rise of chronic diseases, mental illness, and lowered immunity. When we remember that our agrarian ancestors faced very few documented cases of diseases we’ve now come to expect as simply a product of our corporeal wear-and-tear…

It becomes pretty simple to connect the dots.

The food we grow today just doesn’t pack the same nutritional punch as it used to.

An apple, it turns out, is not always an apple.

Not only that, but our lifestyles have changed so quickly and on such a drastic scale that our ability to absorb nutrients is much lower than it used to be. Practices that help you absorb nutrients include eating healthy fats, maintaining robust gut health so that the small intestine can take in what’s been broken down, moderating alcohol consumption, ensuring present and active digestive enzymes, and diversifying gut bacteria. 

And we tend to struggle in those areas.

However, staying on our best behavior will only go so far if the food we’re eating contains less nutrition than it should.

Let’s step back and look at the bigger picture.

The Maelstrom of Nutritional Depletion

According to a study that tracked the nutritional value of 43 crops from 1950 to 1999, at least six nutrients showed marked, consistent declines in presence at up to 38%. The other seven nutrients they tested for also showed declines, but with less continuous results.

Those six were protein, Ca, P, Fe, riboflavin and ascorbic acid. 

Some other important things have happened since 1950 – the industrialization of agriculture, the shift to monoculture farming, and production on a timeline inconceivable to human beings even 100 years ago.

Yes, you can get a carrot any time, and it’ll be resistant to pesticides, a bigger size, and quickly grown.

But in the categories of calcium, iron, phosphorus, protein, B12, and ascorbic acid, it falls short of its grandpa carrot.

The study suggests that the reason for this change is that all of the advancements made to the carrot (or any of the other 42 crops) happened at so great a rate that its nutritional abilities couldn’t catch up to it.

Activists have other theories as well, namely soil depletion. Through erosion, poison, and anti-regenerative farming – whereby we don’t replenish the soil’s health after each harvest by planting crops that supply the nutrients the soil had just lost through the last crop’s roots – we have made our soil largely unable to meet its former standards.

There are certainly scientists who disagree, citing errors in study findings regarding duplicating the conditions of the 1950 and 1999 test subjects. 

However, it’s not the only study of its kind. The Kushi Institute produced similar results, as did the British Food Journal, and several other publicans.

And given what we know about soil depletion… it doesn’t stretch the limits of our imagination to believe that our food simply isn’t as nutritious.

So what can we do about it?

We Don’t Need Nutrients Any Less

In fact, we probably need them more.

And just because vegetables and fruits are less nutritious than they once were doesn’t mean you needn’t bother eating them.

You just need to eat more of them.

We can’t all harvest and grow our own food – although creative solutions like square foot gardening, soil testing, and roto-tilling power tools to make better use of your lawn certainly make it easier – but that solution is certainly elegant.

In fact, experts often recommend alternating plots to give freshly-used soil a chance to regenerate its microbes while you feed it manure and other organic fertilizers. 

Otherwise, you’ve got a few options:

  • Knowing that you’re not getting the same nutritional value from your fruits and vegetables as you should be, get lab work done and test to find out where your deficiencies are! That way, you can target your vitamin supplementation specifically instead of eating a bunch in the form of a multivitamin and hoping they all stick.
  • Simply eat more fruits and vegetables. Puree them in soups, roast them in huge batches, make vegetable and fruit smoothies, forego a traditional starch side at dinner for double-veggies, include fruits in your dessert craving repertoire more often, etc.
  • Petition the USDA relentlessly, your senators, the federal government, and any other legislative bodies you can move (it’s always best if you can start locally) to move towards regenerative farming. Start a CSA in your neighborhood! Rail against pesticides and soil erosion to everyone who will listen. 

Although our vitamin and nutrient intake is surely declining, we have the agency and the resources to take matters from the soil and into our own hands. 

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Dr. Pedram Shojai

NY Times Best Selling author and film maker. Taoist Abbot and Qigong master. Husband and dad. I’m here to help you find your way and be healthy and happy. I don’t want to be your guru…just someone who’ll help point the way. If you’re looking for a real person who’s done the work, I’m your guy. I can light the path and walk along it with you but can’t walk for you.