Why Food Quality & Diversity is Important—It's Not Why You Think

By Ron Veitel, BSc

As a nutritionist I have studied the topic of the nutritional value of foods for over 20 years. It has become increasingly more obvious to me that the most important topic regarding food today is its quality, or more appropriately, its decreasing quality. The second major issue I see regarding our food supply is the decline of agrobiodiversity, which is the diversity of edible foods available in the marketplace. These two issues are connected to each other and even developed side-by- side since the inception of the agricultural revolution 10,000 years ago. This relationship between food quality and food diversity has led to the steady, and now rapid, decline in the health of the US population.

During the Paleolithic era, which lasted between 40,000 BC to 8,000 BC, our ancestors were hunter-gatherers. In all actuality, they were more gatherers than hunters consuming upwards of 300 different plants for food and medicine. This wide variety of plant consumption made it significantly easier for them to meet their nutritional needs and experience a high degree of health and well-being. Even today, modern hunter-gatherer societies do not suffer from chronic degenerative diseases such as diabetes, heart disease or obesity. But something happened about 10,000 years ago that changed everything, the agricultural revolution.

The agricultural revolution was the beginning of humans domesticating plants and animals, which has been a double-edged sword for humanity. The benefits of this revolution were that foods could be produced in large quantities and stored, which meant the capacity to feed more people. The downfall was an over dependence on less nutritious foods, a decrease in food diversity, and a decline in overall health.

There is an abundance of evidence that shows compared to the hunter-gatherers before them, skeletons of agrarian societies indicate a significant increase in enamel defects, iron-deficiency anemia, bone lesions, and degenerative spinal conditions.[1] The agricultural revolution was the first big step towards our current state of poor quality food and decreased health.

The next major mark in food history came with the industrial revolution. Through mechanization it became possible to start processing grains, using tractors for farming, and increasing yields of specific foods like wheat, corn, and soy. When grains are refined, they are stripped of key nutrients making them calorie dense and nutrient poor, which means they provide an abundance of calories but little nutritional value.

The other two factors mentioned led to what isknown as mono cropping, which is exemplified in the Midwest with its miles and miles of either corn, soy or wheat. Such farming is chemically intensive with high use of chemical fertilizers, pesticides, herbicides and fungicides, all of which disrupt the nutrient and microbial balance of the soil and therefore the overall health of the soil and the plants grown it. 

One of the major effects of mono cropping has been the drastic reduction in agrobiodiversity. Since the early 1900s we have lost over 75% of our plant genetic diversity, 30% of livestockbreeds are at risk for extinction, more than 90% of crop varieties have disappeared from farmers’ fields, and of the 300,000 or so edible plant species that exist humans only use 150-200 of them, with just three (wheat, rice and corn) making up over 60% of our food supply.[2] This is a dramatic decrease in phytonutrient consumption compared to our ancestors and we can trace this decline with the steady decline in human health.

What’s the Solution?

This may all sound quite dire, and it is, but there are steps we can take to work against the current trend. We can begin by eating by what I like to call a rainbow diet. The more colorful your diet is, the more nutrients, antioxidants and phytochemicals are consumed, which will help with meeting your nutritional needs and providing your body the reserves it needs to function at an optimal level. Along with incorporating a rainbow of colors into your diet you can make the foundation of each meal vegetables.

I like to recommend to patients that at least half of their plate is comprised of high quality, nutrient dense vegetables. Support sustainable and regenerative farming practices by either growing your own garden or shopping at your local farmer’s market, as these farmers are doing the best they can to care for the soil and the health and well-being of the foods that they grow.

An added bonus is that the produce is much fresher than anything you’ll get at the grocery store, unless where you shop carries local produce. And last but certainly not least, get to know the wild edibles that surround you. Some that exist in this region are miner’s lettuce, chickweed and dandelion. These can be found in your yard, in wild fields and in your garden. Don’t pull them to kill them! Harvest them. This can increase the variety and quantity of phytonutrients you consume and many times such foods are actually more nutritious than their domesticated relatives.

Phytonutrients help maintain balance in the body. They provide us the nutrients we need for organs to function at optimal levels. When our organs function at optimal levels, we have increased resistance to disease.

If you are interested in learning more about this subject and how to create a diet that meets your own personal needs, please join Dr. Halsey and myself for a 6-week course entitled My Nutrition Map. In this course we will cover the key topics for creating a diet that is right for you as an individual, which is the only right diet that exists.

My Nutrition Map starts August 17th and meets every Thursday until September 21st from 6-7 p.m. in our new classroom at Siskiyou Vital Medicine. This series is FREE FOR MEMBERS, $125 for non-members and $35 for drop-ins. Space is limited so you’ll want to reserve your spot soon. We look forward to seeing you there!

  1. Diamond, Jared (May 1987). "The Worst Mistake in the History of the Human Race". Discover: 64–66.
  2. FAO. 1999b. Women: users, preservers and managers of agrobiodiversity (available at www.fao.org/FOCUS/E/Women/Biodiv-e.htm).
Ron Veitel is Siskiyou Vital Medicine's resident nutritionist. He is life scientist whose passion for physiology, nutrition, medicinal plants and esoteric studies spans more than 20 years. He holds a Bachelor of Science in Nutrition from the Union Institute and University and is a Certified Nutrition Consultant by the American Association of Nutritional Consultants, as well as a Certified Metabolic Typing Advisor,