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Q: Did spinach really have more nutrients 50 years ago? ( Answered,   3 Comments )
Subject: Did spinach really have more nutrients 50 years ago?
Category: Science > Agriculture and Farming
Asked by: dahome-ga
List Price: $10.00
Posted: 02 Nov 2003 21:17 PST
Expires: 02 Dec 2003 21:17 PST
Question ID: 272047
My mom tells me that spinach from 50 years ago had 10 times more
nutrients in it then the spinach today.

I've heard the same about various other fruits and vegetables as well,
whole or canned.  The story goes that because they are harvested early
they don't have the same nutritional value as if they were allowed to
ripen on the tree (or in the garden).  Another reason heard is that
the farmers use techniques to increase the size or quantity of the
vegetables and this dilutes or diminishes the nutrients.

If there any evidence or conclusive studies that show this to be true
(or false)?  And what are the statistics nutrient increases or
Subject: Re: Did spinach really have more nutrients 50 years ago?
Answered By: digsalot-ga on 03 Nov 2003 05:03 PST
Hello there

Now whether the change has been enough to make produce, including
spinach, of 50 years ago have ten times more nutrients in it is
debatable.  But there is a good deal of evidence that current produce
is lower in nutrients than that grown in the past.  Much lower.

This first quote comes from Australia:

"There is rapidly developing a soil shortage in the world. That is, we
are running out of good soil in which to grow food. This is because
soil needs time to reconstitute itself, and our corporate farmers have
no time. They want land that is producing, producing, producing. So
the age-old practice of alternating growing fields from season to
season is being abandoned or shortened. To make up for the loss of
time, chemicals are being dumped into the land in order to render it
fertile faster.

The result is that we are eroding, down to a few inches really, in
some places, the available nutritive topsoil reserve. In other words,
we are growing more and more food in soil which has less and less
nutritional content. No irons. No minerals. Nothing which we count on
the soil to provide. Worse yet, we are eating foods filled with
chemicals which have been poured into the soil in a desperate attempt
to reconstitute it. In the long run these trace chemicals, which
remain in the body, are not health producing." - The quote is
from the last article on the page. - From Community Cauldron, Byron
Pacific Shire, Australia

In the USA, the same process is taking place and the statistical
figures on the amount of nutritional decline in fresh produce is

The Kushi Institute of Becket, Massachusetts, has studied USDA
nutrient data from 1975 and 1997, and uncovered a disturbing trend:
calcium levels in 12 fresh vegetables have declined 27 percent, iron
levels have dropped 37 percent, vitamin A levels, 21 percent; and
vitamin C levels, 30 percent. - From an article by Kathryn Scharf -
website of "Communications for a Sustainable Future"

"A similar analysis comparing British nutrient data from 1930 and 1980
indicates reductions of essential minerals in both fruits and
According to the report, published in the British Food Journal (1997,
vol 99, no. 6, pp 207-211), average calcium content has declined 19
iron, 22 percent; and potassium, 14 percent in the 20 vegetables
compared. The report's author, Anne-Marie Mayer, now at Cornell
University, says, "Changes in agricultural practice during this time
could have contributed to the decline‹for instance, soil compaction,
use of agricultural chemicals, disruption of soil life, or lack of
organic matter." - From the same source as the above.

This next bit has to do with brocolli.  It is the end of an article
written by Matthew Engel of the Guardian. - - - "the answer is not
that we can give up broccoli. On the contrary, we have to eat four or
five times as much to get the benefit that would have been available
60 years ago. Eat MORE broccoli or else!" - - If you are not familiar
with the Guardian, it is a British publication. - The
website is and you can read the whole article there. 
We have not reached the "ten times" decline level in produce yet in
this answer, but we are getting closer all the time.

USDA figures show a decline in mineral and vitamin content of several
fruits and vegetables between 1914, 1963, and 1992.  Table 1 is a
summary of mineral decreases in fruits and vegetables over a 30-year

Table 1.  Average changes in the mineral content of some fruits and
vegetables, 1963-1992

Mineral			Average % Change

Calcium			-29.82
Iron			-32.00
Magnesium		-21.08
Phosphorus		-11.09
Potassium		-6.48

I hope that column of figures doesn't break up when I post this.

 Fruits and vegetables measured:  oranges, apples, bananas, carrots,
potatoes, corn, tomatoes, celery, romaine lettuce, broccoli, iceberg
lettuce, collard greens, and chard
From Sun Microsystems

Here is another article based on USDA nutritional figures.  Since you
did ask for studies and statistics, I feel the two items I have
included here using USDA sources make the figures and statistics
presented about as official as you can get.

The title of the article is "Vegetables Without Vitamins" from Life
Extention Magazine. - -
- - - Rather than giving quotes which may take thinks out of context
in this case, it may be best if you read the whole article and
consider it an integral part of this answer.  You will also find two
anomalies.  While the nutrient value of fruits and vegetables is on
the decline, there are two exceptions, carrots and pumpkins, which are
actually getting better.

Now while the answer didn't address spinach in particular, the overall
decline certainly includes that vegetable.  You may tell your mom that
she is right, though she may have the percentage off by a bit and in
some cases not by that much at all.  Since your mom is that aware of
the nutritional content of what she serves, maybe I'll start eating at
your house.

The websites used to compose the above are included in the text of the

If I may clarify anything, please ask.

Subject: Re: Did spinach really have more nutrients 50 years ago?
From: majorgrooves-ga on 03 Nov 2003 06:29 PST
When the iron content for Spinach was first measured/calculated, the
person doing so made a mistake and put the decimal place in the wrong
place. This gave rise to the mis-conception that spinach had 10xs more
iron than other foods. This was what inspired the Popeye cartoons
showing spinach making you very strong.

So spinach probably doesn't have 10xs less nutrients than it did 50
years ago but it does have a decimal point in the correct place now!
Subject: Re: Did spinach really have more nutrients 50 years ago?
From: fstokens-ga on 04 Nov 2003 13:48 PST
This doesn't directly address your question, but is related.  I read
somewhere in the last couple years that many of the "good" chemcicals
in vegetables (not vitamins, more like antioxidants and compounds
believed to have anti-cancer properties) have a bitter taste, and that
is selecting for "good taste" vegetable growers were often breeding
for lower amounts of these "good" chemicals.
Subject: Re: Did spinach really have more nutrients 50 years ago?
From: eihwaz-ga on 18 Jan 2004 07:55 PST
Kids can you spell HERF?

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