Food Is NOT As NUTRITIOUS As It Used To Be! Here’s Why:

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Did You Know That Food Is Not As Nutritious As It Used To Be
Food Is NOT As NUTRITIOUS As It Used To Be! Here’s Why Graphic © Apple photo: Pixabay (PD)


The science is in – and it’s not good news: Between 1940 and 2019, fruits and vegetables have been found to have had a huge drop in content of some minerals – 50% in Iron, 52% in Sodium and 49% in Copper. [1]

Troubling declines in mineral content of foods are highly significant and have been cited as responsible for pale color and a typically ‘bland’ taste of modern produce as compared to that of old days.

Even more importantly, this may be linked to modern health issues.

Due to the typical abundance of food in the modern time, we tend not to think of malnutrition as being a concern in the developed world, however the quality of food is just as significant to overall nutrition as the quantity!

This report examines the evidence and factors contributing to the declining nutrient composition in fruits and vegetables.

Declining Fruit and Vegetable Nutrient Composition: Scientific Research

There are several essential nutrients that are necessary for plants to complete their life cycle. These nutrients are divided into two main groups; macronutrients and micronutrients. Macronutrients are the structural and energy-giving components of our foods – including fats, carbohydrates and proteins. Micronutrients are phytochemicals, antioxidants, vitamins, minerals and trace elements.

Scientific studies have shown that crops grown decades ago were much richer in micronutrients than the varieties we get from modern commercial farming.

These studies attributed the declining nutrient quality of fruits and vegetables to soil depletion, choice of high yielding strains over nutrient dense strains and commercial agronomic practices such as the use of pesticides and chemical fertilizers.

A 2021 study “Historical changes in the mineral content of fruit and vegetables in the UK from 1940 to 2019: a concern for human nutrition and agriculture” by Anne-Marie Mayer, Liz Trenchard and Francis Rayns [1], found highly significant declines in nutrient composition of many foods – notably a decline of 50% in Iron, 52% in Sodium and 49% in Copper.

A 2004 study conducted by Donald Davis and his team [2] from the University of Texas revealed that 43 crops produced between 1950 and 1999 had reliable declines in the amount of 6 out of 13 nutrients observed (protein, calcium, phosphorous, iron, riboflavin and vitamin C) over the past half-century. Published in the Journal of the American College of Nutrition, the study attributed the declining nutritional content to the preponderance of commercial farming whose methods were designed to improve the size, growth rate, and pest resistance of agricultural produce.

Davis et. al.’s findings were supported by a Kushi Institute analysis [3] of nutrient data from 1975 to 1997 that highlighted the reduction of average calcium, iron, and vitamin levels in twelve vegetables. The organization used data from a 1998 article that identified changes in the levels of nutrients in fresh foods. The study appeared in the November 25, 2016 issue of the Journal of Food Composition and Analysis.

Although the fruits and vegetables we eat aren’t as healthy as they used to be, it doesn’t mean we should avoid them. Commercially grown crops do still contain nutrients and beneficial phytochemicals. However, as Davis and his colleagues noted, fresh foods contain less naturally occurring vitamins and minerals than they used to. You could in theory augment these low levels of nutrients that you consume from food by taking supplements which can help in maintaining your good health and vitality – but many will agree that nothing beats good quality organic produce grown small-scale in good quality soil by skilled hands.

Proposed Mechanisms of Nutrient Decline

1. Dilution Effect: Early studies on fertilization found an inverse relationship between crop yield and mineral concentrations, known as the “dilution effect.” This phenomenon suggests that as crop yields increase, often due to fertilization and other agricultural practices, the concentration of minerals in the plants decreases.

2. Historical Data Analysis: Studies analyzing historical food composition data have indicated apparent median declines of 5% to 40% or more in some minerals in groups of vegetables and possibly fruits. These studies also evaluated vitamins and protein, finding similar trends of decline. [4]

3. Genetic Dilution Effect: Recent plantings of low- and high-yield cultivars of crops like broccoli and grains have consistently shown negative correlations between yield and concentrations of minerals and protein. This newly recognized genetic dilution effect suggests that breeding for higher yields can inadvertently lead to lower nutrient concentrations.

Factors Contributing to Nutrient Decline

Agricultural Practices: The use of fertilizers, pesticides and other modern agricultural practices aimed at increasing crop yields has been linked to the dilution of nutrient concentrations in plants. This theory is supported by findings of higher mineral content in organic produce. [5]

Changes in the microbiology of the soil: Plants’ ability to absorb minerals is governed by a complex relationship with soil organisms. Of particular note is the link between pesticide use and mineral content: Pesticides tend to be broad-action and may destroy the organisms in the soil such as lichens that are responsible for chelating minerals from the rocks and rendering them into bioavailable form. As a result of pesticide use, the plants are simply not able to absorb as high a mineral content – which may also render them more susceptible to pests.

