Conclusion: We suggest that any real declines are generally most easily explained by changes in cultivated
varieties between 1950 and 1999, in which there may be trade-offs between yield and nutrient content.
Worth noting there is no use of the phrase "soil depletion".
I take issue with the comment near the end:
> Also, foregoing pesticides and fertilizers in favor of organic growing methods is good for the soil, the produce and its consumers. Those who want to get the most nutritious fruits and vegetables should buy regularly from local organic farmers.
To my knowledge, organic farming employs just as much, if not more, pesticide and fertilizer. But there are regulations determining which products are allowed to be classed as "organic". Such regulations can be somewhat arbitrary; for example, a lot of so-called organic produce is the product of radiation-induced mutation .
I don't think natural soil systems have been able to keep up with the nutrient demands of modern crop production for some decades now.
If this is true, I would love to see your source.
I buy a lot of organic because I expect it to have less pesticide (and other potentially 'bad' things). And, if that's not the case, I will change my buying habits.
I do understand that there is a fraud issue in organics. I have seen examples of farmers owning organic certified farms and then buying produce from the distribution market to resell as organic. Also, I have seen examples of people doing similar things at farmers markets.
Prove it for yourself.
Also in my experience, organic tastes WAY better. For example I never liked the taste of conventional celery; some bitter aftertaste (pesticide residue?) and just bland. But organic celery really pops, with no aftertaste. Baby carrots are noticeably tastier as well. The difference is so stark I think I could validate these on a double-blind test any day.
Anyway if double-blind is what you need to be convinced, then by all means do the same test double-blind. Shouldn't be terribly difficult to craft such a test for yourself.
I think that would be the definition of a placebo effect. Headaches and yuck feeling when eating food you perceive as dirtier/less healthy.
Maybe you should get two of your friends together and do a double blind test. Have one of your friends go shopping, take the vegetables out of the bag, and write down which is which. Then have your other friend who doesn't know which is which give both portions to you and see if you can tell the difference. It would be interesting for sure.
Bitterness is normal in celery though the degree is manageable by techniques that are orthogonal to non-organic vs. organic status. To the extent that there is a non-placebo difference, it's probably that your conventional supplier is more devoted to rigorous labor cost cutting then your organic supplier, which is likely to become less and less common for randomly chosen organic vs. non-organic as organics become more and more mass market and less upper-middle-class niche.
Try a double-blind test and ask a series of questions. Some of the questions about taste should be the things you're looking for. Others should be irrelevant, just to set a baseline. Perceptions of taste are very subjective and easily influenced. Experimental rigour is necessary to mitigate that.
Take that for what it's worth, but do suggest you give organic celery a try, see if you notice the same. Do it double-blinded if you must.
Here’s the list of allowed chemicals. It’s a short list. And, I’m ok with more being used, since most look harmless (e.g. ethanol, lye).
Organic seems good to me.
'Good' organic growing practices are perfectly safe. They'll minimize pesticide application, and ensure they do it at the correct times, i.e. away from harvest time. They'll apply Bt toxin (yes, the same stuff in the GMOs, just exogenously applied) and neem oil, as well as some soaps with potassium salts.
There are some 'dangerous' organic pesticides. As far as I know Rotenone isn't used anymore, but it is dangerous to humans and was once employed as an organic pesticide.
Copper sulfate is a fairly big issue. It's definitely toxic to humans and has been found to accumulate in soils. It's a fairly big deal in Napa and the vineyards have moved away from it because of the accumulation. This copper definitely makes it's way to consumers, so the question is how much, and how much is too much?
This is an interesting anecdote about brewing beer with fruit, and needing to pay attention to copper levels.
Ultimately, at the scale of the modern organic industry, you're not always going to get good stuff. There are certainly potential dangers, just as there are with conventional agriculture. I would contend that both are perfectly safe when done appropriately.
Copper sulfate used to be used to induce vomiting. It turned out to be more toxic then we'd like in that usage... but that usage was feeding people spoonfuls of it!
It passes the sniff test that a farmer controlling pests with ethanol might use more than a farmer using, e.g. neonicotinoids.
