Optimistic Futurist: Fruits, veggies lower death rate 42 percent

Published 12:00 am Sunday, April 6, 2014

There are three surprising facts about food that almost no one knows — and they absolutely impact the life expectancy and health of you and yours.
Start with this: British researchers studied 65,000 people over seven years, and found that people who ate seven portions of fruits or vegetables every day have a 42 percent lower death rate than those who ate just four or fewer servings. The Centers for Disease Control studies show that only 11 percent of Americans eat that much.
The second interesting fact is that today’s fruits and veggies are missing a lot of vitamins and minerals those same crops had 50 years ago. One 2004 study done at the University of Texas found that there were “reliable declines” in “protein, calcium, phosphorus, iron, B2, and vitamin C” when crops grown in 1950 were compared to those grown in 1999. A woman eating a peach in 1951 got around 25 times more vitamin A than she would eating a modern peach.

This decline seems particularly strong in something called phytochemicals (also called phytonutrients). These substances occur naturally in food and give it color. Very important to human health, phytochemicals fight prostate cancer, cataracts, macular degeneration, asthma, heart disease and a host of other awfuls. There are less of them now.
Researchers theorized that these reductions in health-supporting ingredients were due to creation of plant breeds developed for fast growth, storage during shipping, pest resistance and size of product, all of which sacrificed nutritional content.
The third fact is that from the time the food is picked until the time it is eaten, a lot of the nutrition vanishes. For supermarket “fresh” vegetables, the average distance traveled is around 1,500 miles, and the time from farm to fork in the United States is 14 days. Add to that the fact that around 40 percent of all fruits and vegetable we eat are imported from other countries, which adds a great deal of time between farm and fork. The vitamin C in spinach is reduced by three-quarters when refrigerated for seven days, for example.
The future is now.

You can start to help your family and your community by increasing the number of servings of fruits and vegetables you eat to the recommended seven per day. Slice some bananas or apples into the cereal, add some chopped greens into the morning omelet. It is not that hard. Pack some carrots and fresh fruit with school lunches. For dinner, serve broccoli or a sweet potato alongside the meat, add a salad, and you are there. Our family life expectancy would soar.
We would move away from being the country with the 42nd life expectancy in the world — behind No. 3 Japan, No. 12 Sweden, No. 15 France or No. 27 Ireland.
As you plant the spring garden, buy older strains of fruits and vegetables, grown from “heirloom” seeds. While they don’t travel or store as well as modern hybrids, they are a lot healthier.
You could get your food from something called Community Supported Agriculture, or CSA. These small, local food producers run their own agricultural business — which is to grow food for specific, named customers who contract ahead to buy frequent (often weekly) shipments when produce is at optimal nutritional content. The customers know who grew their food, where, and the exact breed, and how much if any chemicals and pesticides are used. The nutritional content of the food can easily be double that of the supermarket because of varieties planted, and time from farm to fork.

You can locate local food producers by going to www.localharvest.org, which will show you local farmers on a map and introduce you to CSAs who want your business. In North Carolina, you can go to the Center for Environmental Farming Systems site at www.cefs.ncsu.edu for much valuable information.
So we can lengthen lives, save money, create jobs and become less dependent on the behavior of other nations. As you lie awake at night fretting about the world we are going to hand our children and grandchildren, you can at least plan to set your table with food that not only brings comfort, but also health.
Will you step to the plate?
Francis Koster lives in Kannapolis. To see the sources of facts used in this article, and learn of other successful money and life saving programs that can be implemented locally to create a better future for our country, go to www.TheOptimisticFuturist.org.