Packed with antioxidants and phytonutrients, plant-based foods are vital for our health. Once again, the new federal dietary guidelines urge us to eat 4 to 5 cups of vegetables and fruits every day. Not surprisingly, given our national appetite for convenient junk food, most of us fall far short and no, potato chips don’t count as part of our vegetable intake!
Yet, even for those who actually eat a rainbow-colored assortment of produce, it can still be tough to get the key nutrients needed from diet alone. Advances in agriculture have allowed farmers to grow larger varieties and quantities of produce—at a price.
They don’t make ’em like they used to
Breeding plants for size, quick growth, long-distance transport, and weeks-long storage has made our fruits and veggies less nutritious. Studies of dozens of garden crops show a significant decline in levels of key nutrients, including calcium, iron, and vitamin C, compared to those grown in the 1950s.
And it’s a bit of a double whammy
Not only are the produce less nutritious but the use of pesticides and herbicides is now common practice in farming. Studies show that pesticides exposures, either in utero or during childhood, may be associated with childhood leukemia and other childhood cancers, early female puberty, irregularities in menstrual and ovarian function, and attention-deficit-hyperactive disorder (ADHD).
Long-term exposures, small “doses” over decades, can have a cumulative effect that may increase the risk for prostate cancer, early menopause, breast cancer, and neurological damage. Increasing use of pesticides on food crops actually increases our need for vitamins C, E, and melatonin.
Based on CDC data, 16 million Americans are vitamin C deficient and at risk for scurvy, 90% of us don’t get enough vitamin E in our diet and melatonin, well, our lighted nights have definitely impacted our body’s own natural production.
To complement fruits and veggies, many health-conscious eaters choose grains and cereals labeled non-GMO (myself included). However, the vast majority of non-GMO foods aren’t fortified with iron and the big four B vitamins—thiamin, riboflavin, niacin, and folic acid—because companies cannot guarantee the nutrients came from a non-GMO source.
The importance of Folic acid
Folic acid is particularly crucial for women who are or may become pregnant, since deficiency has been linked to neural tube birth defects, a failure of the spine and/or skull to fully close. In the 1980s, thanks to the March of Dimes, nearly every woman knew about the importance of folic acid.
Fewer are aware of its importance today. How many young women take pride in buying only non-GMO products, including whole-grain ready-to-eat breakfast cereals, but are not supplementing with folic acid should they become pregnant? The neural tube closes 24-26 days after conception occurs, which is why folic acid needs to be on board at least one month prior to pregnancy.
We should all focus on eating a wholesome, minimally processed diet, getting regular physical activity, managing your stress, and getting adequate rest. And many of us should consider a low potency multivitamin mineral to ensure we are getting the nutrients we need as we move through different phases of our life.
Next steps to improve the nutrition of your food
Learn more about the nutrients you need in Dr. Low Dog’s latest book, Fortify Your Life: Your Guide to Vitamins, Minerals, and More.