As for fertilizer, I wonder if compost is considered fertilizer. I use lots of compost on my garden.
“Even with bicarbonate, buying organic may still be worth it!
One thing this article should not be abused is as evidence in an argument against buying organic. Yes, you can reduce the pesticide load on the peel of your favorite produce to almost zero and yes, even the latest (highly pro-organic) review of the literature highlights that pesticides are where the major differences are, but you're (a) still left with the pesticides beneath the skin and will (b) not benefit from the other potential benefits Tiziano Gomiero highlights in his latest paper in Applied Soil Ecology (see Figure 4).”
That however is the actual definition of organic as opposed to how it's used in marketing material. When talking about marketing, organic just means that a particular subset of approved pesticides and possibly fertilizers, was used in growing the produce. It has no particular meaning beyond that when used as a marketing term. In particular what pesticides are or are not approved is at the discretion of the organization providing the organic certification, so depending on where you are and what group is certifying a product as organic will determine what was used in growing it.
This is a totally different meaning than “organic” in “organic chemistry” or “organic compounds.”
However, there is a huge list of exceptions to this rule. Full text of the regulations is here: https://www.ecfr.gov/cgi-bin/text-idx?c=ecfr&rgn=div6&view=t...
I would take whatever the OCA says with a huge mound of salt, given their antivax and anti fluoride in the water stance.
You have been warned.
TIL DHMO is the cause of everything bad in the world from gun violence, to sport doping, to killer cyclones. But it might improve your marriage, so there's that.
I could never taste a tangible difference with those premium products marketed as "Sea Salt" flavoured.
> Iodised salt (also spelled iodized salt) is table salt mixed with a minute amount of various salts of the element iodine. The ingestion of iodine prevents iodine deficiency. Worldwide, iodine deficiency affects about two billion people and is the leading preventable cause of intellectual and developmental disabilities. Deficiency also causes thyroid gland problems, including "endemic goitre." In many countries, iodine deficiency is a major public health problem that can be cheaply addressed by purposely adding small amounts of iodine to the sodium chloride salt.
So I specifically don't want "sea salt". I'd rather not have such lovely, "natural" conditions as goiters.
Fun fact: this is why you'll see rice in some salt shakers at diners and restaurants—it keeps the salt from caking. Though it's possible that it doesn't happen much anymore with whatever some producers might be adding to maintain the same effect.
Possibly the only good reason to use "sea salt" is that the crystals are bigger and less prone to caking.
Table salt has extremely salty flavor as tiny crystals dissolve instantly.
Sea Salts dissolve slower. Also flakiness makes it easier to control when salting things by hand.
Color of salt is meaningless.
Unless you are talking about salts with sulphur in them. Those really do taste different.
Evaporite is the mineral produced by evaporation of seawater. It contains a large quantity of halite, but also has some other minerals in it, which vary according to the composition of the sea that evaporated. Generally, it adds calcium, potassium, and magnesium to the cations, and carbonate, sulfate, bromide, and fluoride to the anions. It is very likely to contain hydrates.
As far as I know, the marketing names and terms for salts are not controlled. Someone could come up with a process to color purified table salt pink and then sell it as Himalayan salt, without it ever going anywhere near Pakistan. Someone is probably already doing that. And actually, as some evaporite deposits are not safe for dietary consumption, it is likely that mines in India and Pakistan are purifying their salt, selling most of it as iodized table salt domestically, and then recoloring some of it for export as luxury product.
There are only two kinds of salt you need to worry about for cooking. "Salt", which has been purified and probably iodized, and "sea salt", which has only been processed for uniform particle sizes. You can also get pure potassium chloride (KCl) at most supermarkets, and it does taste noticeably different from pure NaCl. There is no need to buy a premium product, unless spending the extra money makes you feel good.
While I can get behind some explanations for taste differences arising from "physical" reasons such as a larger salt grains offering different texture, which affects how it may mix with your food and air / dissolve on your tongue, I refuse to believe that the chemical differences are negligible.
Take water for instance, anyone with remotely sensitive palette can taste the difference in water. Whether it's straight tap water, filtered water or various brands of mineral water.
