Survey Says: Nutrient Levels Vary Greatly In Bionutrient’s First Annual Report
The Bionutrient Food Association (BFA) has recently found that the same crops grown under different conditions offer wide variations in nutrient levels, which should be of major interest to consumers.
In fact, antioxidant, polyphenol and mineral levels in carrots and spinach appear to vary significantly from sources such as farms, farmers markets and stores, researchers concluded in BFA’s first annual report on food supply nutrient variation, released earlier this year.
“We discovered a range of variation in mineral nutrient levels between 400 to 1,800 per cent, depending on the mineral assayed,” says the association on its website (bionutrient.org). “Depending on how a given carrot or leaf of spinach was produced (the two crops we assessed last year), this means it could have four to 18 times more nutrients in it than one produced poorly.”
The 2018 Real Food Campaign’s survey of food and soil across the North East and Midwest United States found significant quality variation due to brands and farms.However, the data so far does not make clear what is responsible for the variation. They found no meaningful differences among basic farm management practices based on responses in the survey, possibly due to too little data, general farm practice information or no connection with the survey questions asked. The researchers could not determine a large portion of the quality variation, given survey information collected.
Still, when analyzing complex “health-giving” compounds such as antioxidants and polyphenols, the survey found extreme variations up to 200-to-one throughout the samples. “In the real world, this would mean that the best carrot we sampled had in it the same total amount of polyphenols as 200 of the worst carrots we sampled.”
For the 2019 survey, BFA is expanding the sampling of crops to include lettuce, kale, cherry tomatoes and grapes. Also, researchers have improved data collection processes to survey a full spectrum of environmental conditions such as fertility, management practices, soil type, climate data, cultivars, pest and disease pressure, overlaying that data with the nutritional variation on actual crops.
According to BFA, this research allows growers and farmers to correlate environmental conditions to nutritional results so they can improve practices on all sizes of plots and farms globally.
Technology to the rescue: Bionutrient’s pocket-sized meterFor this year, BFA aims to turn its ‘Bionutrient SpectroMeter’ into a calibrated consumer tool that helps people make decisions about food based upon nutrition.
“We believe there is a growing awareness that not all food is equal, and quality — of nutrient levels, taste, and shelf life — can vary greatly,” says the association. “Short of tasting before buying, the cues we shoppers have for determining the quality of our food are unreliable at best.”
The Bionutrient meter emits light at very specific wavelengths that bounce off objects such as vegetables and soil, with a light sensor reading how much light bounces back, which correlates to chemical compounds. For food, there are known correlations between light reflectance, at specific wavelengths, and amounts of various nutrients.
Spectral reflectance data from carrot and spinach extracts correctly identified high-versus-low polyphenols and antioxidant samples 73 to 86 per cent of the time, but researchers found surface scan reflectance data to be only 61 to 74 per cent accurate. Researchers used multiple methods to generate models based on this data informing the use of the Bionutrient Meter.
“If the consumer is empowered at point-of-purchase to see what it is they are buying, producers will no longer be able to skate by with visually appealing, but poorly grown and nutrient deficient product,” adds BFA on its website. “We believe this real-time accountability in the marketplace has the potential to dramatically impact the food system, our farms, our health, and our ecosystem.”
Last year, BFA laboratory tested relative food quality to build calibrations for its spectrometer tool. The association is also developing a robust smartphone application for consumers to choose higher quality food with even greater ease.
Carter Haydu is a writer, reporter, and journalist based in Alberta and Saskatchewan. He works for JuneWarren-Nickle’s Energy Group, with regular articles appearing in the Daily Oil Bulletin. He is a freelance columnist with the award-winning Quad Town Forum weekly newspaper, based in Vibank, Saskatchewan. He also contributes content for a series of magazines in and around Regina and Saskatoon. He received a BA in Political Science and Philosophy from Augustana University College in 2001 and a diploma in journalism from Grant Macewan College in 2005.