Declining Fruit and Vegetable Nutrient Composition: What Is the Evidence?
Donald R. Davis
Three kinds of evidence point toward declines of some nutrients in fruits and vegetables available in the United States and the United Kingdom: 1) early studies of fertilization found inverse relationships between crop yield and mineral concentrations—the widely cited “dilution effect”; 2) three recent studies of historical food composition data found apparent median declines of 5% to 40% or more in some minerals in groups of vegetables and perhaps fruits; one study also evaluated vitamins and protein with similar results; and 3) recent side-by-side plantings of low- and high-yield cultivars of broccoli and grains found consistently negative correlations between yield and concentrations of minerals and protein, a newly recognized genetic dilution effect. Studies of historical food composition data are inherently limited, but the other methods can focus on single crops of any kind, can include any nutrient of interest, and can be carefully controlled. They can also test proposed methods to minimize or overcome the diluting effects of yield whether by environmental means or by plant breeding.