SUPPLY VERSUS DEMAND: Veggies, Soil, Pesticides/Herbicides, and Your Incresingly Nutritionally Useless Food
This article and essay is a fine example why in the bioregional state, any public schools should be run on entirely organic food for a start. Furthermore, as mentioned in the umbilical study article, it's why all materials jurisdiction should be placed within the watershed, for the people in a particular area to decide based on the pollution in their own areas, for their specific problems to be solved by them locally, instead of having a supply-side driven material politics shoved down their throats from a corrupt and crony corporate state government that allows people to be polluted and poisoned as long as a handful of politicos get their campaign funds from the poisoners in question. That is additionally why it is important to open up the bioregional state to fully funded public elections--though suggestions are more complicated that that. See the book.
We are all instructed in the catholic (meaning orthodox, after all) dogma of economics: "supply equals demand," hoping that this sticks in our mind to make us love the people who provide us with food--however good or awful. This dogma we are suckled on means in short "whatever you buy it is your own fault" mostly; it encourages only economic complaint instead of political complaint over the items we eat or buy. I will demonstrate why this whole dogma is false, dangerously false, and that political frameworks are far more reponsible for what you eat or purchase than economics. I will demonstrate as well that leaving your food and consumer concerns up to supply side interests only means your increasing ill health for the most part. Seventy years of proof is below, when one looks at industrial agriculture.
First, the economic reductionist claim is an ideological dream world: the supplier in all cases is seen as a savior, he/she provides exactly what the consumer wants, and that the consumer can go elsewhere if the supplier fails to do so, finding another willing supplier savior.
Of course there are several easy logical difficulties with believing this ever occurs,
 particularly as scale of the item gets larger and larger more political power is gained by the suppliers, who can instead of be successful in the 'market,' be successful in politics, and assure themselves subsidies to alter market forces and assure that they gain more than they should 'economically' in the market by having undue financial favoritism in bad times and in good times.
 the larger a particular commodity scale is, the less knowledge that is typically known about it by the consumer--thus "information asymmetry" is developed--sometimes intentionally, by government and/or corporate actors. Plus, corporations and governments have been known to routinely conspire together to keep the consumer from knowing what goes on in their food or materials. Mostly by simply keeping silent, as shown below.
 people are unfortunately on the whole habitual consumers, instead of living in the dream world ideal of all being "rational economic actors" endlessly chooing to research the best choice every time they purchase something. Instead, given () (intentional) limited information, and given () market absorbtion by political and financial cronyism they tend to perhaps only do some original and cursory (supply side provided and vetted) 'research' into what it best for them, and then stick with the symbolism of their purchase--even long after when the actual materials may have changed within the item itself. The U.S.'s whole 'food pyramid' scheme was just a, well, pyramid scheme like a Ponzi Scheme that kept consumers 'educated'--falsely as it turned out--how much more of certain highly politically powerful agricultural industries they should be eating, when it was really harming aggregate health.
The above implies
A HERESTHETICS OF CONSUMPTION, or a CHOICE VERSES ADMINISTRATION IN CONSUMPTION
An appreciation of how the social relations can change material factors--or how different 'ideologies' or intersts of suppliers can be at odds with consumers over the particular material that is in the commodity allows discussion of what I would call the heresthetics of desire issue, or more generally put, consumptive heresthetics.
Heresthetics is a word coined by political scientist William Riker. It was designed by him to fill a gap in political speech discourse analysis originally, to discuss the rhetorical political intents and effects of employing particular arguments in political speech that propose logical fallacies of various sorts (“it’s environmental degradation or its loss of jobs”; “these are your only choices”; “since this is A, you are B” ; “any opposition to the Likud Party in Israel is Anti-Semitic,” Bush’s “you are either with us or against us,” “your choice is imperialistic Bonesman Bush or imperialistic Bonesman Kerry” etc.) These statements Riker defined as discourse heresthetics, as they typically are proposed around attempting to constrain, frame, and convince individuals faced with choices that others attempt to set up in such a way, as to get them to follow through with a designed choice of what the speaker wants. All are examples of attempting to use the mental gymnastics of heresthetics to confuse people enough to get them to fall in line behind someone else’s political interests. Freudenberg has labeled the same discourse phenomenon as the ‘double diversion’ used in many arguments in American environmental politics.
