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March 20, 2018

National Nutrition Month: Growing Nutrient-Rich Crops in the U.S.

In honor of National Nutrition Month, take a look at the agricultural trend of growing nutrient-rich crops.

March is National Nutrition Month, and it’s been heralded by a number of positive news stories concerning nutrition. For instance, there’s the fact that water has overtaken soda as the nation’s #1 selling beverage. Improving the nation’s nutrition has been a long time coming, and the dividends are beginning to pay off. Take the trend of growing nutrient-rich crops; this trend became popular because consumers are increasingly looking for the most quality for their caloric buck. Not only do consumers increasingly choose more nutrient dense food, such as fresh produce over processed junk foods, they also want the nutrient density of the healthy foods they eat to be as high as possible. Explore the details of this trend and those foods that have the most beneficial nutrients, like polyphenol antioxidants, below.

The Details of Growing Nutrient-Rich Crops

Growing nutrient-rich crops starts with healthy soils. A crop takes all of its nutrients from the soil, so the more nutrients the soil holds—in healthy, balanced amounts—the more nutrients the plant will be able to take up and put into its fruit. Proponents of the farming practices that grow more nutrient-dense crops tout the benefits of soil remineralization to achieve healthy soil.

Keys to Soil Remineralization

Soil remineralization is all about creating healthy, balanced soils, and the Bionutrient Food Association outlines its key components:
1. The soil is treated as if it’s a living entity rather than simply the medium for growing plants. All the micro and macronutrients are equally important to soil health. Soil remineralization is likened to a crops’ immune systems in that it determines a plant’s health and the nutrient density of the plant’s produce.
2. The weak link principle is important. Plants will only be as strong as their weakest link. If the soil is deficient in a certain trace mineral or nutrient, then the plant and its fruits will also be deficient and will not reach their full potential.
3. Trace minerals and elements like sulfur, calcium, magnesium, boron, manganese, copper, zinc, cobalt, molybdenum, and selenium are just as important as nitrogen, phosphorous, and potassium in growing healthy crops. They are a necessary part of ensuring the health of the soil’s microbial communities.
4. Soil testing for trace minerals and nutrients is necessary to know what amendments are needed to restore the soil. Workshops and information from soil experts in reading and translating those numbers are invaluable at this stage.

The Most Nutrient-Rich Crops

One nutrient that has been shown in study after study to deliver real health benefits is polyphenols, a kind of antioxidant. They are the compound that you have likely heard can make moderate amounts of dark chocolate and wine beneficial to your health. Polyphenols have been shown to fight cell oxidation and inflammation, and offer protection against diseases like cancer and heart disease.

The European Journal of Clinical Nutrition tested a variety of foods for their polyphenol levels. They found that three spices—cloves, dried peppermint, and star anise—contained the highest levels of polyphenols. More familiar foods in the top 100 include dark chocolate, fruits like blueberries, grapes, apples, and strawberries; nuts like hazelnuts, pecans, and almonds; and vegetables like onions, broccoli, and asparagus. See the entire list here.

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