We don’t often compare our contemporary food to that of previous generations. Why would we? A carrot is a carrot, whether it’s 2019 or 1969, right? Logic would suggest so, but the facts tell a different story. Eating healthily has become something of a concern for newer generations, much more so than it might have been for previous ones. Ironically, it is actually more difficult to accomplish these days than it used to be, even though the selection of nutritious food on offer has increased. Why has this trend emerged? How does food compare to previous generations? And if it is indeed worse, how can we ensure we’re getting the most nutrition out of our diets?
First of all, the bad news. It is an unfortunate truth that food grown in previous decades was more nutritious than food is now. The main culprit of this concerning phenomenon is soil depletion. The earth only has a certain amount of resources, and modern agricultural farming methods ensure that we use up these resources faster than the soil can replenish them. The ultimate result is a gradual decline of naturally occurring vitamins and minerals in soil-grown produce. Each successive generation of produce becomes a little less healthy for you than the one before. A landmark study conducted in 2004 confirmed this fact, as researchers analysed U.S. Department of Agriculture nutritional data from both 1950 and 1999. They found what they described as ‘reliable declines’ in the amount of calcium, iron, vitamin B2, protein, phosphorus and vitamin C over the 50-year period.
This isn’t great news for us humans, as our immune systems rely on good nutrition. We rely on our immune response to protect us from all manner of viruses, bacteria and toxins; when it fails, we get sick. The most obvious example of this is the common cold. The influenza virus enters our bodies, and we suffer its effects until the immune system figures out how to fight it. Immunity is a remarkable adaptation in our bodies, and can ‘remember’ viruses and bacteria it has previously dealt with. If the same pathogen invades again, the immune system can eradicate it quickly and effectively, with us being none the wiser. Our immune response is working for us all the time, but it requires the right nutrition to be effective. As 70% to 80% of our immune cells reside in our gastrointestinal tract, the foundation for a healthy immune system is laid in the gut – which is, of course, directly linked to nutrition.
We need a variety of nutrients to keep our immune system in tip-top shape, and should be looking to incorporate them as part of a balanced diet. Carrot, sweet potato and spinach are fantastic sources of vitamin A, which help keep the membranes in our nose and throat healthy. Vitamin C helps stimulate the production of antibodies and is a reliable antioxidant; it can be found in pineapples, mangos, kiwi and citrus fruits. Iron deficiency is a chronic problem among the general population. We get iron from foods like red meat and leafy greens, and without it our immune function can be suppressed. Another class of important nutrients that may help to regulate our immune response is omega 3 fatty acids, which we procure from nuts, fish, plant oils and seeds.
Many people rely on dietary supplements to receive their recommended amounts of vitamins and minerals. However, if the trend in soil depletion continues, we may see supplements become the norm for the general population. There are ways to slow down this process; one example would be using agricultural methods that alternate fields between growing seasons. But the demands of modern supply will likely dominate, meaning the depletion will continue. If supplements become more prominent, they are likely to flood the market, and as with any product, quality will vary wildly. Not all supplements are created equal – indeed, some may prove completely unfit for purpose, depending on their bioavailability.
Bioavailability describes how a particular food or supplement is absorbed into the body, and how beneficial it is after said absorption. Therefore, the more bioavailable a substance is, the more beneficial it will be to the body as a whole. Many supplements are created synthetically, which means their bioavailability is very low, or even non-existent. When it comes to the highest-performing supplements, organic and natural is most definitely the way to go. You can easily tell which supplements are organic; if they list a food instead of an actual vitamin on their label, they are all-natural. Synthetic supplements will list the particular vitamin or mineral wholesale (i.e. ‘vitamin C’ or ‘iron’, which means they have been created, not derived from produce.
Make Well produces an all-natural line-up of supplements that are utilised by doctors and patients around the world. They support the treatment of chronic diseases like Lyme by bolstering the immune system and aiding in the repression of inflammation. While these supplements are aimed at patients battling chronic disease, they might also prove invaluable as the soil depletion crisis continues to take hold. Unless we cut down our use of pesticides and chemical fertilisers and get smart about our agricultural methods, supplements could very well have a significant place in our collective future.