Are We Getting Enough Nutrients from Food?

Holli Ryan, RD, LD/N

Do the foods we eat provide us with optimal nutrition?

In other words, are we getting enough
nutrients, such as vitamins and minerals, from our food? Even if you eat a varied diet, including the recommended amounts of fruits and vegetables, the answer might still be no. The reason is that factors such as climate change and soil quality play a role in the nutrient profile of a given food.

Is our soil depleted of nutrients?

Intensive farming practices have led to a depletion of key nutrients such as magnesium, calcium and vitamin C in soil.1,2 The decreased mineral content in the soil could make it challenging to obtain optimal levels from food sources alone, and this may have a significant impact on human health.

While fertilization techniques developed as part of the Green Revolution have increased the production of food since the late 1960s, one consequence has been a reduction in the amounts of minerals and vitamins in our food. The result? More food, fewer nutrients. Since the revolution, magnesium levels in wheat, for example, have declined by an average of 19.6%.On the plus side, the introduction of GM crops has played a role in reducing topsoil damage, which is beneficial to the environment.

Does climate change affect our food supply?

The rising levels of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere that accompany climate change are affecting the nutrient status of our food.4 The analogy put forth by the blog article from Scientific American entitled “Vanishing Nutrients” is that too much carbon dioxide is as unhealthy for plants as too many carbohydrates are for humans.5 Intriguingly, the article goes on to explain: “Extra carbon dioxide acts like empty calories or ‘junk food’ for the plants, which gorge themselves on it to grow bigger and faster, consequently getting larger but less nutrient-packed. Just like America’s obesity epidemic, which is partially due to people’s increased access to an abundance of calorie-rich but nutrient-poor food, more is not always better.”

Related Article: 5 Foods You Aren't Eating Enough

I asked Nall Moonilall, a Ph.D student at the Ohio State University Carbon Management and Sequestration Center, for his insight on this topic. He recommends we protect the soil, keep it covered, maintain a healthy and active soil microbial community and add more organic matter. “Sequestering more carbon in soil will help to build the soil and improve overall soil health. Adding organic matter, reducing tillage, adding manures, and promoting diversified cropping systems are all management practices that assist to sequester more carbon and improve soil quality. This in turn will enhance better nutrient cycling in the soil.”

Sequestering carbon (capturing and storing atmospheric carbon dioxide, which is converted to a stable, solid form in soil) is one method of reducing the amount of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere with the goal of reducing global climate change—and the added benefits of decreasing nutrient loss and improving soil and water quality.6

Is organic produce healthier (more nutritious) than conventional produce?

We’ve seen how farming practices have been shown to have an influence on the nutrient content of our food, and the use of pesticides in conventional growing methods is yet another scenario that has been shown to have a negative impact.7 I find the effect on the antioxidant status of plants particularly interesting.8 First off, the fact that plants produce antioxidants to protect themselves from the environment, and then we, in turn, inherit those same protective benefits by eating the plant, is amazing. Knowing this, the explanation as to why there are more antioxidants in organic produce makes perfect sense: Organic crops need to fend for themselves more than conventional crops, which have strong, synthetic pesticides to help defend them. Organic crops, therefore, are under a higher level of stress and have to produce more antioxidants to deter pests. However, certain pesticides (typically non-man-made) are used on organic crops, especially for large-scale crop production. So how do we get the most nutrients from produce? I suggest buying from your local organic farmer and growing some of your own food.

About the author: Holli Ryan, RD, LD/N is a Social Media Content Specialist at Life Extension®. She is a Registered and Licensed Dietitian Nutritionist residing in the South Florida area. Holli believes that quality dietary supplements are an essential tool that have a variety of applications, from maintaining good health to managing chronic disease.


  1. Rosanoff A. Changing crop magnesium concentrations: impact on human health. Plant and Soil. 2012;368(1-2):139-153.
  2. Davis DR, Epp MD, Riordan HD. Changes in USDA Food Composition Data for 43 Garden Crops, 1950 to 1999. Journal of the American College of Nutrition. 2004;23(6):669-682.
  3. Guo W, Nazim H, Liang Z, et al. Magnesium deficiency in plants: An urgent problem. The Crop Journal. 2016;4(2):83-91.
  4. Zhu C, Kobayashi K, Loladze I, et al. Carbon dioxide (Co2) levels this century will alter the protein, micronutrients, and vitamin content of rice grains with potential health consequences for the poorest rice-dependent countries. Science Advances. 2018;4(5): eaaq1012.
  6. Lal R, Negassa W, Lorenz K. Carbon sequestration in soil. Current Opinion in Environmental Sustainability. 2015;15:79-86.
  8. BaraƄski M, Srednicka-Tober D, Volakakis N, et al. Higher antioxidant and lower cadmium concentrations and lower incidence of pesticide residues in organically grown crops: a systematic literature review and meta-analyses. British Journal of Nutrition. 2014;112(5):794-811.


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