There are probably about a million different ways to think about the important nutrients your body needs to be at its best. For the majority of us, thinking about the topic brings up images of healthy, garden-fresh foods or colorful plates that would make a dietician crack a smile. Others may think about protein shakes and supplements that boost muscle growth and help focus the mind.
There’s probably one crucial thing you don’t really think about and typically associate with your body’s nutrition though.
It may come as somewhat of a surprise, but soils aren’t just the dirt we plant stuff in. Rather, it’s a wild mix of organic matter, water, and minerals among other things. Soils contain a surprising concoction of materials that play important roles in increasing the nutrient value of our foods.
But globally, we’re losing quality soils at an astronomical rate.
Getting Our Hands Dirty
Soil depletion is a phenomenon that has been happening to some degree since the beginning of modern agriculture. More often than not, the issue stems from poor agricultural practices that don’t prioritize soil conservation or replacement. In some areas of America’s breadbasket, nearly 10 inches of soil has been lost in the last 100 years of intensive farming. It may not seem like much, but the rapid loss could seriously impact global yields.
Less quality soil or a complete loss of topsoil can render whole fields useless and force farmers out of the business. The U.S. Natural Resource Conservation Service estimates that as of now the yearly economic cost of soil depletion is nearly $44 billion or approximately $70 per U.S. citizen per year. The cost is only anticipated to go up barring a significant change in conservation practices across the country.
Unfortunately, this problem is one of many environmental problems that few people understand and even fewer are willing to prioritize. Much like the known repercussions of air pollution and climate change, problems this large are incredibly complex. However, without some change, we may find ourselves in an even more precarious health situation.
Nutrition without Soils
Healthy soils are important components of mineral generation for the plants that we eat. Soils are tightly linked with the mineral nutrient quality of our fruits and vegetables. And unfortunately, the prognosis for these foods isn’t great.
Over the past 50-75 years, food and agricultural scientists have noticed a measurable decrease in the nutrient value of the foods we harvest. Though some of this is certainly attributed to a focus on plant variety production rather than nutritional value in the most widely consumed foods, a great deal of research has found that soil depletion may play an even more prominent role. These measurable declines include many nutrients we rely upon for good health and some we’re dependent upon for survival such as:
- Vitamin B12
- Vitamin C
- And numerous plant proteins
At best, this could mean that many of us will become dependent upon multivitamins to reach our mineral intake requirements. However, the science behind multivitamin use isn’t perfect and many deliver doses of vitamins and minerals that are well above the daily recommendations.
At the same time, there are some minerals the body needs that soils just aren’t producing, and supplements are necessary for their replacement. For instance, supplements to produce molecule-building groups such as NMN may become critical. Currently, this supplement is still in its testing phase.
Preserving and Growing Soil
Although there is certainly a lot of doom and gloom when it comes to the loss of our soils, there is hope on the horizon. Soils are relatively easy to build on a small scale at home and – with the right political effort – could become a self-sustaining process on an industrial scale.
If soils have become polluted, remediation will need to take place, which could include removing not only the polluted earth but much of the surrounding topsoil. This leaves a clean canvas for new soil building.
Something as simple as starting a compost pile in your backyard or community garden can make a substantial difference with a relatively minimal effort. Bins can be managed in apartments or large backyard pits; with worms or with natural heat-based decomposition – it’s a flexible process! All sorts of foods and scraps make good compost material including:
- Fruit and veggie peels and tops
- Grass clippings
- Raked leaves
- Teabags and coffee grounds
- Hair and fingernail clippings
- Rice and other grains
The soil you create can be given to friends, capitalized on in your own garden, or simply spread out across the neighborhood. Aside from improving the soil, you’re also helping to reduce the incredible amount of food waste that goes to the landfill every year and doing a small part to reduce the impacts of climate change. It is also the type of activity that can easily involve children and contribute to helpful environmental education topics.
The loss of soil is a very real and concerning problem that is currently facing the entire world. Billions of dollars and lost production come from soil loss as well as a reduction in the quality and number of nutrients found in the foods we eat. Though the problem is severe, small things such as composting and doing your best to conserve soils where you can are great steps in the right direction.