However, instead of a discursive based heresthetics, I am proposing to apply this concept to consumption, in a heresthetics of consumption, where various social groups design both social and material issues in a constrained and directed fashion in such a manner as to innately forebear against any choices in consumption, so that “any choices all are pre-chosen issues” in a sense toward certain political-consumptive heresthetic goals.
This herds the consumer/citizen in certain more easily administered and managed directions over others through a reduction of choices instead of through the offering of choices.
A heresthetical outlook on consumption aims instead to identify how a background aggregate demand gets funneled and put into selected pre-determined channels instead of ever considering that consumers have much say in the heresthetical matter of what is being consumed. Certainly there is choice. Though who chooses and administrates the set of guided choices? Is it actually a choice? Consumptive heresthetics is designed to approach these issues of the gray area of guided clientelistic choice and the administration of consumption, and how this lack of choice is disguised and ‘marketed’ as choice to disguise the heresthetics at work. For instance, the battles over labeling GM-crops in the United States where upwards of 97% want labeling (certainly a demand side pressure if ever there was one) or the worldwide rejection of GM crops, fails to actually understand how or why it is only pressures coming from states and corporations that want to institutionalize and impose materials against and across demand heresthetically, in a de jure coup de grace of introduction without notification.
Can we actually state with a straight face that “supply responds to demand”? Or is that merely a religious mystification that merely distracts demand interests from seeing supply sided consumptive heresthetics at work upon them, demoting their choices and politics in materials?
We are instead talking about particular ideological interests of supply being manifested in certain materials over others, that allow for more consolidation and administrative power through a materials change, that no one wants to impress upon people into their very bodies except corporate/ state actors.
Another example of consumptive heresthetics would be the issue of supply-side corporations refusing and legally challenging citizen-pressured state laws for the introduction of electric cars in California where surveys say there is a huge demand waiting to be filled.
How can we analytically understand the supply-side refusal to fill a demand, and to guide it into heresthetical based consumptive clientelisms where the choice and the demand is entirely missing; where consumptive choice is actively selected against; where consumption is closer to imposition, administration, and public enforcement of ‘private’ oil based cars? Where social heresthetics of discourse or ‘public relations spin’ is used more and more maintain gross consumer consumptive ambivalence and political disorganization of opposition to such biased consumptive infrastructures?
This is why, connected with consumptive heresthetics, ideological propagandizing (regular discourse heresthetics) is intimately involved in supporting and legitimating the material heresthetics of consumption to the tune of billions of dollars ever year. These are strategized case-by-case. They are well planned (sometimes years in advance of mere potential public relations difficulties). They are well funded corporate mobilizations designed to demote popular recognition or social movements involving the innate politicization, risk, and lack of consumptive choice. [Sharon Beder. 2002. Global Spin: The Corporate Assault on Environmentalism. Chelsea Green Pub Co.]
SUPPLY VERSUS DEMAND IN STATE POLITICS, AT LARGER AND LARGER SCALES OF CONSUMPTION
In other words, from a view of consumption heresthetics, consumptive practice is closer to witnessing a supply verses demand arrangement (in a state context), where:
(1) Each position of supply and demand has different physical science socio/material interests in exactly what physical particularities of commodities are institutionalized as raw material substrates and in how they are created—the ‘whose commodities?’ issue;
a. Supply ideologies want particular commodities that can be scaled, which have long shelf lives, which are technologically amenable, which can be compressed and/or shipped cheaply, which demote other challengers, and in which during their creation can externalize costs onto others to a great degree or be funded through state subsidies, without regard to long term local security of a particular environment or economy.
b. On the other hand, demand ideologies want healthful, nutritious, and safe commodities; and demand wants ecological security without externalized costs in their particular areas (externalities generated by supply interests) and a long term local security of a particular economy.
c. At larger and larger scales of commodities and consumption, the political clash over materials choice and the politics of instituting particular consumptive infrastructures and alliances becomes greater and greater. This leads to political action at larger jurisdictional scales for both interests typically in attempts to finagle formal institutions and formal policies of the state into very different types of political-consumptive alliances and organizations. As supply-sided ideologies and materials undermine and erode the locality of particular areas’ economies (and expand ecologically degradative and health depradative concerns), the more and more undermined localities and distanciated bases of consumer politics reach for (or aid in creating, with breakaway elite sponsorship) a state or elite-to-demand state alliance that attempts to demote any exclusively elite-to-supply-sided consumptive heresthetics.
