Eating a variety of fruits and vegetables has traditionally been thought of as the best way to get all the nutrients you need. Unfortunately, most of us only eat a limited selection of fruits and vegetables, and the majority of today's fruits, vegetables and grains are grown in depleted soil and stored for long periods of time before being sold. One important study which documented the historical decline in the mineral contents of fruits and vegetables between 1930 and 1987 came up with some startling conclusions (Br Food J, 1997; 99: 207-11).
Modern potatoes, for instance, were shown to have 40 per cent less potassium in them than those grown in 1930. Carrots of today contain nearly half the calcium they once did, and 75 per cent less magnesium. Tomatoes contain 90 per cent less copper. Among the fruits, apples contain two-thirds less iron than they once did, as do oranges and apricots. Some 20 common fruits and vegetables showed that foods were less nutritious than they once were.
These figures do not alter the fact that fruit and vegetables are still important sources of nutrients. But for health-conscious individuals, especially vegetarians, increasing the variety of produce eaten combined with a switch to organic foods, be they fruits and vegetables or meats, may be the best way to ensure optimum nutrient intake.