Why Minerals in Vegetables are so Important
A common misconception about food is that "broccoli is broccoli" or "a carrot is a carrot" no matter where it came from or how it was grown. One factor that I have come to appreciate is that there are very great differences between similar vegetables, depending on the type of soil they were grown in. Why Minerals Are Important
Minerals are one of the most critical factors for the health and productivity of plants. When a plant is able to take up more nutrients, particularly minerals, it will produce more sugars, proteins and oils. We are the direct beneficiaries - this means better tasting veggies! Higher mineral levels directly relate to higher brix foods. Not only are they better-tasting, but a person tends to feel satisfied for longer after eating them.
High-mineral plants are more resistant to pests and diseases. When plants have all the nutrients they need to be healthy, bugs aren't interested in them. Plants are kind of like us - when they are well-nourished, they tend to not 'catch' the bugs that are going around! Prevention by nutrition.
Why it is Hard to Find Mineral-Rich Vegetables
Most soils have been depleted in minerals over the last several decades. The reason is simple: when a crop is harvested, a lot of minerals (from the soil) are removed in the crop. In general, most common fertilizer programs focus on adding 4 main nutrients back to the soil: nitrogen, phosphorus, potassium and calcium. However, there are over 90 known minerals that are essential for optimum plant health!
With the mainstream fertilizer programs, it is certainly possible to produce good yields. However, if the goal is to produce the most nutrient-dense food possible, with the optimal levels of minerals in the plant, then the levels of all minerals in the soil need to be restored.
Minerals + Soil Bacteria = Healthy, Productive Plants
Having minerals in the soil does not mean that plants will be able to use them. Just as we need a strong and diverse microbial population in our gut to be healthy, the soil needs a strong and diverse microbial population in order for plants to be healthy. Microbes make the minerals in the soil available to plants.
We are all familiar with the use of pesticides, herbicides, fungicides, and insecticides in some farming systems. They are usually quite effective in their intended uses. However, one unfortunate side effect is that they deplete (or destroy) micro-organisms in the soil. Soil microbes are an essential factor in producing nutrient-dense food, so it is one of my jobs to look after them! There are a lot of things that farmers and gardeners can do to encourage healthy soil microbes; the more we help them, the more they help us.
How to Know if Food Has Optimal Levels of Minerals
As I have discussed before, the relative levels of minerals in foods can be determined by the Brix readings. There are some visual signs too. For example, have you ever seen broccoli that has a hollow area in its stem? That means that it is deficient in boron. Minerals always work together, so when one mineral is deficient, you can be sure that others are deficient as well.
Have you ever seen a tomato or pepper that was black on the end? This is called 'blossom end rot', and is usually a calcium deficiency. Sometimes it can happen during a dry spell when the plant is less able to take up nutrients because of a lack of water. However, it is usually a result of inadequate calcium (and other nutrients) in the soil.
There are many other signs that would be more obvious to the farmer or gardener. For example, a silica deficiency is one of the main reasons that powdery mildew affects crops like squash and cucumbers. This blight can easily wipe out the crop - but the crop can be kept healthy and productive if there is enough available silica in the soil.
More Benefits of Mineral-Rich Plants
Our bodies are able to digest foods better when they contain higher levels of minerals. A good example is sugar. We've all heard how "bad" sugar is for our health. In order to fully digest sugar, our bodies require the minerals that naturally occur in the sugar cane or the sugar beet or whatever other source of sugar. When sugar is refined (stripped of its minerals), it is hard for the body to handle it, and minerals are pulled from the tissues to help digest the sugar. Sugars in natural forms are still bound with the naturally-occurring minerals; therefore, it is relatively easy for the body to digest (and benefit from) maple syrup, honey, sucanut, molasses, etc. The same principle applies to all plant foods.
Minerals are necessary for the function of vitamins and enzymes, and are required by every cell in our bodies. It makes sense (to me) that the higher levels of minerals that there are in our foods, the better off we will be.
Interestingly, heirloom varieties of vegetables and fruits are able to take up greater levels of minerals than modern hybrids. Perhaps this is one reason they taste so good!
There are many ways to grow food, but the ultimate reward is taste. If the mineral content of vegetables directly relates to how they taste, then I will be doing all I can to promote mineral availability in the gardens!