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Which Are More Nutritious

19 Jul 2004

Traditional or Modern varieties of fruits and vegetables?
Amy Glastonbury,
The Seed Savers Network, 19th July 2004.

It is our belief at Seed Savers that older varieties of fruits and vegetables are more nutritious than modern varieties. Over the last century plant breeders have focused their efforts on breeding plants that have high yields, are easily transportable, have a long storage life and are pest and disease resistant. Until the last few years, little or no attention has been directed towards breeding plants that are tasty and more nutritious. This has resulted in a selection of fruit and vegetables in our supermarkets that are bland, uniform and of little nutritional value. We are pleased to hear from Alf Finch of Eden Seeds in May this year that he was prepared to support research that would uncover any comparative studies done on inter-variety nutrition variation.

People are now realizing that the fruits and vegetables we are eating have much lower levels of minerals and nutrients than fifty years ago. This drop in nutritional value has been largely attributed to modern industrial farming methods which depletes the soil of nutrients, leaving fewer nutrients to be taken up by food plants. This is of course true, but little attention has been paid to the effect of vegetable variety on nutritional level
 The aim of this study is therefore to investigate thoroughly what research has been done to date on how nutritional levels vary according to variety of fruit or vegetable grown. We are particularly interested in the nutritional difference between traditional versus modern varieties of fruit and vegetables.


We firstly emailed friends and contacts of Seed Savers’ whom we thought might be in the know. This set in motion a chain of internet sites, papers and people to chase up.
We’ve looked on internet sites such as Institute of Food Research, US Dept of Agriculture, Henry Double Day Research Association, BFA and many universities worldwide. Using this method we were able to contact several scientists across the world. Abstracts of recommended or relevant papers were generally accessed over the internet or through Southern Cross University.


Vegetables are less nutritious but why?
According to a study done by David Thomas in the UK, cited in 2001, fruit and vegetables are not as nutritious as they were 50 years ago. There is up to 75% less calcium and 93% less copper in fruit and vegetables. The levels of other important minerals such as iron, phosphorous, potassium and magnesium have also dropped significantly.

Runner BeansNearly 100% sodium
Carrots75% of magnesium
Broccoli75% of calcium
Spring Onion74% of calcium
Swede71% of iron
Spinach60% of iron
Watercress93% of copper
Potatoes47% of phosphorous
Orange67% of iron
Avocado62% of sodium
Strawberry55% of calcium
Melon45% of magnesium
Passionfruit43% of potassium
Raspberry39% of calcium
Blackberry35% of calcium
Rhubarb32% of potassium


David Thomas based his conclusions on data from the Composition of Foods, as study of all major foods dating back to 1940. By comparing figures over a 50 year period he was able to plot certain trends. A similar analysis, comparing data from 1930 to 1980 was published in the British Food Journals in 1987, it compared 20 vegetables and found levels of calcium, iron and other mineral had declined significantly.

David Thomas put the reason down to modern farming methods that use massive amounts of fertilizers on the soil. The fertilizers encourage plant growth at the expense of the minerals important for good health.

Professor Tim Lang Centre for Food Policy at the Thames Valley University, when commenting on these results did suggest that it might also be due to older versus modern varieties tested rather than solely farming methods. I emailed him about this to which he gave more leads to chase up but no direct response to my question. What really needs to be established is what varieties were used in obtaining these results over the years and how much the farming methods changed, but there is not time enough in this study.


At Eden Seeds we thank Amy for her work and contacts to follow-up. If any-one has any further information or would like to be involved in taking the idea of a comparison between Old Traditional varieties and modern hybrids a little further we would be happy to hear from you.
We realize we may need to do our own trials. If any-one would like to plan a trial please let us know.


For More information about The Seed Savers’ Network contact

Seed Savers’ Network
PO Box 975
Byron Bay, NSW 2481
Ph (02) 6685 6628
Fax (02) 6685 6624

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