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Micronutrient Depletion - A Risk to Human Health

The facts about the quality of our food

Our attitudes and habits around food need to be radically revised. Consider the following...

There are three large-scale, prominent studies, examining the historical food composition data, covering time frames of between 50 and 70 years. Davis, Melvin and Riordan (2004), in their study, highlighted that over the last 50 years, there have been many changes in the way vegetables and other crops have been grown and distributed in developed countries. The United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) suggested there had been an “alarming decline” in food quality when looking at data in 12 common vegetables between 1975 and 1997.

Mayer (1997) argued that the historical reductions of minerals, described as the ‘dilution effect’ (the relationship between crop yield and mineral concentrations) is more difficult to quantify than suggested by Davis and is therefore open to a greater degree of interpretation, so she was more cautious in her conclusions. However, despite this caution, Mayer did find ‘marked reductions’ of seven minerals across 20 fruits and 20 vegetables, in a comparison of UK food composition data from the 1930s to the 1980s.

White and Broadley’s (2005) research arrives at a similar conclusion, suggesting that over the last 50 years there has been an apparent median decline of 5-40% in some mineral groups of vegetables and fruits. In some instances the dilution effect was found to be even greater.

Findings released at the 1992 Rio Earth Summit confirm that mineral depletion of our global topsoil reserve is critical. At the time, U.S. and Canadian agricultural soils had lost 85% of their mineral content. Asian and South American soils were down 76% while throughout Africa, Europe and Australia, soils were depleted by 74%, 72% and 55% respectively (Marler and Walling, 2006).

Given that we are in fact altering the ecosystem as the data illustrates, through over-farming, pollution, deforestation, global warming, lack of replenishment of our soils and the contamination of water, then clearly anything that can offer some compensation for the impact this will be having on physical and psychological health needs to be taken seriously.

Added to the dilution effect, which essentially means we are eating more food yet getting fewer nutrients, is also the energetic expenditure that our food is costing. In other words, we are spending more energy in terms of our production costs for food, which means by the time something lands on our plate, it literally cost us more in terms of what was spent to create it than what we spent to purchase it. This position cannot be sustained - most of all by the planet and if the planet can't sustain it, how are we meant to survive?


Micronutrient depletion – a new kind of malnutrition

Soil erosion is considered one of the most serious environmental and public health problems facing human society. The loss of soil from land surfaces is widespread globally and is adversely affecting the productivity of all natural ecosystems, which includes agriculture, forests, water availability, energy and loss of biodiversity (Lal and Stewart 1990, Pimentel 1993, Pimentel et al 1995, Pimentel and Kounang 1998). Overall, soil is being lost from land areas 10 – 40 times faster than the rate of soil renewal, which threatens human food security and the environment generally. As a result it is suggested that the bio-diversity of plants, animals and microbes in the soil is being damaged, which in turn affects the nutrient profile (Pimentel et al 1995).

We cannot continue to ignore the environmental consequences of our actions. As we can see from the research, the soil is rapidly eroding and the position is much worse now than in 1992. In addition, the air quality continues to plummet as pollution increases, we are also handicapped by the consequences of acid rain, causing immeasurable damage to crops and human health and there are numerous other environmental issues we face as a result of the greenhouse effect.

So, we really do have to start making environmental issues a priority because our current behaviour will bankrupt us, in terms of our health, the planet and its finite resources - even our economies and bank balances are suffering. This is something that demands all of our attentions. We are quickly reaching a point of no return and if we continue to ignore what's going on then the consequences are huge.

In March 2006, the United Nations recognized a new kind of malnutrition - multiple micronutrient depletion. According to Catherine Bertini, Chair of the UN Standing Committee on Nutrition, the overweight are just as malnourished as the starving. In essence, it is not the quantity of food that is at issue - it is the quality (Thomas, 2007).


What can you do?

The answer to this question will of course be different for each one of us. It will depend on your time, energy, resources and mobility. However, whatever limitations there may be in our lives, there will always be something we’ll be able to do, we simply have to have the will and desire.

Below are a few very different things you might consider as a starting point for making a positive change.

1) Wherever you can, recycle. This is not just about rubbish as in many communities something is being done about that in relation to our household waste and hopefully you are already contributing to that - if not, please join in.

Remember there are lots of ways to recycle. For example, giving clothes that no longer have a value to you to those who may benefit from them. Charity shops are a very good place to recycle clothes and many domestic items. There are now numerous organizations on-line that encourage the recycling of a wide range of goods... many of these also exist in the community. If you know people less fortunate than yourself who could benefit from those items then this is another way to positively contribute to the redistribution of things that can still be profitable to another.

