Iron Decline In Food: This Is Not Grandma’s Spinach
Vegetables for the most part are not a very good iron source anymore. Those vegetables that are loaded with iron also are likely to be full of iron inhibitors — you may not absorb much of the iron from the vegetables.
If you're looking for evidence that today's mass-produced vegetables don't quite measure up to those your grandparents ate, you can find it in data published by the US Department of Agriculture (USDA), where they have mentioned that small vegetables and fruit have declined in iron, calcium, phosphorus, riboflavin, vitamin C, and protein since the 1950s.
For more than a century, the USDA has measured levels of vitamins and minerals in American food. Donald Davis, a researcher at the University of Texas, compared the USDA figures from 1950 and 1999, for 43 common fruits and vegetables.
"Of the 13 nutrients that we were able to study, we found statistically reliable declines in six of the 13," he says. Levels of other nutrients stayed roughly constant over the years. These changes in the iron content of individual foods are not statistically significant by themselves but, taken together, they suggest a decline in iron content.
In other words - Spinach, washed, pre-cut, and bagged at a grocery store is not your grandmother’s spinach and not just because of its plastic zip lock bag. The spinach is less nourishing as well.
Why a Decline?
Soil depletion is a compelling explanation for the nutrient decline. The idea is that commercial growers have become dependent on fertilizers that focus on nitrogen, phosphorus, and potassium (NPK) rather than the whole spectrum of soil nutrients. This has led to deficient soil. Deficient soil creates deficient vegetables.
It appears that blame lies with the cultivation of commercial crop varieties that promote high yield and pest resistant plants. When seeds are cultivated to develop a certain trait in the plant (such as yield), other traits may suffer (such as nutrient content).
For example of a Marathon broccoli, the type of broccoli commonly available in stores these days. The broccoli head is much larger than heirloom broccoli but any one head has about the same amount of calcium and iron as an heirloom head of broccoli. The minerals get spread throughout the entire large head, leaving a lower mineral content in any one bite of broccoli. You need to eat more bites to get as much iron as calcium as you would have from grandma’s garden.
Buy Heirloom Produce.
In response to this trend of nutrient decline in produce, one action you can take right now is to find sources of heirloom vegetables, especially vegetables that are staples in your household.
Farmer’s markets are your best bet — simply ask the farmer if the crop is an heirloom. You will find some heirloom items in your local health food store as well. The added benefit is that heirlooms tend to have more flavour and often look a bit more interesting than their commercial counterparts.
Grow Heirloom Produce
Join the growing trend in home gardening and grow your own heirloom fruits and vegetables. Get started by building your soil, composting, buying and saving seed, choosing a location, and knowing your seasons.
On top of reduced iron, many of these same foods have less vitamin C as well. Vitamin C is an important part of an iron rich diet because it actually helps your body absorb more of the iron in your food. Tomatoes and oranges are popular vitamin C foods and great companions to grain salads and breakfast menus. These popular foods have declined in both iron and vitamin C, making that uphill climb against iron deficiency a bit more strenuous.
An oral iron supplement is also a good idea and something that your doctor or pharmacist can easily help you with as a preventative measure or for levelling up your body's iron needs. Iron supplements like EBMfer are commonly recommended by doctors. An iron supplement suitable for vegetarians and vegans with "built-in" vitamin C advantage so that there's no need to take iron supplement with vitamin C or orange juice separately. EBMfercontains Ferrous Ascorbate... which is why it is generally gentle on stomach. Added advantages such as free from gelatin, lactose, gluten, sugar, dye and common allergens makes it an effective and preferred iron-pill.
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