Monday, March 06, 2006

Eat Your Veggies. Lots of 'em!

I took another crack at Sunrise Cyclery this weekend. Karla and I were down at church crawling around the organ room, which oddly enough is up in our tower. This church's pipe organ is a tempermental thing and has taken to randomly ceasing to function. Karla, an accomplished classical pianist, just switches over to the piano, but it's still annoying, and we were poking around trying unsuccessfully to figure out why the thing just stops. Anyway, when we got done, we drove by Sunrise Cyclery and...they were closed! Down at the Bike Expo! Oh well.

I had no interest in the Bike Expo, but there was a show on in San Jose this past weekend called the North American Handmade Bicycle Show and it looked really fun. Many custom frame builders were there showing off their wares and they're showing not just boring old nicely done frames but ones done with fetishistic details, exoticully cut lugs, fabulously detailed paint jobs and some wacky ideas. I like the stainless steel bike (Reynolds is now doing a stainless steel tube set) and the Bruce Gordon streamlined titanium basket, which is silly on many levels (e.g., the streamlining is pointless since the mesh doesn't offer much air resistance to start with and it serves the additional function of wildly limiting the basket's utility, but here I am debating the utilitarian merits of a titanium bicycle basket involving 500 separate welds but apparently unable to hold a gallon of milk, so it's at least attention-getting!). None of these guys look like those bloated bearded bellowing buffoons who do the American Chopper motorcycle shows, but I think otherwise this is the bicycle equivalent, where skilled craftsmen (are there any female framebuilders? perhaps, but none spring to mind) show off their skill. You can read the reports from Day One and Day Two. Click on the photos, you'll get a bigger version, then just keep going "Next" and work your way through the show. Then you can go out to the garage and look at that shabby piece of crap you ride and feel cheap and ashamed.

In somewhat less-exciting news, it appears that the nutrient quality of our mass-produced fruits and vegetables has declined since the mid 20th century. There's less calcium, riboflavins, protein, Vitamin C, phosphorus and iron than there used to be. Here's the abstract for a report called "Trends in the Nutrient and Antioxidant Content of Common Foods" by Donald R. Davis of the Universityof Texas at Austin & Bio-Communicaions Research Institute of Wichita, Kansas.

For over 25 years agronomists have known that yield-enhancing methods such as fertilization and irrigation may decrease the concentration of some nutrients in food crops. They call the phenomenon “the dilution effect.” Emerging evidence shows that genetic enhancements of yield also can dilute nutrient concentrations. High-yield crops grow bigger or faster, but are not necessarily able to make or uptake sufficient nutrients to maintain their nutritional value. Recent studies of vegetables, fruits and wheat find median declines since the mid-20th century of about 5% to 35% in concentrations of some vitamins, minerals and protein. Possible reversal of dilution effects, while maintaining yield levels, is an important research goal that would have great benefits to both consumers and farmers.

Other changes in agriculture during the last half-century include widespread use of pesticides, plant growth regulators, and highly soluble sources of plant nutrients, along with decreased use of humus-containing fertilizers. Recent studies have tested the effects on antioxidant levels of reversing these changes. They show that several organic growing methods can increase the broad antioxidant content of produce, as measured by ORAC scores and other measures. These practices include avoiding synthetic pesticides and using compost, cover crops and slow-release nitrogen sources. On average, antioxidant levels increased by about 30% in carefully designed comparative trials. Thus, organically grown produce offers significantly enhanced health-promoting qualities, contributing to the achievement of important national public health goals.
Here's the UT Press Release. Note that they didn't opine on a number of trace elements and nutrients because they weren't tested for in 1950. Anyway, you'd better eat up to 40% more fruits and veggies to make up for the nutritional deficiencies of our modern wonder-foods! Me, I think I may plant a vegetable garden this spring.


Jon said...

May sound alarmist, but my wife has actually used the words "poisoning of the food supply" to describe the downward trending of nutrients in veggies and fruits these days.

Think the same phenomenon you describe applies to organic fruits and vegtables or your backyard garden as well?

Matt said...

I'm not an expert on this, but reading the UT press release said that it may stem from the pressure to increase yields leading to using more soluble plant nutrients--the plants get harvested quicker but have less time to develop all the complex chemicals and may come from an controlled soil environment missing many trace chemicals. Makes you wonder about the nice-looking hydroponic tomatoes at the store. I figure a leisurely growth in the dirt of my garden ought to be better.

kentuckyliz said...

Thanks for sharing. I have been wondering about a non-nutcase reason for eating organic, and this sounds like it.

I love phytochemicals. I used to be a free radical, now I'm fighting them.

Be well.