Consider the lowly tomato, historically accused of being poisonous, eventually revered for it's red goodness, the darling of home gardeners...and from a grocery store hard, tasteless and most commonly not even sun-ripened!
The USDA tests the nutritional components of a variety of food, not the least of which is the tomato. In 1963, they published a study of those components and called it the USDA Agriculture Handbook No 8:Composition of Foods. In 2002 they published their more recent findings in another study entitled USDA National Nutrient Database for Standard Reference.
In that 39 year span, 100 grams of the common field tomato, before processing was found to be lacking. It had LOST;
30.7% Vitamin A
16.9% Vitamin C
But wait! A couple of things had increased. The same 100 grams of tomato had increased in 2 substances since 1963. It had 65% more fat in the form of lipids and 200% more sodium.
So, to break this down, we need Vitamin A to maintain good eyesight, to grow normally and normal sexual reproductive health. Calcium gives us strong bones and teeth, you may remember from health class. But did you know that if you consume too much sodium, it can hinder your body from absorbing calcium? Hmm, so too much sodium can contribute to brittle bones...and my tomato now has over 200% more sodium than it did in the sixties. Vitamin C helps us battle everything from the common cold to scurvy and a host of nasty bugs in between, and that same tomato is now lacking over 16%. Phosphorus helps calcium build those bones and teeth we talked about earlier, but it's also a key player in releasing fat, protein and carbohydrates during metabolism. Potassium is needed for keeping bodily fluids in balance, managing our PH levels, maintaining blood pressure, brain function, development of the nervous system and muscle growth. But if we add too much sodium to our diets, we throw the potassium to sodium ratio out of balance and our bodies tend to do funky things. Niacin, iron and thiamine, you may know, is commonly added to our bread as a matter of course these days.
So, to sum it all up, all of the good things in tomatoes are dropping fast while the bad things that our doctors tell us to avoid are skyrocketing in our humble tomato! I'd remind you these numbers only span from 1963-2002.
So where did all of our nutrients go? Is this the result of our quest for more tomatoes from the same soil year after year without feeding the soil? Perhaps. Is this the result of allowing scientists to play God with the development of hybrid fruit? I'm sure that plays into it too since a quick scan of a couple of my seed catalogues rarely mention flavour. (For that, I have to shop from the heritage seed company) Don't even get me started on Monsanto! Supermarket buyers want tomatoes that are a uniform size, colour, weight, and unblemished as well, since consumers shy away from anything that looks less than perfect. So to fill that need commercial growers grow the types that fit the bill, and flavour and nutrients be damned. Because we, as consumers, have not paid attention to the diminishing health value of the food we eat, choosing instead to concentrate on easy meals that are fast and require as little work as possible...we have allowed the murder of the tomato as we once knew it.
Be assured that the tomato is not our only victim. Our food industry is appalling, manipulative, horrific and abusive. I worked in a factory that produced a variety of food, and none of that kind of food has passed my lips since. I always say that if people knew what they were eating, and how their food was produced, there would be far more outcry and many of us would be far healthier. I know I am not the only one alarmed by this. I know my voice is not the only one raised in protest. In future blog entries I'll be taking a closer look at what we put in our mouths, how it gets there and how we can change it all.