Dirt Poor

June 3, 2017

Soil depletion and reduced levels of nutritional content was another topic Michelle included in her presentation.  Michelle stated that the nutritional value of the foods we eat today has diminished.  She pointed out the appearance of "enriched" and "fortified" labeling, lower protein and higher sugar content in the foods we buy today.  Like most people, I had been buying food I liked to eat without looking at the contents.  But, I was intrigued by her statements.

Could I really be eating less nutrition than I did as a boy?
Well, I suppose that could be true.  But was it really?

After the meeting, my wife and I went to the grocery store and while she shopped for a 

cereal, I looked at the contents of every cereal box in a long aisle full of choices.

Every box but one, had more sugar than protein in a serving.  Even granola, which I thought was going to be the exception.  Where did the protein go?

The exception was a combination of whole wheat kernels, whole flaxseed, salt and Barley Malt. [Uncle Sam]   I bought the high protein / low sugar cereal and surprisingly I liked it.  

On the graphs below are the nutrient values of unenriched wheat flour [top left] vs whole wheat kernal [top right] vs enriched wheat flour (below center].
As you can see, the whole wheat kernel has a more balanced content than it's replacements and yet, it too has declined in protein.

Because of soil depletion, crops grown decades ago were much richer in vitamins and minerals than the varieties most of us get today.  Refined sugars, separated fats and oils and white flour and rice have all suffered losses much greater and broader than the potential losses suggested here for garden crops. American diets on average derive well over half of their calories and dry weight from these three staples. Therefore, most diets in developed countries are nutritionally compromised much more by heavy consumption of these staples.

Studies published within the past 15 years show that much of our produce is relatively low in phytonutrients, which are the compounds with the potential to reduce the risk of four of our modern scourges: cancer, cardiovascular disease, diabetes and dementia.

Wild dandelions, once a springtime treat for Native Americans, have seven times more phytonutrients than spinach, which we consider a “superfood.” A purple potato native to Peru has 28 times more cancer-fighting anthocyanins than common russet potatoes. One species of apple has a staggering 100 times more phytonutrients than the Golden Delicious displayed in our supermarkets.

Besides switching my cereal, I am also switching from lettuce to fresh herbs that replace missing phytonutrients and add a touch of wild. And replacing my onions with scallions, or green onions, which are similar to wild onions. Remarkably, they have more than five times more phytonutrients than many common onions do. The green portions of scallions are more nutritious than the white bulbs, so I can use the entire plant.

Herbs are wild plants incognito. We’ve long valued them for their intense flavors and aroma, which is why they’ve not been given a flavor makeover. Because we’ve left them well enough alone, their phytonutrient content has remained intact.