Have you ever eaten a wonderful meal but felt not quite satisfied? Even though you ate plenty of vegetables and had fruit for dessert there’s something missing?
Your body is telling you something – that food wasn’t as nutrient-dense as you thought. Food grown in unhealthy soil, even if organic, will not give you the most nutrition. A study conducted in the United Kingdom (1) comparing the nutritional content of vegetables and fruits from 1930 to 1978 showed nutrient levels of both fruits and vegetables had declined. For example, calcium was only 81% of the original level. There were significant reductions of all nutrients in all the fruits and vegetables tested.
That study was done in 1978, what do you think 40 more years of plowing, pesticides, and monocropping has done to the nutrient density of your food? Have plant breeders considered soil health as they have developed crops that have higher yields, thicker skins for transport, and longer shelf life? Healthy soil is the forgotten ingredient in nutrition.
Food Quality Is Directly Tied to Soil Health
We take soil for granted. We even call it “dirt,” but there is a big difference between dirt and soil. Dirt has no life in it. Farming and landscaping practices that use chemicals to kill weeds and pests we see on plants also kill the life below the soil, making it dirt. If there’s nothing alive in the dirt it can’t give the plant much nutrition and that’s why your food doesn’t quite satisfy you.
Plants grown in “dirt” are never really healthy. Just like people who eat poor diets tend to get sick more often, unhealthy plants are susceptible to pests and diseases. So, farmers spray the plants with pesticides and fungicides - which do kill the targets - but also all the life below ground.
Soil, on the other hand, is alive with billions of microscopic bacteria, fungi, and other critters that work with plants to give nutrient-dense foods and beautiful landscapes. When the microbial community under your feet is in balance the "good guy" microbes keep the “bad guy” pests and pathogens in check.
The soil is just like your gut. If you have a balance of microbes and fungi in your digestive system you don’t have any issues. If you’re not in balance…well, you know what happens.
The proper balance of microbes in the soil makes it healthier and your food more nutritious.
How Do Farming Practices Affect the Microbe Balance in The Soil and the Nutrient Density of Your Food?
There are three main farming practices in the United States today: Conventional, Organic, and Regenerative. Let’s look at how each of these affects the nutrient content of your food:
Conventional: This is also known as monocropping, growing only one crop for five up to twenty acres. To produce a crop large amounts of synthetic chemicals must be sprayed to keep down the insect populations.
Think of it this way, you’re a kid in a candy store and can eat all the candy you want. That’s how insects see a field of cabbage, tomatoes, or squash. The farmer sprays synthetic chemicals to kill the bugs (as a kid your parent enforces moderation). Those chemicals kill the pests on the plants, but they also kill beneficial insects and the microorganisms underground as the chemical seeps into the soil. Soon it IS dirt, totally dependent on the farmer for all the nutrients necessary to grow food. And every year more chemicals are needed as insects become resistant.
A study by Benny Joseph found that “…over 400 insect and mite pests and more than 70 fungal pathogens have become resistant to one or more pesticides.” Plant breeders try to stay ahead of the pesticide resistance, and you eat less nutritious food.\
Organic: Some organic farmers monocrop but the organic fertilizers and pest repellents they spray on plants are less toxic to humans and beneficial insects. Other organic farmers grow a variety of crops and use almost no chemicals. Some organic farmers are tilling their soil, and some are using no-till practices. Compost, manure, and other organic materials are used as fertilizers. Organic food may (or may not) have higher nutritional value than conventional food, depending on the importance the farmer places on soil health.
Regenerative: This type of farming instils a notion whereby one should leave the soil better than it was found. This means the microorganisms in the soil are the most important players. Regenerative farmers disturb the soil as little as possible, using no-till agricultural practices and always have the soil planted with something (if not for a crop than as cover plants). Microbes are living beings and need food. When soil is healthy, efficient nutrient cycling takes place because the roots of the plants supply the microbes’ food (exudates), and in return, the microbes supply the plants with nutrients. This is soil at its healthiest, which in turn supplies you with the most nutrient-dense food.
How Do I Know How My Food Is Grown?
The easiest answer: Ask!
- Ask the produce manager at your store where the lettuce you’re holding was grown. Ask how long it’s been in the store. As soon as food is picked it starts losing nutrients. If he doesn’t know ask him if he’ll find out.
- Ask the farmer at the Farmer’s Market how he grows his produce. Ask if he tills the soil. Excessive tilling destroys the microbial community that gives nutrition to your food.
- Ask if they are organic or do they use fertilizers or chemicals. Ask which ones.
- Ask if you can visit the farm. Be wary if the farmer says no. Ask why not. If "no time" is his answer, be understanding - farmers are busy people.
Vote With Your Wallet.
Farmers grow what consumers buy. But often as a consumer you don’t even know what questions to ask or what is available as food. Become an informed consumer. Asking questions and learning about soil health are critical to your health. Farmers will continue to grow the same crops until you, as a consumer, demand they make healthy soil a priority. Nutrient-dense food is only possible with healthy soil. You have the power to change our food system and our health, for you and everyone you care about.
(1) Reference Source: