The problem of depleting nutrients
The Gaza Post|The News of Palestine-New Delhi
India is facing unprecedented nutrition-related problems, from over-nutrition to malnutrition.
This double burden strongly increases the risk of diseases like obesity, cardiovascular disease, diabetes mellitus, hypertension, auto-immune diseases, cancer, arthritis and several others.
Several major changes in food and dietary habits in the last century are the key contributors. While we are aware that processed food intake and mechanisation are on the rise, especially in the urban setting, the decline in nutrients and anti-oxidants (disease fighting components) at the cultivation level is not being assessed.
Due to current levels of soil depletion, genetic modification and pesticides, crops grown decades ago were much richer in vitamins and minerals than those available today. Modern intensive agricultural methods have led to severe soil depletion, stripping off significant nutrients from the soil. Heavy application of toxic chemicals further deteriorates the soil by destroying symbiotic (healthy) bacteria and fungi that promote nutrient uptake in plants. They also inactivate critical enzyme systems within the plant roots that are involved in mineral absorption. It is, therefore, not surprising that the depletion in the mineral and nutrient content of the soil reflects as deficiencies in human populations as well.
Scientific studies support the theory that crops grown in the past were nutritionally superior. A 2004 study in the Journal of American College of Nutrition examined the nutritional data from both 1950 and 1999 for 43 different vegetables and fruits. The study reported significant decline in the amount of protein, calcium, phosphorus, iron, riboflavin (vitamin B2) and vitamin C over the past half century. A study by the Institute of Soil Science, Bhopal, reported that large parts of soil in India is deficient in zinc, boron, iron and protein.
According to reports by the National Institute of Nutrition (NIN), Hyderabad, the level of protein in Indian food, both vegetarian and non-vegetarian, is rapidly declining. Between 1993-99 and 2011-12, protein levels in beans have dropped by 60 per cent, 10 percent in brown lentils and 5 per cent in goat meat.
All in all, it is common sense that the mineral and nutrient content of food depends on where the food is grown and on the quality of soil.
In contrast to conventional agriculture, organic agriculture embraces natural replenishing cycles. Findings published in the Journal of Agricultural and Food Chemistry showed that organically produced apples have a 15 per cent higher antioxidant capacity than conventionally produced apples.
What consumers can do
* To start with, choose organically grown alternatives.
*Learn to adapt culinary and cooking techniques that optimise, rather than compromise, the nutritional value of the foods like steaming, grilling and stir frying.
*Step up intake of fruits and vegetables and dedicate one meal to just them. Stop treating vegetables as a side dish.
*Assess nutritional status through regular checkups and include supplements if needed, under supervision of a qualified physician.