2) Find ways to make a positive contribution in your community. For example, where you can help someone less fortunate than yourself, such as an elderly neighbour or someone who may be disabled and does not get out enough and is possibly lonely, giving of your time and energy is a wonderful thing to do. This kind of action unquestionably improves the environment in which you live. See: loving-kindness research.

You may choose to join an interest group that is seeking to improve the welfare of your community or you might prefer to become more politically active. This does not mean necessarily joining a political party, although it might. It could be argued that it is more useful to use the current systems to make your voice heard at a local government level, because only when enough of us make ourselves heard will the changes we seek follow. Community involvement depends on individuals getting involved – experience tells us that if we leave it to someone else, it will actually not get done.

3) Make sure your home is a sanctuary. Maintain order in your home and your mind will remain peaceful and clear. The physical space you inhabit will serve you best if it is light, airy and free from clutter. This is not merely about aesthetics - although being surrounded by beauty unquestionably helps - it is more about the nature of energy. If we understand our relationship to our environments, we are more likely to enter into a mutually beneficial dialogue.

Everything in your home is emitting energy, a ‘memory’ of sorts, a record of the part it has played in your life. These energy ‘signatures’ are either positive and beneficial, or they are negative and therefore hold us back. Generally the category into which things fall is easy to decipher - those things that transport us back to a time we would rather leave behind are generally not beneficial to us going forward. Those items that uplift our spirits and generate good memories and feelings are obviously beneficial and maintaining them in our environments makes a positive contribution to our lives. So one of the important things you can do to uplift the space in your home, is to remove those things where the energetic value is no longer positive. This is both an emotional and intellectual process. Intuit your way to those decisions. See: The Story of Light and Metaphysics.

4) If you have the means, inclination, time and/or opportunity, then you could consider growing some of your own food. If you have a garden and the space within it, then that is often a good place to begin. There are of course allotments, which have grown in popularity, certainly in the UK, and are wonderful places to go and both grow your own food, as well as better integrate into your community.

Growing your own food, or at least making some contribution to your needs is not going to resolve many of the problems listed in the opening arguments of this newsletter but it’s certainly a good place to start. If we don’t take charge of our lives when we can, then how can we expect things to be any different? Those who do ‘grow their own’ know those crops have enhanced quality and flavour. If you don’t have the opportunity to do this maybe you can support those who are and where possible buy local produce, which is another way to both support your community and help the environment.

Buying food locally is one of the most powerful things we can all do. Most of us are unconsciously supporting an economy that gives us what we want on our shelves but actually it’s polluting and poisoning our planet in the process and therefore ultimately is contributing to our demise.

5) Take supplementation seriously. Even if we did all the right things today and we could turn the planet around from its present position, it would still take a substantial period of time and great effort to do so. In the meantime, we are left with the legacy of our actions and those need to be addressed. Nowhere is that better seen than within our bodies.

Our immune systems, designed to protect us from those things in our environment that would harm us, have endured the worst of the negative consequences we have created. They continue to suffer from all the environmental challenges we face and whilst we are seeking to change things, it is imperative that we support all the systems within our bodies.

We have already seen that what we are doing to the planet means that our foodstuffs cannot entirely meet our biological needs. How can they when our soils are deficient? As a result, supplementation has become a necessary evil. In an ideal world it would not be needed but the world is not ideal. When looking at your nutrition, make sure you get good advice from those trained and skilled in this area. Don’t make the mistake of taking a supplement every time you read the latest magazine or see the advert that suggests you must have this or that. Even supplementation has become fashionable and has its own fads, which are not useful. A good balanced diet, with carefully planned, targeted supplementation, will provide a good defence for you in the world. See: The Truth About Supplements.

6) Be mindful about your purchases. Are you adding to the carbon footprint in a negative way? There are so many cleaning products, deodorants, air fresheners, cosmetics and other products for household or personal use, which are in the long-term damaging to our bodies, homes and environments.

Beware of short-term gain and keep your focus on the bigger picture – what are the consequences for the earth? If we make a point of buying mindfully, our shopping habits and patterns are powerful ways of changing the trends of those who are manufacturing harmful products. Whilst we’re purchasing them, they will continue to be made. Seek out those products that are kinder to our health and environment. They probably cost a little more but don’t engage in the false economy of buying something that’s cheaper but in fact is harmful. Either you or your children will eventually have to pick up the tab, so is it really worth it?


Further Reflections

The facts documented here, relating to the erosion and damage of the soil, are one aspect of the vast web of consequences we are all facing, as the planet struggles to find balance and harmony in the face of our arrogance, ignorance and neglect. We surely cannot expect to continue on our current course without condemning ourselves to further disease, famine, pollution, natural disasters and even more conflict.

It's time for change and change begins with you and me.


Also see: Soil, Soul and Society and Empathy... Our Only Hope


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