If you are wondering – you are quite right – the two topics have nothing in common, beyond the fact that alerts for both dropped into my inbox this morning and I thought both deserved a wider airing.
The drop in key nutrients in our food over the last 40 years
This alert came via Micki Rose’s Pure Health Clinic mailing and highlighted research published last October in the International Journal of Food Sciences and Nutrition. This shows that, drawing figures from the UK’s Composition of Foods Tables (1940, 1991 and 2019) there has been a massive drop over the last 80 years in the mineral content of many of the fruits and vegetables that we consume in pursuit of a healthy diet – for example:
- Average levels of sodium fell by 52%
- Iron by 51%
- Copper by 49%
- Magnesium by 10%
- Potassium by 5%
And these are just figures for the headline nutrients. As the researchers point out:
Dietary diversification is well recognised as an approach to ensure that a range of foods are consumed to meet the overall nutrient requirements. Food-based approaches to micronutrient malnutrition are gaining some attention, but still many programmes address one nutrient at a time by, for example, just providing supplements of iron or zinc.
Strategies have been identified to improve the nutritional quality of food through production and post-harvest activities….. but in practice, this is interpreted by industry as ‘industrial fortification’, ‘genetic biofortification’ or ‘agronomic biofortification’. The problem with these reductionist approaches is that they target only the most commonly identified deficiencies such as Iron or Zinc whilst ignoring the other nutrients.
Important opportunities for tackling multiple micronutrient malnutrition in a sustainable and holistic way are missed by targeting single foods for single nutrients. These approaches also take the challenge out of the hands of farmers who could otherwise play an important role in defining the solutions.
Depressingly, as far back as 2002 we were publishing very similar research on the FoodsMatter site based on the work of David Thomas comparing the nutrient contents of a range of fruit, vegetables, meat and dairy products in 1940 versus 1991. Looking at his 1991 findings our intake of copper, potassium and magnesium have improved slightly over the last 40 years but our intake of sodium and particularly iron have plummeted.
Sodium levels are reduced by 49%
Potassium by 16%
Phosphorus by 9%
Magnesium by 24%
Calcium by 46%
Iron by 27%
Copper by 76%
However, all remain significantly lower than they were in 1940 in the middle of WWII.
On to a more cheerful topic….
Attending a festival with food allergies
The monthly newsletter from the very excellent Natasha Allergy Research Foundation also dropped into my inbox this morning and among the various other items of interest was a post about attending a festival with a food allergy.
Put together by allergy mum Cathy Ranson with her son Alex and his mate Jono, both of whom have food allergies, it gives you a whole load of really helpful tips about what sort of food to take, what is safe and what needs to be avoided on site, carrying medication, making sure your mates know about your allergies etc.
Because most festivals are rammed with people most of whom are unlikely to understand anything about allergies, it is crucial that you go well prepared so that the experience can be the fun that it is meant to be – and that you do not spend the time riddled with anxiety or, even worse, have even a mild reaction when you are far from first aid and home.
With festival season hoving view, if any allergic friend or family member is planning on going to one, I would seriously advise a quick read.