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Blog special – How does agriculture affect our food?

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Professor Lovat
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Potato Harvest

Following our two-part series on calories and hunger, we have a special report based on an article in the New Scientist (17th October 2015). We hope you enjoy it!

Many foods today are pre-packaged. Ready meals; cereals; bread; milk. Almost everything we eat nowadays is easily available. But how nutritious is our food?

The Nutritional Value of Fruits and Vegetables is Falling

A biochemist from the University of New Texas demonstrated that modern farming techniques have reduced the overall nutrient content in various fruits such as tomatoes. Yes. Fruits! This is bizarre as, initially, these techniques were designed to increase nutritional value. A 15% drop in Iron and 38% drop in vitamin B2 in our fruits and vegetables, over the past 60 years, does not sound like a good though, does it?

Despite this decline, we are living longer and healthier lives than our grandparents, and Eric Decker or University of Massachusetts does not think we need to worry about it.

Fruit and vegetables are not the only foods that are suffering. Modern farmers tend to rear their cattle in-doors. Although the beef produced is considered to taste better than naturally reared cattle, the meat contains more fat and less omega-3. The milk produced from modern-farming techniques is also of lower quality: it contains less protein and fewer good fatty-acids. It also contains fewer antioxidants, a chemical that can prevent cell or tissue damage.

Eggs are Becoming More Nutritious

Despite the decline in the quality of beef and milk, eggs are getting more nutritious. Compared to eggs from 1989, modern eggs contain less cholesterol and more vitamin D and selenium. This is probably because the size of the yolks is getting smaller.  

With the example of meat in mind, should we therefore opt for foreign organically grown fruit and vegetables over home-grown inorganic foods? Carol Wagstaff of the University of Reading advises that we opt for fruits and vegetables that have gone through the shortest transportation chain since being picked. This is because the nutrients within these foods start declining from the moment they are picked. In fact, a study on broccoli showed that during its transportation, the conditions in which it is kept result in a loss of up to 80% of glucosinolates (an anti-cancer sulfur-containing compound).

Bread Production and Irritable Bowel Syndrome

Industrial techniques have also quickened the process of making bread. Until about 70 years ago, bread was made using naturally occurring yeasts; today over 80% of bread is made using a processed form of yeast. Although this significantly reduces production time, it may well be the reason why people with irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) cannot eat bread. It is believed that the bloating is caused by fermentation of the bread within the gut by naturally growing bacteria. But why should it make a difference what yeasts are used to make the bread? Well, natural yeasts are left to ferment the bread for a longer period of time than processed yeasts. As such, the bread reaches the gut in a ‘pre-digested’ state. According to Dr Jeremy Sanderson of King’s College London, this can “significantly lower” the accumulation of gas within the gut. As processed yeasts ferment the bread for a shorter period of time prior to baking, the bread reaches the gut in a relatively un-digested state and can therefore cause problems in people who have IBS.

 How Can We Help You?

Our consultant gastroenterologists are all trained in endoscopy and colonoscopy but we also have specialist expertise in the management of irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) and other nutrition related problems. If you are suffering, please feel free to contact us. Our doctors and specialist dietitians are ready to help you!

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