Considering the concentrations of minerals which govern the taste differences, I would be astounded to hear that trace minerals in salt don't affect its taste.
I mean, not only can I taste the difference with reverse osmosis water used for coffee, but if you look carefully at it, it tends to have a slightly different viscosity from regular water.
What a disappointingly unrigorous serious eats article.
(Sure it won't come from the pure salt itself. Just additives / impurities)
Pause this to see an ingredient list from a US brand of salt:
I'd be interested to know if anyone anywhere can taste different types of salt under double blind conditons.
Edit: Just to be clear, you shouldn't assume that my comment being gray means it was unanimously downvoted. I saw it losing three points for every two gained, meaning roughly 40% of HN shares my curiosity.
But seriously, the fluoride (F-) replaces hydroxide (OH-) in an apatite matrix--as one might fight in tooth enamel--and makes it less soluble in water and more resistant to acid attack. A small quantity strengthens teeth, especially in children. Larger quantities, as may occur in naturally fluoridated water, can produce white spots on the teeth, which is dental fluorosis.
There is little benefit for adult teeth. As apatite is also found in the bones, fluoride will replace hydroxide there, too, which can result in skeletal fluorosis. As bones are not generally exposed to acids, there is no benefit, and the fluoridated portions create harder, more brittle spots, which can interfere with the normal self-repair mechanisms of the skeleton.
As a society, we have determined that fewer dental caries in younger people are worth more brittle bones in older people. But we also decided that we want to do the cavity thing really cheaply, because who wants to pay for some dentist to treat all kids' teeth manually when we could just add cheap chemicals to the drinking water?
Over fluoridation is bad for your bones ( teeth included ) and who knows what its doing to peoples brains.
beyond the potential health benefits to teeth I really do not agree with any kind of forced medication of the public. everything should be done voluntarily and with absolute consent.
So no, you’re not being overfluoridated in the US.
This does not solve the systemic issue, but knowing the person who knows your food definitely seems like it would be better than anonymous food at a grocery.
People lie. Industry "standards" change commonly accepted definitions. People buy what's cheap, and effective even if it may not exactly be what's on the tin (e.g. farmer buys an 'organic' fertilizer which isn't, thus 'contaminating' the organic nature of the goods going to your table).
That said, I don't see why higher yield with lower nutrition goods are bad in general. It seems malnutrition is from people not eating enough, not from being stuffed with poorly nourishing food.
Some don't even bother to take the stickers off!
Industrial farming optimizes for efficiency and rarely goes to the lengths necessary for maintaining rich soil and healthy environment for the plants.
You may want to look up biological farming.
‡ What's advanced here is not spending a ludicrous amount of energy, we can fix nitrogen, but we use a factory with high temperature and pressure to make the conversion work, the bacterium does it happily inside a peanut plant.
I wonder about the environmental tradeoffs between using crop rotation vs. fertilizer for some of the micronutrients. On the one hand, there's an environmental cost to creating fertilizer, there's dangers of over-fertilizing, runoff, etc. But a crop rotation system means some fields will have to lie barren, or with less valuable crops, and potentially with lower yields, which means you need more farmland to grow the same amount of food, which means clearing more forests. Of course, I'm not even a novice in this subject, I'm sure there's a lot I'm missing.
A related example of the consequences of "using up" land can be seen with bananas. In that case, a deadly banana fungus is slowly, inexorably spread through the soil by human activity. Eventually a plot of land becomes unusable for growing bananas due to the spread of the fungus. No matter, the banana company just cuts down more rainforest for new land and abandons the old plot. Later, in perhaps ten years, the new plot will be contaminated & unusable, and the cycle continues.
The microbes at work synthesizing nutrients from those chemical fertilzers and raw minerals, making them bio-available and aiding uptake are vital.
As I understand it (coming from rural Ontario—5th largest agri-region), farms and especially large farms (around there) are required to—or at least make it a habit of best practice—strategically rotate crops every n seasons to allow the soil to replenish.
It's not so simple as that, but I'm no biologist or farmer—just a former country boy. Maybe somebody more knowledgeable could enlighten or expand.