(2) At larger and larger scales of consumption, demand historically becomes clientelistic to the socio/material interests of supply in commodities, instead of to demands’ own interests of ecological security, healthful commodities, and economically sustainable organizations; note that supply interests have consumptive demand as well, and supply interests can be led through socio-political pressure to move in the long run even against their own consumptive interests and own depredation in the name of their supply interests.
(3) Even if demand, or ‘the consumer’ is aware of the difference between the interests of supply and the interests of demand in a commodity in question, (a) the material imposition of supply-side biased socio/material commodities in a consumptive infrastructure, (b) with a built infrastructure around them that supports supply-side heresthetics, (c) combined with the learned, habitual use and institution of particular consumptive infrastructures over others, shows demand in the aggregate is materially surrogate and clientelistic to supply’s political interests; consumption as experienced is thus both a material consumptive and a socio-political imposition of particular materials over other materials using formal institutions and formal policy to guide aggregate demand into supply sided consumptive heresthetics.
Now, back to points [a] and [b] above. One example of how SUPPLY VERSUS DEMAND operates in the world is how plant choices and soil damage that is knowingly destroyed to make a better supply-sided product, while damaging the consumer on all counts. Thus, 'material' issues are affected by socio-poltical factors as much as biological and physical (soil) factors. For instance, in terms of how plant choices get rigged against the consumer, we have these as just a handful of the many hundreds of examples that could be found in the book Seeds of Change, by Kenny Ausubel. He reports that Alan T. Spiher,...
...who headed a food review process for the Food and Drug Administration, said that "data show that a recently developed new variety intended for mechanical harvesting and the concomitant marketing techniques developed for this variety, deliver to the consumer a tomato having about 15 percent less Vitamic C content. Tinkering with the infamous Lenape potato, which was relentlessly bred for improved "chipping" quality, actually turned it into a "poison potato" that had to be quickly and quietly removed from the market. Despite such events, the FDA decided against monitoring or regulating the potential effects of plant breeding."
And now the soil damage. Another effect of such scaled merchandising of plants is the effect on the soil minerals and nutritional content. This is due to the externalities created by chemical herbicides and pesticides that are used to "hold open" large scaled agricultulre from immediate ecological self-destruction through a booming ecology of pests. However, it is actually slowly destroying the very food we purchase.
As early as the 1920s and 1930s, this damage to the soil was noticed, and its effects on vitamin content in the food was noticed. From Ausubel once more:
During the period of the 1920s and 1920s, several U.S. scientists noted that food quality, along with animal and human health, declined when the synthetic NPK trinity of nitrogen/phosphorus/potassium was substituted for organic manures and compost. So striking were these findings that the scientists and over four hundred medical doctors in England published a statement by the esteemed British medical journal The Lancet calling for a revolution within medicine. They argued for a greater emphasis on preventive medicine with a balanced fertile soil as the foundation of a healthy diet.
It was further noted that organic seeds actually did much better than chemically treated seeds, despite the propoganda otherwise:
"In the 1920s, the nutritionist Sir Robert McCarrison experimented with cultivating seeds organically and chemically [for a comparison of outcome effects on each]. His tests showed that the seed from a manure-grown crop was superior in its germination rate to other seeds [chemically grown]. The longer the manure had been composted, the more impressive was this biological effect....This experiment is one of the only ones ever conducted on organic seeds. This oversight is more surprising considering the primary importance of the superiority of organically grown foods...[p. 130-1] "
Of course the purpose of supplers is to make money, and thus to cut corners. If they provided the consumer with really healthy food, typically (biologically) this means that they would have to avoid cutting corners. And since there is more money in adulterating and cutting corners, then they tend to concentrate on such practices. Or they attempt to apply the "heresthetics" issue mentioned above and remove other choices from you, so that you are forced to purchase their products in some way as the only choice. These two real-life strategies bely the supply-side propoganda that they are doing "what is good for the consumer" or "providing plentiful and cheap food". Actually, they are ignoring a much more plentiful endeavor: organic seeds. Perhaps this is being done, first, due to the fact that increasingly they want a monopoly on a particular seed that allows them greater consumer control (like Terminator genes for examples, or the rationale for choosing nonbreeding hybrids: you could patent hybrids, and thus make money off the patent, and you could assure a permanent dependency of the farmer on the hybrid supply, instead of really the consumer entering into the equation here at all.) Second, they may simply feel that cutting corners is good for them, though hardly good for the consumer--or the soil, or the whole frameworks of agriculture and biodiversity for that matter.
