Like many of you, I’ve tried my fair share of diets. I grew up on a mix of home-grown produce, traditional Spanish and Jewish staples, and good old TV dinners. Then I became a vegetarian in college, buying buckets of tofu to share with my roommates during our communal dinners.
As I learned more about nutrition and tuned in to the state of our food system and agricultural practices (and also to my own body), I expanded my diet to include responsibly farmed animal products and began looking for organic and local sources of produce.
That interest in the relationship of the food system to nutrition has turned into a full-fledged passion for changing food policy.
There are many issues with conventional agriculture; one is a reliance on nonrenewable resources, another is the waste and pollution that are created. And then there is the fact that farmers are encouraged to grow more, faster, which leads to an overproduction of subsidized crops like wheat, corn, and soy that are turned into processed unhealthy foods that make us fat and sick, and a depletion of nutrients and other important compounds in the soil, like beneficial bacteria that cross-talk with our own microbiome.
The varieties of seeds favored for mass production are another aspect of our declining soil quality; comparisons of the nutrient content of 43 different crops between 1950 and 1999 revealed consistent declines in protein, calcium, phosphorus, iron, vitamin B2, and vitamin C.
This boils down to a lack of organic matter in the soil which then prevents plants from being able to access nutrients, so they provide us with less of them. Using regenerative practices like no-till farming, cover crops, and a broader and more traditional seed selection are ways to support that organic matter and produce healthier soils.
Even when we’re choosing to eat health-promoting foods like vegetables, we may not be getting the full scope of nutrients we should be. And a lack of balanced bacteria in our soil impacts our own bacterial composition—this may be a reason for the “Farm Effect,” a pattern of lower rates of asthma and allergies in kids who have grown up on sustainable farms, compared to those raised on conventional farms or urban areas.
This week on The Doctor’s Farmacy, soil expert Dr. Daphne Miller joined me to discuss why we need to acknowledge soil as a major influence on the food system and our health and most importantly what we can do to change soil composition for the better.
Join us for this fascinating episode to learn why dirt is so important to a healthy ecosystem for both the environment and our bodies.
Wishing you health and happiness,
Mark Hyman, MD