Monday, October 14, 2013

Peak soil: Why nutrition is disappearing from our food. By Monica Nickelsburg

The secret to good health may start with dirt

The fountain of youth may be made of dirt. 

So supposes Steve Solomon in The Intelligent Gardner: Growing Nutrient-Dense Food. He asserts that most people could "live past age 100, die with all their original teeth, up to their final weeks, and this could all happen if only we fertilize all our food crops differently." It's a bold statement, but mounting evidence suggests that remineralization could be the definitive solution to our nutrient-light diet.

Concerns about the quality of our food tend to focus on the many evils of modern industrial farming, but 10,000 years of agriculture have created a more insidious problem. The minerals and phytonutrients historically derived from rich soil are diminishing in our produce and meat. It takes 500 years for nature to build two centimeters of living soil and only seconds for us to destroy it. While pesticides, chemical-rich fertilizers, and agro-tech exacerbate the problem, even natural gardening can leach soil of vital minerals. When the same land is constantly re-cultivated without replenishing phytonutrients it yields more disappointing and nutrient-deficient crops.

Jo Robinson of The New York Times writes:
Studies published within the past 15 years show that much of our produce is relatively low in phytonutrients, which are the compounds with the potential to reduce the risk of four of our modern scourges: cancer, cardiovascular disease, diabetes and dementia. The loss of these beneficial nutrients did not begin 50 or 100 years ago, as many assume. Unwittingly, we have been stripping phytonutrients from our diet since we stopped foraging for wild plants some 10,000 years ago and became farmers. [New York Times]
This is the same reason new gardeners often see generous harvests in their first few years, followed by diminishing results. The natural ecosystem is based on wild and diverse plant life, which creates more balanced and healthy soil. Agriculture, by nature, is designed to reap the maximum yield of crops, a process that has been honed and perfected over the centuries. It's quantity at the expense of quality, in other words.

As Nafeez Ahmed, executive director of the Institute for Policy Research & Development, notes:
Over the past 40 years, about two billion hectares of soil — equivalent to 15 percent of the Earth's land area (an area larger than the United States and Mexico combined) — have been degraded through human activities, and about 30 percent of the world's cropland have become unproductive. But it takes on average a whole century just to generate a single millimetre of topsoil lost to erosion. Soil is therefore, effectively, a non-renewable but rapidly depleting resource. [The Guardian
Many experts believe the depletion of nutrients in our soil is responsible for many of the degenerative diseases that are more prevalent now than they were in our ancestors. Our predecessors had shorter lifespans than we do, but their primary cause of death was injury and infection. Research indicates that even those who lived into their seventies were far less likely than we are to die from degenerative diseases.

Solomon offers a solution: Remineralization. The process is relatively simple in concept ... ► Read the full article by Monica Nickelsburg in The Week

Source: The Week
Author: Monica Nickelsburg is's digital production assistant. She has previously worked for Transient Pictures, The Daily Beast, NBC, and Forbes ... more
Photo:  Dirt may not be sexy, but it's what makes your produce tasty and nutrient-rich. (Joe Raedle/Getty Images)│The Week

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