Food Rich – Nutrient Poor


Food Rich – Nutrient Poor: The Decline of Nutrients in our Food 

Today we live in a society where abundance is making us sick – we are ‘food rich and nutrient poor’ – it what I call ‘The Hubris of Abundance’. We eat more of the things we shouldn’t eat simply because we can afford to do so without realising just how much of an impact it has on our gut health and overall wellbeing.

For over 70 years, the nutritional value of some of our favourite foods has declined significantly. This is due to several factors that have been the focus of much research into how, and if, we are receiving the right amount of nutrients as we did before. With the ever-growing mass market of artificially produced, easily accessible foods, it’s no wonder we are facing a global health crisis. It’s taken huge efforts to find out where are nutrients have gone, and why. Could it be our modern farming practices? The overuse of pesticides? Or is it more about access and our attitudes towards health?

Arguably one of the most reliable studies conducted on the state of our nutritional health is the longitudinal Broadbalk Wheat Experiment, which started in 1843 in the UK and is still ongoing. It focuses on the impacts of amendments to soil, such as fertilisers, and how that changes the nutritional compounds in the crops that are grown in such soil which, in this case, was wheat.

Wheat is a versatile ingredient and is widely used to make many derivative foods we eat daily. It is also relatively easy to grow and is an important source of minerals like iron, zinc, magnesium and copper. Researchers found that, post 1960, the concentration of these minerals decreased significantly which fell in line with the introduction of modified, high-wielding crops. In other words, farmers had figured out ways to grow wheat crops that were giving a bigger harvest by changing the soil composition to make it more resistant to failure, in order to make it more profitable and sell more wheat. However, changing the chemical composition of the soil depletes it of the natural goodness that is transferred into the crops, and eventually into our bodies. So, the question is do we as consumers want cheaper wheat with less nutrition.  Are they even giving us the choice to choose whether we want nutrition over cheaper wheat?  And do we even know that we are sacrificing nutrition for a cheaper crop?

The Broadbalk Experiment is just one example, this is happening to many of our natural foods and is causing health issues worldwide. For instance, the presence of chemicals and antibiotics in our milk products is causing resistance to a number of medicines and more importantly, interference with our gut microbiome.  How do we really know what’s in our food? And how many chemicals have been used in the farming process?  Perhaps in certain types of foods and products we might be better advised to buy organic dairy foods to ensure that it is free of pesticides?

It’s no secret that obesity is a common problem for a growing number of countries, particularly in the western world. Natural foods that contain immune-boosting compounds are being artificially modified that are destroyed by chemicals, instead we have unhealthy, processed ingredients such as saturated fats, artificial sugars and additives that can usually be found in cheap, widely available fast food. Over time, this will inevitably lead to a multitude of health issues, including cancer, diabetes and heart disease. Just take a look at how we consume meat for instance. Today, people eat meat 7 days a week, every week. Yet our hunter-gatherer ancestors were lucky to do twice a week Instead, they were mainly relying on a plant-based diet, so why do we believe that meat should be on our plates daily? Factory-farmed chicken, pork and beef is so much more readily available and at cheaper prices than pre-2nd world war, whilst fresh fruit, vegetables or meat alternatives are often seen as poor relatives. You might be thinking, okay, but how does this affect our nutrient consumption? Well, factory-farmed animals are fed soya protein (that is also mass produced) which has little to no nutrient content, it’s only aim is to fatten the calf so to speak for market.  Furthermore, animals are routinely injected with water to increase their net weight.  If you believe in the mantra that ‘we are what we eat’ then surely that’s the same case for the animal – so if the animal isn’t being fed properly, those who eat the animals won’t be fed properly either. This access to an abundance of food and affluence has made us believe just because we can, we should, without fully appreciating the damage it has to our health.

One of the best places to start is to re-educate ourselves on the importance of the different minerals, nutrients and compounds our bodies need to function well, and that means looking at the role of our gut health. The gut is where our microbiomes live, and they are super important for breaking down food into the essential nutrients to power the immune system. There is much research to suggest that what we eat directly affects how strong our immune system is, therefore, how well our bodies can protect us from illness and disease.

Foods such as berries that contain high amounts of antioxidants and anti-inflammatory compounds are great for steering clear of inflammatory conditions. Fibrous foods like whole meal bread and brown rice will help with digestion and bowel health. The answers are all there-it’s just a matter of education. Workshops, classes or even online resources can serve as a great way to receive informative, practical advice on how to eat for a healthier gut and can teach you how to incorporate healthy foods into your everyday routine.

On a wider scale, leaders in the food and farming industry need to be prioritising ways to improve the condition of our foods and help people to access healthier diets and lifestyles. This means really taking a hard look g at the ways in which we grow, process and consume foods that are vital for improving our life chances against non-communicable diseases such as diabetes, cancer, stroke, cardiovascular disease and brain disease such as Alzheimer’s and dementia.

Kumud Gandhi is a Nutritional Food Scientist bestselling Author, Broadcaster, and Keynote Speaker on the subject of ‘Nutritional Health for Productivity & Performance in the Workplace’.  In 2010 Kumud founded ‘The Cooking Academy’ a cookery school that focusses on cooking for nutritional health and wellbeing.  Kumud regularly presents to international audiences on a variety of topics such as ‘Eating for Immunity and a Lifetime of Wellness’. She is an expert in the field of ‘Wellness in the Workplace’ and works with organisations to create transformational change in employee health & well-being through nutrition and health coaching programmes.


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