But what concerns me most about modern farming is the separation of animal production from plant production. I'm the sixth generation on my family's farm, and I'm the first generation to not also have animals. I do worry about the long-term effects of that. When I get into ground away from the historic family farm, that hasn't seen animals for decades or longer, you really notice a difference in the quality of soil vs. the home farm that has had animals for centuries as part of that crop rotation. Rotation is important, but rotation with animals seems to give the very best results. It is the model that agriculture grew up on and something we have lost (somewhat) recently.
Again from a naive standpoint, it sounds like that's an issue that fertilization is supposed to supplant. Are there other observations outside of that you could point to?
I'm asking out of sincere curiosity at this point. Also what part of Ontario, if you don't mind me asking?
With that said, I think fertilizer is a big part of it. While we always used some synthetic fertilizer in my lifetime, the needs are greater now. Another thought is a greater opportunity to diversify the crops grown in the rotation. Things that humans can't eat, but animals can. There seems to be a difference in growing food for people for a few years and then growing food for animals for a few years over trying to grow food for people every year, where the choices are much more limited.
But this is speculation on my part.
Not saying there is a fallow, but that sugar beets take a lot of nutrients from the land, at least in this area.
Sorry for the lack of proper terminology, agriculture is not my primary occupation.
I really wish big ag people would wake the frick up and realize that the benefits of sustainable polyculture go way way way beyond sometimes-higher yields. Permaculture methods strengthen the diverse ecologies that enrich soil in the first place.
This is far from the only explanation. I've bought supposed "heirloom" tomatoes in a high end supermarket before, and they were also disgusting. What you bought probably simply wasn't a proper heirloom tomato.
These tomatoes were not only spongy (which I'd expect from shipped tomatoes), they just had no taste.
I did a little research and found that there are a few more possibilities. Maybe the tomatoes were grown hydroponically. Maybe it was very rainy or they over-watered before harvesting. (https://www.npr.org/sections/thesalt/2012/06/01/154072388/ho...)
I assumed "depleted soil" because that's a rampant problem, but it could be other stuff too.
This article was an opinion piece based off a misreading of the original paper
What's wrong with that? Is mutation not an organic process?
On the other hand, they allow for varieties made by using radiation induced mutations, which is way less precise and much less tested.
Basically its an ideological position and not based on the scientific consensus.
Citation needed for that.
What level of citation are you seeking? Like, a science paper showing that at least one organic cultivar was derived from mutation breeding? A historically verified cultivar history?
Sounds like a good opportunity for growers to begin to differentiate among themselves.
Some say there is a relationship between nutritional value and Brix readings of the juice of a plant/vegetable; Brix is essentially a measure of the amount of solids in a fluid. I can't find reliable literature confirming this, and the soil/plant/nutrition scientists I work with don't know either (but they don't dismiss it quackary either - it just seems there's not enough research). Either way, a Brix meter is cheap from Ali Express, and I can sort of (meaning: not properly verified, not sure how it would look when properly statistically analyzed) detect patterns in Brix readings from cheap supermarket lettuce, farmers market lettuce and home grown lettuce (and some other vegetables).
So if this is something you're in to, it's well worth it spending $15 on a refractometer and playing with it yourself. Oh and if you're going to make your own wine, you can use it for that, too :)
My experience buying mostly organic produce for a decade has shown to have generally better results than conventional. Conventional produce doesn't taste as good at the very least, and it's very obvious there can be significant differences.
Organic fruits rot much quicker, it's impossible to keep organic strawberries around for more than a day.
Organic heads of romaine lettuce are often full of living insects like tiny green aphids and other small winged bugs. Previously finding an insect in my produce was such an exceptional occurrence and my perspective so skewed by consuming only conventional produce that I would dispose of it if there were any evidence of insects, finding it so abhorrent as to be bad. Now when there are insects, which is quite common with organic lettuce, I somewhat rejoice in the evidence of insects finding my food an appropraite place to live, wash it off, and eat.
