Does an apple a day (still) keep the doctor away?


More than early enough we were told to “eat our greens”. Teachers were teaching it, doctors were preaching it, and our parents were somewhere in there too (while being a good role model? …only you know the truth). Already back then fruits and veggies became the healthiest thing on earth. Like real superheroes. Too bad they couldn’t fly, climb up tall buildings or save citizen from fire-spitting monsters. But mum said they had other powers, so they must be pretty cool, too.

Later we came to understand it’s because veggies are feeding us with all the good stuff (like vitamins, minerals, fibres and antioxidants…) and all this while adding very little to our calorie account. Double the profit? Indeed, up to this point everything seemed just too great to be true. And that’s when some people came and said that we’re munching on “empty” stuff. Cucumbers – just water? Terrifying idea.

No more superpowers? Hey, where did the nutrition go?

In fact several sources claim that the nutritional content of fruits and vegetables has been declining over the past decades. Soil depletion to be blamed. Obviously, monocultures are exploiting our soils by producing faster, greater yields, every single year without giving fields time to restore. How (on earth…) can one expect to grow healthy crops on tired soils? Of course, there must be consequences. And there are. Corrosion of farmland, loss of biodiversity, and a decline in water supply are just some of the results of our predominant consumption model.

Even if apples still look like apples, are they still what our parents once called “apples”, just a few decades ago? What’s really in it?

Sounds a bit scary, hugh? But here the “good news”: Not every study agrees with the findings. Obviously  as always – there is much more to consider before trusting generalizing statements.

Articles like a recent publication in the Journal of Food Consumption and Analysis review studies that earlier were raising the concern. Factors like natural ranges in nutrition content, crop varieties, origin, ripeness, as well as sampling and laboratory analysis can be confounding the results. A decline in nutritional content of fruits and vegetables does not seem to be confirmed. Moreover, comparisons show that the mineral content in fertilized cultivations has not declined but a “dilution effect” could explain the premature conclusions: mineral content simply cannot keep up as crops are breeded to grow faster and bigger…

Confusing messages, again! This must be this thing about nutrition… being one of those hot topics people just want to chime in. We just assume they all want the best for us. But what are we supposed to do now? Eat (more) meat? (More) supplements?

Well, the answer to this question doesn’t seem to be black nor white. We know that a plant-based diet has many health benefits. But obviously, it’s not only about eating less meat but giving a little extra attention to what we put into our systems to provide our bodies with everything they need to stay healthy and strong. As a nutritionist this is how I think about it:

  • Several national guidelines recommend 500 g of veggies per day as an adequate intake to prevent major nutrition-related diseases – often referred to as “3 servings of vegetables and 2 of fruits”. Other sources claim this is not enough (…) No prob, why not make it 1 kg, just to make sure people eat on the safe side. Who cares that less than 20 % manage to “eat their (500 g of) greens” anyways? Why not better say: Try to aim for 5 servings most of the day. Then sneak in some extra – as by fresh soups or smoothies for instance! Focus on eating wholefood will do the rest. Grains, beans and roots may be higher in calories but are for sure great nutrient sources!


  • “Organic” sounds like the saviour – but is it, really? Yes and No. What we call for organically grown (without the use of artificial chemicals, hormones, antibiotics or genetically modified organisms) does not contain more of the good stuff. On the other hand, compared to conventional food, it does contain less of the unnecessary, so it could be a good choice anyways! The majority of crops on this planet is grown with extensive use of natural resources… start buying local and organic can help sustain farmland and our food supply. Besides, discovering local food markets with friends and family can be real fun!


  • What’s not obvious still counts. Milk comes with vitamin D… salt with iodine… Real raw products? Many foods are more processed than they look at first sight. Historically, the fortification of foods was grounded in the idea to ensure the intake of critical nutrients that were at risk to run deficient on an average diet some decades ago. But are these extras (still) necessary today? With having access to a higher variety of foods from different sources, and an abundance of food supplements… probably not. Still, the more the better (to market?)

I sometimes wonder what is healthier: to worry or not to worry at all about our food choices? Of course, caring about the content of our food can be called for responsible eating in many ways. But as much control as we want to have about our systems, dealing on micronutrient levels will probably always be challenging: we may be just satisfied with a rather rough idea, trusting our body knows best how to take care.