There were even Congressional testimonies given. The below is a verbatim unabridged extract from the 74th Congress 2nd Session: Senate Document 264, in 1936, showing they were aware that "modern" agricultural positional choices of herbicides/pesticides are really regressive politically since it is increasingly destroying the consumer instead of serving them. Minerals were being leached out of the food. However, still nothing is being done, belying that supplier are really looking out for us all--including themselves:
"Our physical well-being is more directly dependent upon minerals we take into our systems than upon calories or vitamins, or upon precise proportions of starch, protein or carbohydrates we consume."
"Do you know that most of us today are suffering from certain dangerous diet deficiencies which cannot be remedied until depleted soils from which our food comes are brought into proper mineral balance?"
"The alarming fact is that foods (fruits, vegetables and grains) now being raised on millions of acres of land that no longer contain enough of certain minerals are starving us - no matter how much of them we eat. No man of today can eat enough fruits and vegetables to supply his system with the minerals he requires for perfect health because his stomach isn't big enough to hold them."
"The truth is that our foods vary enormously in value, and some of them aren't worth eating as food...Our physical well-being is more directly dependent upon the minerals we take into our systems than upon calories or vitamins or upon the precise proportions of starch, protein or carbohydrates we consume."
"This talk about minerals is novel and quite startling. In fact, a realization of the importance of minerals in food is so new that the text books on nutritional dietetics contain very little about it. Nevertheless, it is something that concerns all of us, and the further we delve into it the more startling it becomes."
"You'd think, wouldn't you, that a carrot is a carrot - that one is about as good as another as far as nourishment is concerned? But it isn't; one carrot may look and taste like another and yet be lacking in the particular mineral element which our system requires and which carrots are supposed to contain."
"Laboratory test prove that the fruits, the vegetables, the grains, the eggs, and even the milk and the meats of today are not what they were a few generations ago (which doubtless explains why our forefathers thrived on a selection of foods that would starve us!)"
"No man today can eat enough fruits and vegetables to supply his stomach with the mineral salts he requires for perfect health, because his stomach isn't big enough to hold them! And we are turning into big stomachs."
"No longer does a balanced and fully nourishing diet consist merely of so many calories or certain vitamins or fixed proportion of starches, proteins and carbohydrates. We know that our diets must contain in addition something like a score of minerals salts."
"It is bad news to learn from our leading authorities that 99% of the American people are deficient in these minerals, and that a marked deficiency in any one of the more important minerals actually results in disease. Any upset of the balance, any considerable lack or one or another element, however microscopic the body requirement may be, and we sicken, suffer, shorten our lives."
"We know that vitamins are complex chemical substances which are indispensable to nutrition, and that each of them is of importance for normal function of some special structure in the body. Disorder and disease result from any vitamin deficiency. It is not commonly realized, however, that vitamins control the body's appropriation of minerals, and in the absence of minerals they have no function to perform. Lacking vitamins, the system can make some use of minerals, but lacking minerals, vitamins are useless."
"Certainly our physical well-being is more directly dependent upon the minerals we take into our systems than upon calories of vitamins or upon the precise proportions of starch, protein of carbohydrates we consume."
"This discovery is one of the latest and most important contributions of science to the problem of human health."
Senate Document No. 264, 1936. link
And now the 'main event' of this essay: some comparative data over time about the ongoing declining nutritutional quality of food due to the supply versus demand description described above.
LE Magazine March 2001
Vegetables Without Vitamins
Imagine the surprise of going online and discovering that the vitamin and mineral content of vegetables has drastically dropped. [It should have hardly been a surprise: people have been talking about this since the 1920s.]
