It is no longer a secret that diets that are predominantly Blue Zone/Mediterranean or completely vegan, whole food, or plant based are associated with the lower rates of obesity, diabetes, high blood pressure, high cholesterol, heart disease, cancer, diabetes and early death.

Nutrients Exist In Plants That Are Not Found in Animal-Based Foods

Among these are minerals that are crucial to healthy body function. As a heart specialist, I want my patients to follow diets that are high in minerals like magnesium and selenium. These minerals are crucial to hundreds of normal bodily functions and enzyme actions. For example, palpitations, high blood pressure, constipation, headaches, insomnia, and pre-menstrual syndrome are some of the manifestations of a very common deficiency in magnesium.  As long ago as 1936, the US Senate reported that “99% of the American people are deficient in minerals and a marked deficiency in any one of the more important minerals actually results in disease”.  I couldn’t agree more. I have lectured on this topic for several years.

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Deteriorating Soil Quality

Crowds are always shocked to learn that a medium-sized red apple that you buy today has on average 85% less magnesium than 75 years ago. Similarly, organic produce may have 50% or more minerals than similar appearing, conventionally farmed produce. Iron levels have dropped in spinach by over 35% in the last 20 years.  Why is this the case?  Unfortunately, the quality of soil used in farming has deteriorated significantly since at least World War II.  At that time, manufacturers of military supplies converted factories to fertilizer production with exclusively nitrogen, phosphorus and potassium. The full spectrum of minerals used in older forms of farming is missing, effecting both taste and nutritional value.

Why a Cardiologist Cares About Soil Quality (And Why You Should Too)

The Third Plate: Field Notes on the Future of Food

A recent book that I read discusses this topic in detail and points out avenues of correction. “The Third Plate: Field Notes on the Future of Food” by Dan Barber was published earlier this year.  Mr. Barber is a James Beard awardee for his restaurant Blue Hill in Manhattan and on Stone Barns, which is north of the city. He describes the spectrum of eating past, present and future using the title of his book. The first plate was the traditional grain-fed steak covering a plate with a small pile of carrots for garnish.  The second plate is the current farm-to-table movement where the steak may be grass-fed and carrots are local, organic and heirloom. He argues that this trend is focused on what we want to eat and not on what provides the most balance for the earth.

His vision is a third plate where the land dictates the meal, not vice versa.  This plate may be full of a “carrot steak” or turnips with at most a sauce of beef, recognizing the tremendous drain on the environment from the production of beef.  He stresses that our desire for flawless produce and trendy foods places a large burden on the earth, but everything is connected and eating should be an environmentally conscious event. The third plate represents choices that are healthier for all parties involved in food production.

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What’s the solution? Barber interviews farmers using organic farming methods and older methods like biodynamic techniques. Biodynamic farming was the brainchild of educational expert Rudolf Steiner in the 1920s. Biodynamic farmers strive to create a diversified and balanced farm ecosystem that creates healthy soil and successful and nutritious crop production.  The triple goal is ecological health, social responsibility and economic sustainability. The popular community supported agriculture (CSAs) were inspired by the biodynamic movement. Barber hopes to influence food preparation through a higher consciousness of the serious harm we have been doing to the soil by our monoculture and industry driven food production. Each of us can strive to support smaller farms, CSAs, and local markets, particularly those using environmentally friendly growing techniques.  The good news is that as the health of the earth is restored, the health of our bodies will also increase by eating more easily available nutritious and healing food sources packed with a spectrum of minerals.

Image Source: Megan/ Flickr