Nutrients in the Soil
Everything about the nature of our food has changed in the last 50 years, from how it is produced and the distance it travels to reach us to the way we eat it. Many of these changes have prompted unintended consequences. Very notably modern agricultural practices have left our soil and crops depleted of vital nutrients. While consumers are showing increasing interest in facts and looking at how their food is produced and the value of organic and local agriculture, gaps remain, and there is still much education to do in helping patients to get adequate nutrition. Patients need to recognize that exposure to toxins in the environment and food may be contributing to insufficient nutrient levels and understand what they can do about it. Dr. Tieraona Low Dog is a noted authority on the subject, and in an interview here she offers a preview of her upcoming book on the state of the American diet. She also provides important strategies for helping patients understand these effects and aiding them toward improving their nutrient intake through both diet and supplementation.
Our Modern Food Supply
The nature of our food, and how we obtain it, has changed dramatically over the last 50 years. An example of this is how fruits and vegetables now travel long distances to get to their destinations, sometimes across oceans or continents. There are many other aspects worth considering, such as the harvesting of fruits and vegetables long before they are ripe, lengthy storage that spans seasons, as well as fuel consumption for transportation.
We are all a part of this interconnected conventional food system, whether for a limited amount of our food choices, or the majority of them. Rich Pirog, from the Leopold Center for Sustainable Agriculture, led a fascinating study back in 2001, titled “Food, Fuel and Freeways,” which is frequently cited in the discussion of our modern food supply. He and his colleagues investigated the impact of the conventional system vs. the local system. He coined the now ubiquitous term “food mile” to describe the distance that food travels from where it is grown or raised to where it is ultimately purchased by the consumer. His work highlighted a large disparity. In the local system, the food traveled an average of 44.6 miles to reach its destination, compared with an estimated 1,546 miles if the food items had arrived from conventional sources.
When we look beyond the impact of mileage on both the environment and the local economy, there is the crucial question of how the nutrition content of fruits and vegetables may have changed over time. To maximize efficiency and reduce costs, crop yield has become the ultimate desired end result. Not surprisingly, high crop yield has been shown to have an inverse relationship with mineral concentration, the often cited “dilution effect.” A study published in the Journal of the American College of Nutrition looked at changes in food composition for 43 garden crops from 1950 to 1999. As a group, the 43 foods showed declines in 6 areas: protein, calcium, potassium, iron, riboflavin and ascorbic acid.
Even faced with the pitfalls of the modern food supply, there is hope on the horizon. People are clearly more interested in taking action with their purchase dollars, by choosing local foods. Farmer’s markets have experienced a meteoric rise. By 2011, over 85 percent of customers polled by the National Grocers Association said that they chose a grocery store based in part on whether it stocked food from regional producers.
And, although nutrient levels may have declined since our grandparents’ time, fruits and vegetables are still a superior source of nutrition over highly processed foods. As Donald Davis, the author of the above study states, “Currently available vegetables and fruits are still our most broadly nutrient-dense foods, and hundreds of studies document their superior health-promoting qualities.”
As we continue to motivate our patients to consume more fruits and vegetables, the gaps still remain. Consumer buying habits are shifting the balance toward locally sourced foods. However, daily stress, over-scheduled work calendars and busy family lives still prevent most from getting adequate levels of nutrients. Now more than ever, we as practitioners need to focus on filling the gaps in nutrition through individualized, targeted supplementation.
 Rich Pirog. Food, Fuel, and Freeways: An Iowa perspective on how far food travels, fuel usage, and greenhouse gas emissions Leopold Center for Sustainable Agriculture.June 2001
 Changes in USDA Food Composition Data for 43 Garden Crops, 1950 to 1999. Davis et al. Journal of the American College of Nutrition. Vol. 23, No. 6, 669–682 (2004)
Erin Stokes, ND is the Medical Director at INNATE Response. Erin’s personal mission is to empower people with the inspiration and tools to change their lives. She received her Naturopathic Doctor degree from Bastyr University in 2001. Shortly afterwards she began to pursue her passion for educating others by teaching Western Pathology and Psychology of Healing at Southwest Acupuncture College in Boulder, Colorado.
By Erin Stokes, ND
Erin combines her experience as a Naturopathic Doctor with an extensive background in the natural retail industry. Most recently she worked as a Lead Practitioner at Pharmaca Integrative Pharmacy for 6.5 years. The focus of Erin’s Naturopathic practice in Boulder, Colorado is on healthy Moms. She believes, “When Moms are healthy, the world can be healthy.”