That’s what happened to nutritionist, Alex Jack, when he went to check out the latest US Department of Agriculture food tables. The stunning revelation came after Jack compared recently published nutrient values with an old USDA handbook he had lying around. Some of the differences in vitamin and mineral content were enormous-a 50% drop in the amount of calcium in broccoli, for example. Watercress down 88% in iron content; cauliflower down 40% in vitamin C content-all since 1975.
Jack took his findings to the USDA, hoping for a reasonable explanation. That was two years ago. He’s still waiting. So is Organic Gardening magazine, which published an open letter, seeking an explanation from Dan Glickman, Secretary of Agriculture. Glickman didn’t respond, but USDA employee, Phyllis E. Johnson did. Johnson (who is head of the Beltsville area office), suggested to Organic Gardening that the nutrient drain should be put in context. According to her, the 78% decrease in calcium content of corn is not significant because no one eats corn for calcium. She further explains that the problem may not even exist at all; that the apparent nutrient dips could be due to the testing procedures. For example, “changes in the public’s perception of what the edible portion is may determine what parts have been analyzed over time.” In other words, back when the old food tables were made up, people may have been eating the cobb too, so they got more nutrients.
The vitamin drain
We decided to look into this further. Jack had used a 1975 version of the food tables for his research. We dredged up a 1963 version. After comparing the nutrient values for over a dozen fruits and vegetables, it was clear that the nutrient value of many foods has dropped, in some cases drastically. For example, the amount of vitamin C in sweet peppers has plummeted from 128 mg to 89 mg.= The vitamin A in apples has dropped from 90 mg to 53 mg. The fall-offs seem to be limited mostly to vegetables, and some fruits.
Some vegetables appear to be gaining vitamins-at least vitamin A. Carrots, for example, have more of the vitamin now than they did in 1963. Why is a mystery. But the phenomenon has apparently occurred just in the nick of time. The National Academy of Sciences has issued an alert that it takes twice as many vegetables to get the daily requirement of vitamin A as previously thought. Carrots and pumpkin are exempt from the caveat.
Despite the apparent increase of vitamin A in carrots, most vegetables are losing their vitamins and minerals. Nearly half the calcium and vitamin A in broccoli, for example, have disappeared. Collards are not the greens they used to be. If you're eating them for minerals and vitamin A, be aware that the vitamin A content has fallen from 6500 IUs to 3800 IUs. Their potassium has dropped from from 400 mg to 170 mg. Magnesium has fallen sharply-57 mg to 9. Cauliflower has lost almost half its vitamin C, along with its thiamin and riboflavin. Most of the calcium in pineapple is gone-from 17 mg (per 100 grams raw) to 7. And the list goes on and on.
The USDA refuses to act
What’s the deal on this nutrient drain? We decided to ask USDA ourselves, so we contacted the head of the USDA Agricultural Research Service, whose job it is to track the vitamins in food, among other things. Mr. Edward B. Knipling responded to our inquiry with a restatement of Ms. Johnson’s letter to Organic Gardening magazine. So we pressed for a better answer. Isn’t the agency concerned that Americans may not be getting the vitamins they think they are? What about the food pyramid? Won’t a nutrient drain upset the pyramid? Already the National Academy of Sciences is telling us our vegetables don't have as many vitamins as they're supposed to. Will the USDA double the required servings of vegetables to make up for the vitamin loss? So far, no answer from the agency.
The question is, what is the nature and extent of the problem? Vegetables are a major source of nutrition. Without them, humans miss out on important vitamins, minerals and phytonutrients. Many nutrients (such as folate) weren’t measured in the past. If they are also disappearing, the extent is unknown. What about more exotic nutrients such as flavonoids, or compounds like I3C? These aren’t tracked by the USDA. Are they disappearing also?
SUPPLY VERSUS DEMAND: SOME QUOTES ABOUT KNOWN DROPPING 'USE' OF FOOD, AND STILL THEY DO NOTHING
“90% of women and 71% of men get less than the RDA for vitamin B6.” Dietary vitamin B-6 intake and food sources in the US population: NHANES II, 1976-1980. Kant AK, et al. 1990.
“Men with the lowest amount of vitamin C have a 62% increased risk of cancer and a 57% increased risk of dying from any cause.“ Vitamin C status and mortality in US adults. Loria CM, et al. Am J Clin Nutr 72:139-45, 2000.