Having said that, most of my experience is in the SF bay area at quite high quality grocery stores where the produce department is large and almost entirely organic from local suppliers, the New Leaf in Half Moon Bay for example is organic by default, conventional clearly labeled and the exception. These places move so much organic produce there's no problem stocking large quantities and varieties without throwing it all away due to the short shelf life. Whenever I'm visiting the midwest and try continuing my normal diet of predominately organic produce, my options tend to be limited to Whole Foods and they don't have much organic produce because the local population isn't buying it. What organic stuff they do have is of notably worse quality than what I've grown accustomed to, not from local sources, and often packaged in branded bags or plastic containers with a suspiciously chemical taste I've come to associate with conventional produce.
There seems to be some access privileges in play with quality organic produce. If you're in an affluent area with health-conscious people and abundant local sources, the grocers have incredible organic produce and there's an obvious advantage. YMMV
Aren't GMO crops most likely to make that trade-off?
I think it's not just fruits and veggies, but everything else, too, that has a much lower nutrient content, from "low-fat" foods to non-grass-fed meat, eggs, and so on. I saw somewhere that eggs from non-grass-fed chickens have about half the nutrients of eggs from grass-fed chickens.
Humans also eat meat because they get nutrients from meat. But if the animals only eat a certain type of low-nutrient food, then the humans aren't going to get too many nutrients from meat, either.
Add to that the processing of foods, too, which tends to destroy a lot of the nutrients, as well. But somehow people still say that taking vitamins is not necessary if you have a "balanced diet".
First off, 8/10 of those who talk about balanced diets probably still don't have a balanced enough diet, if they think that drinking kale shakes and some carrots and tomatoes is all they need for that balanced diet. If you're not tracking your daily micronutrients, then you don't have a balanced diet. Period.
Second, the above shows that eating food may become increasingly less effective at giving you the nutrients you require.
No. Like most things, it depends on the desired outcome of the product. In fact, some GMOs are specifically designed to be more nutritional rather than less. See golden rice, for example: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Golden_rice
Additionally, "processing food" isn't actually bad. Humans gained quite a bit with the most common food processing: Cooking. Some foods are more nutritious that way, and it made meat a whole heck of a lot safer to eat. Freezing and various types of drying kept us alive during winters and off-seasons. Some highly processed foods might not be the best things to eat, sure, but processed food itself isn't such a big deal.
And that bit about not needing to take vitamins? Yeah, that's true. I personally need to take Vitamin D from September through April, which partially comes from moving to a northern location. The rest of the year I need to get outside in daylight at least 15 minutes a day. No supplements. My diet is pretty balanced: I won't drink smoothies or shakes except as an ice cream dessert. I eat my fruit, I eat fish, eggs, and dairy but no other meats, and cook at home (sometimes freezing for a later date). I have had bloodwork to check for these things.
You don't even need to track your daily micronutrients any more than you need to track your daily calories. Balanced doesn't equal perfect, after all, and you don't need to eat every micronutrient every single day. Simply get informed about the sort of things you need, and check that against your local variety of foods. Eat said variety of foods during the day and week. Add in the little extra things that might have healthy stuff. And there you go: A balanced diet.
* Vegetables are lower in nutrients than in the 1950's.
* Here is some serious academic research that shows that.
* It indicates that the cause is the breeding and cultivation of varieties which are lower in nutritional content by farmers.
* But I will assert absent any evidence, soil depletion.
WTF, Scientific American?
It would be easy enough to test - there's plenty of pristine, hardly used, soil around.
You can also test different cultivars in different soils and see what the real cause is.
Gonna need a  on that one.
Or the side of a mountain/valley where it's hard to farm, but plants grow just fine.
It's actually really beautiful how untouched some parts of the US are. Hopefully they can stay that way for some time.
There are no shortage of articles about the difference between modern and medieval fruits/vegetables, but if you haven’t seen one take a second: https://amp.businessinsider.com/foods-before-genetic-modific...
Perhaps somebody could market some varieties specifically for nutritional content, I would not be against that. The biggest problem there is that we still don't really know what "nutritious" even means.
The variety of fruits and vegetables I'm able to eat during the winter is frankly astounding. Heck, even the variety during the summer is a cornucopia compared to 30 years ago (the local supermarket certainly didn't carry kale or swiss chard back then).
