NU­TRI­TION from the ground up

A speaker ap­pear­ing at the Healthy Liv­ing Show this week main­tains that the se­cret to good health lies in the soil in which our food is grown.

Element - - Nutrition - by Re­becca Rei­der

We’ve all heard “you are what you eat,” but Graeme Sait takes a more un­der­ground view of it than most. Lit­er­ally. The health of our soils is in­ti­mately con­nected to the health of our peo­ple, he says – and it’s time for mod­ern agri­cul­ture to step up its game.

A globe-trot­ting health and agri­cul­ture ex­pert from Aus­tralia, Sait will speak at the Healthy Liv­ing Show in Auck­land as he em­barks on a teach­ing tour in New Zealand. Sait has made a ca­reer prob­ing the links be­tween what’s hap­pen­ing to hu­man health and what’s hap­pen­ing in the ground.

“There should be 74 min­er­als in healthy soils,” Sait says. But stan­dard farm­ing prac­tices “are putting back only NPK” (ni­tro­gen, phos­pho­rus and po­tas­sium). By slip­ping up on the bal­ance of soil el­e­ments, we are com­pro­mis­ing our own health, he as­serts.

Typ­i­cal mod­ern fer­tilis­ers don’t give plants the full suite of min­er­als they need. These un­der­nour­ished crops be­come vul­ner­a­ble to pests and dis­eases, he ar­gues. The re­sult: not only do you get nu­tri­tion­ally in­com­plete food, but more syn­thetic pes­ti­cides are used on that food, end­ing up on your din­ner plate, and “as­sault­ing your im­mune sys­tem,” he says.

There you have a per­fect storm, Graeme Sait ar­gues, a recipe for the chronic dis­ease epi­demics be­ing seen now even in the “rich” coun­tries, from di­a­betes to can­cer.

Sait cites a re­cent ma­jor World Health Or­gan­i­sa­tion study on hu­man health. “They didn’t find a sin­gle dis­ease that didn’t have a nu­tri­tion link,” he says. While many peo­ple in poor coun­tries suf­fer from ‘type A’ mal­nu­tri­tion (not enough food), the study con­cluded that eco­nom­i­cally well-off peo­ple still suf­fer from ‘type B’ mal­nu­tri­tion: a crit­i­cal lack of the right vi­ta­mins and min­er­als.

Key trace el­e­ments such as se­le­nium, mag­ne­sium and zinc run short in to­day’s agri­cul­tural soils. Aus­tralia and New Zealand’s soils reg­is­ter among the world’s low­est se­le­nium lev­els in par­tic­u­lar. Se­le­nium is cru­cial to a healthy im­mune sys­tem. So is zinc; and zinc de­fi­ciency, which is now the norm in adults, is also linked to prostate can­cer. As for mag­ne­sium, Sait calls it “the mas­ter min­eral” be­cause

“The home gar­den be­comes the ul­ti­mate well­ness tool.”

it is in­volved in so many sys­tems in our bod­ies.

Other con­ven­tional farm­ing prac­tices im­pact our nu­tri­tional in­take in un­ex­pected ways that are still com­ing to light. For ex­am­ple, re­cent re­search has shown that the widely used weed­killer glyphosate is not just more poi­sonous than pre­vi­ously thought; it also blocks the soil bi­o­log­i­cal pro­cesses that help plants take up iron and man­ganese. Sait won­ders if its use is linked to com­mon iron de­fi­cien­cies in hu­mans, and whether man­ganese de­fi­ciency, which af­fects the mi­to­chon­dria (the “en­ergy fac­to­ries” in our cells), could be stok­ing an epi­demic of chronic fa­tigue. It’s all con­nected.

Sait does not just talk about the prob­lems, how­ever. He’s also on a mis­sion to teach peo­ple to op­ti­mise their health, from the ground up. In many cases, he says, tak­ing sup­ple­ments may be nec­es­sary to get back to the lev­els you need. Rather than blindly down­ing min­eral pills, he rec­om­mends “in­formed nu­tri­tion,” us­ing hair anal­y­sis test­ing, for ex­am­ple, to dis­cover if you are lack­ing par­tic­u­lar nu­tri­ents.

Healthy food alone may not be enough to cor­rect your health im­me­di­ately if you’re al­ready ex­tremely de­fi­cient. But, ul­ti­mately, Sait be­lieves, food should be our medicine. His sem­i­nars fo­cus on teach­ing peo­ple to grow what he calls “nu­tri­ent dense” food. And it’s not just for farm­ers. “The home gar­den be­comes the ul­ti­mate well­ness tool,” he says.

Buy­ing or­ganic food is a start to­ward healthy eat­ing, but not a to­tal so­lu­tion, from this “nu­tri­ent den­sity” per­spec­tive. Al­though or­ganic food is gen­er­ally free from syn­thetic pes­ti­cides, no food is guar­an­teed to har­bour the full suite of min­er­als, so the best way is to grow your own. Sait ad­vo­cates test­ing your gar­den soil, and un­der­stand­ing how to achieve min­eral bal­ance in it.

De­spite the state of things, Graeme Sait is a hope­ful man. He’s just re­turned from trips to South Africa and the U.S., where he’s been meet­ing with ma­jor su­per­mar­ket chains and large food com­pa­nies who are keen to use his nu­tri­ent-dense food pro­duc­tion strate­gies. “We’re get­ting such large crowds and in­ter­est,” he says.

Be­low: Weed­killers block the soil bi­o­log­i­cal pro­cesses that help plants take up iron and man­ganese.

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