If you want to be healthy and lose weight then plenty of fruit and veg in your diet should see you right, right? While it is certainly better for you than living off processed foods, take-away, high sugar and high carb alternatives, some recent research has cast doubt on just how much benefit your body gets from eating today’s fruit and vegetables.
According to recent research, it would seem that over the last 50 years various factors have interacted to cause a decline in the nutritional content of many of our fruit and veg.
In the late 1990’s, Anne Marie Mayer, an independent researcher investigated government reports into the levels of vitamins and minerals in fresh food in the 1980’s to those of the 1930’s. She found that certain key nutrients, namely calcium, iron, potassium and vitamins A, C and D had declined by varying degrees in 20 fruits and 20 vegetables and published her findings in the British Food Journal (99/6  207-211.
The exact reasons for these changes are not known but are being explored. It is thought that the use of fertilisers and pesticides, changes in varieties, intensity of production methods all may contribute to these trends.
So what hope do we, the health conscious vegetable munchers, have? Don’t despair! There are a number of things that you can do to help maximise the nutritional bang for your buck that you get out of your five a day.
- Eat organic. Not only will you avoid ingesting all of the chemical nasties that non-organic fruit and veg contain, it has been shown that organic produce are more nutrient rich. This is because, in avoiding synthetic fertilisers, organic farmers put more stress on plants, which protect themselves by producing phytochemicals (good for you). As such, fruits such as tomatoes can have as much as 30% more phytochemicals than regular tom’s!
- Pick bright colours. A deeply hued skin indicates a higher phytochemical count than paler counterparts.
- Smaller is better. Buy smaller items as plants only have a certain amount of nutrients to pass on to their fruit, so the smaller the produce, the more concentrated the nutrients.
- Eat within a week. The longer the gap between picking and eating, the more the nutrient content of fruit and veg declines, so always eat within a week of buying.
- Raw isn’t always best. The nutrients in some fruit and veg are more accessible when cooked, e.g. carrots, broccoli and tomatoes.
- Choose older varieties. Plants that were around before WW2 were bred and thrived before the use of modern pesticides and fertilisers so they are naturally hardier. Examples are Brandywine tomatoes, Jersey Wakefield Cabbage and Jenny Lind melon.
- Get involved in your local farmer’s market. The produce will be seasonal, freshly harvested and naturally ripened (which is crucial in the amplification of its phytonutrient content). Plus, it supports your local industry! Everyone’s a winner.
- Buy produce when it is in season. Seasonal fruit and veg are more nutrient rich than those that are forced to grow all year round.
So, it’s not all bad news. If you want the best produce, you just have to shop a little smarter.
 Alyson Mitchell PhD, Journal of Agriculture and Food Chemistry, Ten-Year Comparison of the Influence of Organic and Conventional Crop Management Practices on the Content of Flavonoids in Tomatoes
Alyson E. Mitchell,* Yun-Jeong Hong, Eunmi Koh, Diane M. Barrett, D. E. Bryant, R. Ford Denison,# and Stephen Kaffka