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UK Study Shows Decline in Fruit and Vegetable Mineral Content

U.K. government statistics show fresh fruit and vegetables are not as good for us as they were 60 years ago. The report, by nutritionist and chiropractor Dr. David Thomas, shows the content of natural minerals, such as iron, calcium, copper and magnesium, has decreased by up to 76 percent since 1940. The growth of intensive farming methods, which use artificial fertilizers to get plants to grow bigger and faster, is blamed for the decline.

Dr Thomas said: "The findings suggest that our diet is now far less nutritious than it was 60 years ago. It is likely that levels of a whole host of other trace elements which have proven benefits to health and whose absence can create disease conditions, have also been depleted. "Nowadays you need to eat three times as many oranges as you would have done in 1940 to get the same amount of iron. Dr Thomas compared statistics for the mineral content of fruit and vegetables in 1940 with the latest figures from 1991. He based his analysis on data from The Composition of Foods, a comprehensive study of the content of all major foods dating back to 1940.

In vegetables the level of magnesium had dropped by nearly 25 per cent, calcium by 46 per cent, and sodium by 50 per cent, while copper levels had slumped by more than 75 per cent. In fruit, sodium had dipped by 27 per cent, iron by 25 per cent and copper by 20 per cent.

A lack of iron can impair intellectual functions, while calcium is vital for strong teeth and bones, particularly in children. A shortage of magnesium can lead to neurological and heart problems.

Although modern intensive farming allows fruit and vegetables to grow faster as they receive lots of nutrients, it does not necessarily create produce with the same amount of minerals as in previous generations. A greater number of crops growing in one area means less nutrients from the soil per plant.

The figures were published under the auspices of the Medical research Council, Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries & Food & Royal Society of Chemistry. Dr. Thomas said eating fruit & vegetables is still beneficial but continuing falls in nutrients could lead to deficiencies in some consumers. The findings confirm an earlier study, published in the British Food Journal, which found similar changes in the nutritional composition of 20 fruits & 20 vegetables between the late 1930s & the early 1990s.

Mike Lean, professor of nutrition at Glasgow University who is also a director of the Health Education Board for Scotland, said: "Advice at the moment is to eat a minimum of five portions of fruit and vegetables combined every day. Maybe we should be eating considerably more than that and taking supplements."

The Healing Power of Minerals, Special Nutrients and Trace Elements by Paul Bergner includes USDA figures that show a decline in mineral and vitamin content of several fruits and vegetables between 1914, 1963, and 1992. Table 1 is a summary of mineral decreases in fruits and vegetables over a 30-year period, adapted from Bergner’s book.

Table 1. Average changes in the mineral content of some fruits and vegetables†, 1963-1992

Mineral Average % Change

Calcium -29.82
Iron -32.00
Magnesium -21.08
Phosphorus -11.09
Potassium -6.48

† Fruits and vegetables measured: oranges, apples, bananas, carrots, potatoes, corn, tomatoes, celery, romaine lettuce, broccoli, iceberg lettuce, collard greens, and chard.


D. Mail, 9.2.04

Bergner P. The Healing Power of Minerals, Special Nutrients and Trace Elements; Prima Publishing. Bergner is the clinic director of the Rocky Mountain Center for Botanical Studies, and editor of Clinical Nutrition Update and Medical Herbalism newsletters.

Key concepts: Calcium, minerals, depletion