“Lutein and zeaxanthin reduce the incidence of cataract by 22%.” A prospective study of carotenoid and vitamin A intakes and risk of cataract extraction in US women. Chasan-Taber L, et al. Am J Clin Nutr 70:509-16, 1999.
“People with low levels of retinol, beta-carotene, vitamin E and selenium are more likely to get cancer.” Serum retinol, beta-carotene, vitamin E and selenium as related to subsequent cancer of specific sites. Comstock GW, et al. Am J Epidemiol 135:115-21, 1992.
“Supplemental vitamin D reduces the risk of colon cancer by half compared to dietary vitamin D which reduces it 12%.” Calcium, vitamin D, and dairy foods and the occurrence of colon cancer in men. Kearney J, et al. Am J Epidemiol 143:907-17, 1996.
“The area of China with the lowest micronutrient intake has the highest rate of cancer. Supplementation with vitamin E, selenium and beta-carotene lowers the rate.” Vitamin/mineral supplementation and cancer risk: internationaal chemoprevention trials. Blot WJ. Proc Soc Exp Biol Med 216:291-6, 1997.
“American children have inadequate levels of vitamin E.“ Vitamin E status of US children. Bendich A. J Am Coll Nutr 11:441-4, 1992.
“Flavonoids protect against stroke.” Dietary flavnoids, antioxidant vitamins, and incidence of stroke: the Zutphen study. Keli SO, et al. Arch Intern Med 156:637-42, 1996.
What’s for dinner
The USDA advises that we should be eating 3 to 5 servings of vegetables plus 2 to 4 servings of fruit a day to maintain health. (A serving is one cup of something raw and leafy or one-half a cup of something either not leafy or cooked-or 3/4 cup of vegetable juice). That is potentially 9 cups of vegetables and fruit a day. That’s a lot of lettuce. Are people doing this?
Harry Balzer is vice president of NPD Group, a firm that gathers information on the eating habits of Americans. His data says no way. According to him, the preferred American meal is one-dish, already prepared. Unless a vegetable can be squirted out of a bottle, it’s a nonentity. Why? We’re in a hurry. Vegetables are considered side dishes, and Americans don’t have time for such frivolity. The decline is relentless. Within the last 15 years, the percentage of all dinners including a vegetable (other than salad or potatoes) dropped 10%. It’s now 41%.
This raises a big question. If people are not eating their vegetables, how are they getting their vitamins? The answer is they’re not. Study-after-study show that Americans don’t meet the RDAs for many nutrients. That’s not good considering that RDAs are probably too low to keep most people in optimal health to begin with.
Americans know what they should be eating. They’re just not doing it. And they’re not likely to. According to Balzer, for example, pizza is one of America’s favorite meals. It fulfills, he says, the American ideal of being easy and fast, liked by old and young, and easy to clean up. If you blot it with a paper towel, throw on some pineapple, and use your imagination, it even seems to fit with the food pyramid. What else are people eating? Bread, doughnuts, pasta, cheese, beef and milk. Without fortified cereal, Americans would not come close to meeting RDAs.
Yes, but what about the produce section? Isn’t it filled with resealable bags full of wholesome, scrubbed little carrots, prewashed salad greens and spinach? Somebody must be buying them, or they wouldn’t be there, right? According to Balzer, those puppies are highly successful, raking in a billion dollars in sales ($100M is considered successful for a new food product). But the fact that people are buying them doesn’t mean they’re eating them. The reality is that onions are most-often served vegetable in America. Tomatoes (including ketchup) are second.
According to one study, less than one-third of Americans get the minimum five servings of fruits and vegetables a day, let alone the recommended nine. According to Balzer’s data, the percentage of Americans who buy healthy groceries is about 10%. The other 90% relies on ketchup, onions, fat-free snacks, ice cream, cheese and Sweet Tarts™ as their source of nutrition. Now we find out that even if a person accidentally eats a vegetable, it may not contain the nutrients it’s supposed to. What can a person do?
Vitamin supplements work [Perhaps one purpose that they are attempting to remove them, because no one can patent them and create a captive consumer market. So it's easier to attempt to ban alterntives than to supply the consumer. That is the real history of supply versus demand. More on that later.]
"...the nutritional content of produce is not as important as things like appearance and big yield. In other words, the view of commercial growers is that food is a product in the same way that running shoes are a product. Looks are more important than substance."