A further example is the symbiosis with arbuscular mycorrhizal fungi (AMF), which is detrimented in the presence of fungicidal agents commonly employed in commercial non-organic agriculture. On the other hand, focus on agrobiodiversity and low-tillage farming methods supports this symbiosis. [1]

This is regarded by organic supporters [6] as part of the “flawed thinking” of the modern “chemical” agricultural method. Soil is much more than a simple “chemical balance sheet” that can be added to or subtracted from. It is a living ecosystem and attacking one aspect of it with poisons destroys its balance.

Breeding for Yield: Plant breeding efforts focused primarily on increasing yield and other commercially desirable traits may lead to a decrease in nutrient concentrations, a phenomenon now understood as the genetic dilution effect. Varieties grown in modern commercial agricultural operations are developed specifically for profit and typical modern varieties are higher yielding while being less nutrient-dense.

Environmental Changes: Changes in soil quality, water availability, and other environmental factors over time can also impact the nutrient composition of fruits and vegetables.

Ancient vs. Modern Crop Varieties’ Nutritional Profiles

The comparison between ancient and modern crop varieties’ nutritional profiles is a critical area of study in the context of global nutritional security and agricultural sustainability.

Nutritional Profiling of Traditional Himalayan Crop Landraces: A study conducted by Malhotra et al. (2022) focused on the agro-morphological characterization and nutritional profiling of 29 traditional crop landraces from the northwest Indian Himalayas. These included varieties of maize, paddy, finger millet, buckwheat, and naked barley. The study found significant variations in nutritional content among these landraces. For instance, the maize landrace Chitkanu was noted for its early maturation and high concentrations of zinc, iron, and potassium. In paddy, Bamkua dhan exhibited high concentrations of potassium and phosphorus, while Lamgudi dhan showed a high protein content. Among buckwheat landraces, Ogla-I and Phapra-I were notable for their high protein and flavonoid contents, respectively. These findings highlight the rich nutritional diversity present in traditional crop varieties, which can be crucial for future nutritional security. [7]

Re-Introduction of Ancient Wheat Cultivars into Organic Agriculture: Another study by Bencze et al. (2020) examined the cultivation of ancient wheat varieties, specifically emmer and einkorn, under organic farming conditions in Hungary. The study found that these ancient wheat species adapted well to marginal conditions and, in some cases, yielded higher than modern registered varieties. Emmer and einkorn were found to have high grain protein and total phenolic content. Notably, einkorn seeds exhibited significantly higher content of bound flavonoids and antioxidant activity compared to emmer. These findings suggest that ancient wheat species, including their landraces, can offer sustainable alternatives for organic farming and contribute to agricultural diversification with their superior nutritional profiles. [8]

Nutritional, Chemical, and Antioxidant Screening of Selected Varieties of Lentils: A study conducted by Liberal et al. (2023) evaluated the nutritional profiles and antioxidant potential of different lentil varieties from organic and conventional agriculture. The research highlighted that carbohydrates were the major macronutrients in all lentil varieties, with significant amounts of fiber and starch. The Beluga variety stood out for its high protein and ash content. Additionally, the study detected fructose, sucrose, various organic acids, and tocopherol isoforms in the lentils. The fatty acid assessment showed a prevalence of polyunsaturated fatty acids. The lentils exhibited good antioxidant capacity, indicating their potential health benefits. The study concluded that the lentil variety had a greater influence on its nutritional composition than the type of cultivation, underscoring the importance of variety selection in lentil cultivation for nutritional benefits. [9]

Evaluation and Comparative Study of the Nutritional Profile and Antioxidant Potential of New Quinoa Varieties: Another study by Razzeto et al. (2019) focused on the nutritional composition and antioxidant activity of four advanced lines of quinoa seeds. The study analyzed proteins, total lipids, fiber, moisture, ash, carbohydrates, fatty acid composition, and mineral content. It also evaluated anti-nutritional factors such as trypsin inhibitors, saponins, nitrates, oxalates, and phytate. The new quinoa varieties exhibited high protein content compared to traditional cereals and were rich in magnesium, iron, manganese, copper, and molybdenum. The antinutrient compounds were within acceptable values for human consumption. The seed extracts showed significant antioxidant activities, indicating the health-promoting potential of these new quinoa lines. The study concluded that these new quinoa varieties, with agronomic advantages, are safe for human consumption and beneficial due to their nutrient and bioactive compound content. [10]

Conclusion: The studies reviewed indicate that ancient crop varieties, often neglected in modern agricultural practices, possess rich and diverse nutritional profiles. These crops can play a crucial role in enhancing nutritional security and offer sustainable alternatives for agriculture. The reintroduction and promotion of these traditional varieties could be pivotal in addressing the challenges of modern agriculture, including nutritional deficiencies and environmental sustainability.

