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Have Fruits and Vegetables Become Less Healthy?

May 29, 2013

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The ancient Greek physician Hippocrates believed that the key to vibrant health was through maintaining a healthy diet and fitness routine. Nearly 2,500 years ago he proclaimed, “Let food be thy medicine and medicine be thy food.” Medical experts still heed Hippocrates’ advice today, and recommend a diet full of fresh fruits and vegetables for optimal health. But does it matter what types of fruits and vegetables we’re piling on our plates?

According to a recent New York Times article, “Breeding the Nutrition Out of Our Food,” choosing the right varieties of fruits and vegetables is essential for getting the maximum health benefits. Studies published within the past 15 years show that much of our produce is lacking in phytonutrients, the compounds that help protect against certain types of diseases like diabetes and dementia as well as many others.

So what’s the difference between the amount of phytonutrients in wild plants compared to the produce we buy in supermarkets?

The results revealed in this article are startling. Wild dandelions have seven times more phytonutrients than spinach, a leafy green that many of us consider a superfood. Even more surprising is that there’s a species of apple that has one hundred times more phytonutrients than a popular brand of apple available in our supermarkets.

This significant drop in nutrients found in the fruits and vegetables that are commonly consumed today did not happen overnight.  In fact, the article reveals “we have been stripping phytonutrients from our diet since we stopped foraging for wild plants some 10,000 years ago and became farmers.”

The most beneficial phytonutrients have a bitter, sour taste, which makes them difficult for many people to eat. For this reason, farmers chose to grow plants that were less pungent and had high contents of sugar, starch and oil. Although these plants are more palatable, they are far less beneficial to our health.

Farmers today continue to focus on increasing the sweetness of certain fruits and vegetables such as corn, and in turn breed out essential antioxidants, vitamins and minerals.

The good news is that there is still produce that resembles its wild ancestors and is loaded with disease-fighting nutrients. According to this article, arugula, scallions, and corn with deep yellow kernels are a few examples of produce whose phytonutrient content has remained intact.

What variety of fruits and vegetables do you eat for optimum health?