If I'm more easily to get whole different sets of nutrients than before, is it a net win?
5+ years ago it was very noticeable to me, going from the UK to the US, that almost all shop bought food was bigger and sweeter. From breakfast cereal to drinks to bread.
I've also noticed that this trend is fairy pervasive here too. You have to go out of your way to find a burger that's not in a brioche bun, for example. I can't comment on whether we've caught up with the States as I now can't eat most breakfast cereals or drink most soft drinks (including mass market beers) because they're too sweet.
Of course you are right. I did not meant this. I was referring that, in general, your brain will seek more food as the nutrient density is now lower than before. This applies to all the food you eat, not only veggie and fruits.
On top of this we have high-calorie, high-palatable, low micro-nutrient foods that make all this much worse.
"Certified organic" (aka USDA organic) means the farmer complied with a very strict list of regulations spelled out in the National Organic Program's Final Rule  and audited by an accredited certifying agent. See  for the TLDR version of the final rule.
"Organic" produce (aka non-certified organic) doesn't mean shit. The farmer may be following organic practices or may not be. YOU are the auditor in this case. Visit the farm and observe their practices with your own eyes before spending extra on this "organic" produce.
Bottom line: If you're concerned about synthetic fertilizers, GMOs, and/or sustainable agricultural practices in general, make sure you're buying USDA certified organic produce. Or grow the stuff yourself.
I'd be interested to see if there are significant differences in nutrient density for canned produce, which should significantly cut down on this potential error. Canned produce is almost universally canned and sealed within 24 hours of pick, and as such they almost always pick right in the window of peak ripeness, as opposed to several weeks before like most "fresh" produce.
Some companies are starting to appear to capitalize on this though: https://www.imperfectproduce.com/
The fact that we do not want to eat frozen and canned vegetables is forcing the cultivation industry to select against healthy variants in order to provide the health conscious consumer with the illusion of healthy food all year round.
Another explanation/hypothesis which is rarely talked about is rising CO₂ levels: https://www.politico.com/agenda/story/2017/09/13/food-nutrie...
This even goes so far as harvesting CO₂ from the atmosphere and indiscriminately feeding it to greenhouse crops, while we know that many plant varieties will respond by having far less available nutrients for human consumption.
Many vitamins contain only carbon, hydrogen and oxygen and there are even more if you add nitrogen and phosphorus, both of which are in "basic" fertilizer. So none of those are particularly going to be soil limited.
Fertilizing for calcium and magnesium availability is pretty common.
Here is a good article summarizing studies on soaking fruits and veggies (both organic and conventional) in baking soda to strip away pesticides.
Here’s a key quote from the article:
wherein elevated CO2 levels in the grow environment correlates negatively with nutrient content of plants
1. buy some land
2. grow your own food
3. learn how to preserve it
Garden culture for the win.
Glad to see these pieces popping up on here as it helps bring into the discussion that there’s outside factors at play that will be driving this change in the industry.
Makes me wonder how this has contributed to obesity, as well as other illnesses (e.g., depression). That is, if you're not getting the nutrients need there are going to be "side effects."
The reason food crops are less nutritious has nothing to do with their soil and everything to do with their food: CO2.
It's widely held and widely accepted that if you give plants a higher concentration of CO2, they will grow faster. They will take up more space in less time.
We also know that the CO2 levels on Earth have been skyrocketing.
Thanks to CO2, these plants now spend substantially less time in the field before they get harvested, so it stands to reason they'd spend less time taking up minerals and vitamins, or forming them themselves.
> organic foods are not just about decreasing one's exposure to pesticides - its about saving the soil so our Earth can produce food!
Great - I love eating! But do you have any evidence that "organic" as a label actually supports saving the soil? I can find evidence that organic shoppers desire that result, and I can find claims that "natural" fertilizers and pesticides "are believed" to better for the soil, but not much evidence.
Like GMOs, the "organic" and "natural" labels are so broad as to be useless if you are trying to talk about common truths.
I support sustainability. I oppose animal cruelty. I support consumers being able to make informed buying decisions. I'm not convinced the labels we have now actually promotes those goals.