Do we need to take vitamins to stay healthy?

A few weeks ago I went to a work event and sat beside a Naturopath. We got to talking about our work and he shared that the majority of his patients are children with autism or attention deficit challenges.  I was somewhat surprised about the autism specialty, and asked how many children have autism? Is it really so high that you can build a practice based on it?

Unfortunately, he assured me that it is.  As posted on Autism Speaks website, around 1 in 68 children is on the autism spectrum today. This is a ten-fold increase in prevalence in 40 years. Careful research shows that this increase is only partly explained by improved diagnosis and awareness. So WHY has autism increased so dramatically?

He suggested that it was partially genetic but also caused by environmental factors…one of which is the food we eat. He suggested that food today is sub-nutritional.  Working in food, I am very aware that tremendous change has occurred over the last 50 years. Using natural cross breeding, agriculture has adapted many of the fruits and veggies we regularly enjoy. Broccoli heads are significantly larger than they used to be because consumers prefer this and often just discard the stems, tomatoes have had the flavour bred out of them in favour of conditions that support increased handling.  Essentially, this means that they can be bumped around in transit and handled more without getting damaged.

Corn and soy (and products made from them) are the most likely to be genetically modified in North America. They’ve been changed to apparently resist disease more effectively and I’m sure to also increase yields.  But this is not a post about GMO. It is a post about the nutritional value of the fresh fruits and vegetables that we eat.

As reported in FreshPlaza, a news source in the food industry, a paper has recently been published that revealed the differences in nutritional content for 43 different fruits and vegetables, comparing 1950 and 1999 (Yes, I am very aware that 1999 is ages ago!)

Researchers found a dramatic reduction in the amounts of protein, calcium, phosphorus, iron and riboflavin (vitamin B2) over the past 50 years. According to the lead researcher, Professor Donald Dave, “There may be reductions in other nutrients, such as magnesium, zinc and vitamins B-6 and E; however, these nutrients were not monitored in 1950, so we have no data.” Agricultural practices to improve yields and resistance to diseases and pests were cited as the reason why the quality degradation of nutrients has occurred in fruit and vegetables.
More alarmingly, this trend is only expected to get worse. Recent studies comparing the mineral content of soils in the U.S. with those of 100 years ago have found that 85% of their mineral contents have been exhausted. At this rate, it is estimated that there will only be fertile soils for another 48 years.
I try to eat well and feed my family healthy food. We eat a lot of fresh fruit and veg daily. But this latest news has me worried about what value this fresh food is really contributing and if perhaps we should begin taking vitamin and mineral supplements soon.
If you have news or feedback on related research, please feel free to share.

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