Supplements have proven their worth in scientific studies. Cancer, heart attacks, bone loss, stroke and macular degeneration-most any degenerative disease you can think of can either be prevented by, or ameliorated by, the right nutrients given in supplement form. Over the long term, the benefits can really add up. For example, nurses who took multi-vitamins containing folic acid for fifteen years slashed their risk of colon cancer by 75%. Folate from food didn’t work as well. No one knows why, although bioavailability problems may be to blame. It’s estimated that about 90% of the population gets less folate per day than necessary for health (400 micrograms).
In the same study, nurses who took multi-vitamins containing vitamin B6 reduced their risk of heart disease by 30%. The more B6 they took, the lower the risk. Could a high potency, high quality supplement reduce risk even more? We don’t know, but a study from Norway shows that a combination of vitamin B6 and folate reduces homocysteine 32% within five weeks in healthy individuals. This has the potential to significantly lower the risk of heart attack and stroke. Other studies show that for every decade of life, plasma concentrations of B6 decrease, and that people who take supplements have a much greater chance of meeting RDAs than those who don’t.
There are good reasons to take supplements. The bioavailability of the nutrients in supplements (assuming you buy high-quality) is 100% compared to food which is very unpredictible when it comes to bioavailability. Nutrient content also appears unpredictible. If the vitamin drain is confirmed, it will mean that people cannot count on vegetables and fruit to be the packages of concentrated nutrients they’re supposed to be. In a time when most people aren’t coming close to getting five, let alone nine, servings of fruits and vegetables, it seems pointless to ask them to eat more to get the same nutrients.
The USDA is apparently unconcerned and not interested in the vitamin drain, despite its mandate to ensure high quality safe foods. In her letter to Organic Gardening, Ms. Johnson said that the nutritional content of produce is not as important as things like appearance and big yield. In other words, Ms. Johnson espouses the view of commercial growers that food is a product in the same way that running shoes are a product. Looks are more important than substance. That view of vegetables and fruits reduces your spinach salad to pretty roughage, and your chances of meeting RDAs to slim.
The USDA can be accessed at http://www.lef.org/magazine/mag2001/www.usda.gov. The food tables are available online.
The folks who do the food testing are in the Agricultural Research Service which can be accessed at http://www.lef.org/magazine/mag2001/www.ars.usda.gov.
*1963 values have been set at 100%
Cleveland LE, et al. 2000. Dietary intake of whole grains. J Am Coll Nutr 19 (3 Suppl):331S-38S.
Composition of Foods (Raw, Processed, Prepared): Agriculture Handbook No. 8. USDA Agricultural Research Service. 1963.
Cuskelly GJ, et al. 1996. Effect of increasing dietary folate on red-cell folate: implications for prevention of neural tube defects. Lancet 347:657-9.
Giovannucci E, et al. 1998. Multivitamin use, folate and colon cancer in women in the nurses’ health study. Ann Intern Med 129:517-24.
Manore MM, et al. 1989. Plasma pyridoxal 5’-phosphate concentration and dietary vitamin B-6 intake in free-living, low-income elderly people. Am J Clin Nutr 50:339-45.
Mansoor MA, et al. 1999. Plasma total homocysteine response to oral doses of folic acid and pyridoxine hydrochloride (vitamin B6) in healthy individuals. Oral doses of vitamin B6 reduce concentrations of serum folate. Scand J Clin Lab Invest 59:139-46.
NPD Group, Inc. has a website at www.npd.com. Highlights from the 15th Annual Report on Eating Patterns in America are available online.
Organic Gardening’s letter to Dan Glickman, and the response of Phyllis E. Johnson of the USDA - see www.organicgardening.com.
Rimm EB, et al. 1998. Folate and Vitamin B6 from diet and supplements in relation to risk of coronary heart disease among women. JAMA 279:359-64.
Rose CS, et al. 1976. Age differences in vitamin B6 status of 617 men. Am J Clin Nutr 29:847-53.
Subar AF, et al. 1998. Dietary sources of nutrients among US adults, 1989 to 1991. J Am Diet Assoc 98:537-47.
Subar AF, et al. 1989. Folate intake and food sources in the US population. Am J Clin Nutr 50:508-16.