Impact Of Modern Crop Rotation Practices On Produce Nutrient Levels

Crop rotation practices have a significant impact on the nutrient levels of produce. A study by Monaci et al. (2017) examined the impact of different crop rotation systems in organic farming over 13 years. They compared alfalfa-crop rotation (P-C) with annual crop rotation (A-C), focusing on soil organic carbon, active and humic fractions, soil biochemical properties, and macro-nutrients availability. The study found that P-C soil was more efficient in building up soil organic carbon, which was 2.9 times higher than in A-C soil. This soil also showed higher rootability, promoting thinner roots and higher root density, which favored the photosynthesis and yield of durum wheat. The study concluded that crop rotation systems significantly influence soil fertility and plant-root system behavior, impacting the overall health and productivity of crops. [11]

Crop Rotation and Agricultural Sustainability: Another study by He et al. (2021) evaluated the eco-economic benefits of different cropping systems on rice production. They found that increasing agricultural diversity through rotations, especially potato-rice rotation, significantly enhanced the social, economic, and ecological benefits of rice production. This rotation system resulted in higher yields, profits, and profit margins compared to successive rice cropping. The study highlighted the importance of rationalizing fertilizer application due to various nutrient residues from preceding crops, suggesting that crop rotation can be a sustainable practice for enhancing agricultural productivity and soil health. [12]


The declining nutrient composition in fruits and vegetables raises concerns about the nutritional quality of our food supply. While the increases in yield have been crucial for feeding a growing population, they may have unintended consequences for the nutritional value of crops – which of course has further health consequences for us. In an era of great increases in chronic diseases of all kinds, this issue underscores the need for a balanced approach in agricultural practices and plant breeding, considering both yield and nutrient composition.

Further Research

Much further research is required into this important topic! Here are some ideas:

Comparative Analysis with Other Countries: Examining similar trends in mineral content of fruits and vegetables in different geographical regions and comparing them with the data from the UK and the other regions selected – in order to create a complete global picture for nutritional changes in food. This may also highlight beneficial and harmful practices due to regional trends.

Impact of Agricultural Practices: Delving deeper into how modern agricultural practices, such as the use of fertilizers, pesticides, and crop rotation, have impacted the mineral content in produce.

Genetic Modification and Plant Breeding: Exploring the role of genetic modification and selective plant breeding in altering the nutritional profile of fruits and vegetables.

Soil Health and Nutrient Content: Analyzing the relationship between soil health, including soil depletion and erosion, and the nutrient content of the crops grown in that soil.

Consumer Awareness and Education: Discussing the need for consumer education about the changing nutritional value of produce and how to make informed dietary choices.

Policy and Regulatory Responses: Examining the role of government policies and regulations in addressing the decline in mineral content, including agricultural subsidies and food safety standards.

Alternative Farming Practices: Exploring sustainable and organic farming practices as potential solutions to improve the mineral content in fruits and vegetables.

Nutritional Implications and Public Health: Assessing the broader implications of these nutritional changes on public health, particularly in relation to micronutrient deficiencies and diet-related diseases.

Technological Innovations in Agriculture: Looking at how technological advancements, such as precision agriculture and hydroponics, might influence the nutritional quality of fruits and vegetables.


[1] Historical changes in the mineral content of fruit and vegetables in the UK from 1940 to 2019: a concern for human nutrition and agriculture. (2021)

[2] Davis DR et. al. (2004). Changes in USDA food composition data for 43 garden crops, 1950 to 1999.

[3] Marles RJ. (2016). Mineral nutrient composition of vegetables, fruits and grains: The context of reports of apparent historical declines.

[4] Davis, D. R. (2009). Declining Fruit and Vegetable Nutrient Composition: What Is the Evidence? HortScience, 44(1), 15-19.

[5] Nutritional quality and safety of organic food. A review (2010)

[6] Peter Tompkins “Secrets Of The soil” (1989)

[7] Agro-Morphological Characterization and Nutritional Profiling of Traditional Himalayan Crop Landraces for Their Promotion Toward Mainstream Agriculture. Frontiers in Plant Science, 13 (2022).

[8] Bencze, S., Makádi, M., Aranyos, T., Földi, M., Hertelendy, P., Mikó, P., Bosi, S., Negri, L., & Drexler, D. (2020). Re-Introduction of Ancient Wheat Cultivars into Organic Agriculture—Emmer and Einkorn Cultivation Experiences under Marginal Conditions. Sustainability, 12(4), 1584.

[9] Nutritional, chemical, and antioxidant screening of selected varieties of lentils (Lens culinaris spp.) from organic and conventional agriculture (2023).

[10] Evaluation and Comparative Study of the Nutritional Profile and Antioxidant Potential of New Quinoa Varieties. (2019)

[11] Effect of contrasting crop rotation systems on soil chemical and biochemical properties and plant root growth in organic farming: First results. Italian Journal of Agronomy, 12(4) (2017)

[12] Crop Rotation Enhances Agricultural Sustainability: From an Empirical Evaluation of Eco-Economic Benefits in Rice Production. Agriculture, 11(2), 91 (2021).

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