“You’d think, wouldn’t you, that a carrot is a carrot – that one is about as good as another as far as nourishment is concerned? But it isn’t; one carrot may look and taste like another and yet be lacking in the particular mineral element which our system requires and which carrots are supposed to contain.”  

These words, originally written by the famed nutritionist, Dr. Charles Northen M.D., in the 1930s, came from a very simple bit of wisdom – everything comes from somewhere. 

The oceans were delivered to earth by comets, fossil fuels where once dinosaurs, and mineral nutrients in fruits, vegetables and grains came from the soil.  

That’s right, the iron in your spinach and the zinc in your asparagus didn’t spontaneously manifest in your salad; they came from the earth.

The mineral nutrients found in the soil can vary drastically from location to location depending on climate, soil type and local vegetation. These minerals will recycle themselves naturally, with decaying matter returning much of what the plant pulled from the ground. However, agriculture has disrupted these processes by removing literal tonnes of matter from the cycle in the form of vegetables, grains and other plant matter, which is removed from the land for human consumption.

Eventually, after successive harvests, the minerals stored in the soil begin to run out and the plants produced on the same land year after year may start to develop mineral deficiencies, which in turn, produce mineral deficient fruits, vegetables and grains.  

The observation made by Dr. Northen, that not all vegetables are created equal, came at a point in history when intensive cultivation across North America had begun to deplete the natural cache of mineral nutrients built up in the soil over the centuries and mineral deficiencies were becoming increasingly common amongst both urban and rural populations.

To combat the problem, Dr. Northen argued that we need to ‘play doctor’ with our soils. He worked to advance the idea that by treating the soils with the minerals they were lacking, the fruits, vegetables and grains they produced would have greater nutritional value, which, in turn, would increase the general health of human consumers.

It is no coincidence that that the average height, weight, and life expectancy of North Americans have all risen dramatically since Dr. Northen’s time in the 1920s and 30s.

In today’s day and age, multivitamins are everywhere and mineral deficiencies are rare. But more than ever, consumers are concerned about nutritional value of their food – pushing for healthy, sustainably harvested foods. Although there are disagreements about the best way to achieve this.     

Much of the debate centers on ‘organic’ vs. ‘non-organic’ produce. Organic’ in this context refers to synthetic-chemical free agricultural practices; it is generally claimed that organic food is more nutritious (i.e. has more mineral nutrients than non-organic), and of course this is reflected in premium prices. 

The truth is, there is no guarantee that organic food is more nutritious than conventionally produced food. 

In 2012, Dr. Crystal Smith-Spangler from Stanford University School of Medicine led a team conducting a meta-study on organic food. After reviewing over 240 studies, her team concluded that “there is a definite lack of evidence” showing organic food is more nutritious than conventionally farmed produce.   

The nutritional value of food reflects the mineral health of the soil, not necessarily the style of farming. Vegetables and grains grown on mineral deficient soils will lack the same nutrients absent from the soil regardless of whether it is produced organically or conventionally.

Ultimately it all comes back to that very simple bit of wisdom — everything comes from somewhere. 

In terms of fruits, vegetables and grains, perhaps a new bit of wisdom is called for, and while I can’t be sure these words were ever spoken by Dr. Northen, I’m sure if he were around today he’d be tweeting his advice to all — if it ain’t in the ground, it ain’t in the food.  

Refs:

Average Height/Weight : https://ahundredyearsago.com/2012/02/06/average-height-for-males-and-females-in-1912-and-2012/ 

Life Expectancy: 

Click to access 015.pdf

Stanford Source

http://med.stanford.edu/news/all-news/2012/09/little-evidence-of-health-benefits-from-organic-foods-study-finds.html

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