What your food eats is directly linked to the nutritional value of the food you eat. That’s the conclusion of a preliminary comparison study between regenerative and conventional farming practices, recently published in the science journal PeerJ.
Researchers used several independent comparisons for the study, all of which indicate regenerative farming practices enhance the nutritional profiles of crops and livestock. It featured measurements from paired farms across the United States to determine differences in soil health and crop nutrient density between fields worked with conventional (synthetically fertilized and herbicide-treated) or regenerative practices for 5 -10 years.
“Specifically, regenerative farms that combined no-till, cover crops, and diverse rotations—a regenerative system known as conservation agriculture—produced crops with higher soil organic matter levels, soil health scores, and levels of certain vitamins, minerals, and phytochemicals,” said David Montgomery, Ph.D., one of the study’s principal authors. “In addition, crops from two regenerative no-till vegetable farms, one in California and the other in Connecticut, had higher levels of phytochemicals than values reported previously from New York supermarkets.”
A comparison of wheat from adjacent cover-cropped and conventional no-till fields in northern Oregon also found a higher density of mineral micronutrients in the regenerative crop.
“We’ve known for years that regeneratively grown products are superior in taste and we’ve also suspected there is a direct correlation between food grown in healthy soil and improved nutrient density,” said Allen Williams, Ph.D., a partner with the regenerative consulting firm, Understanding Ag, LLC, (UA). Williams and his colleagues at UA provided recommendations and guidance to several of the regenerative farms in the study.
“This study is a first and important step in validating and quantifying that linkage—and provides yet another regenerative farming benefit,” Williams said.
The study also compared nutrients in meat from animals that consume plants grown in healthy soil to those of conventionally produced meats. Researchers found higher levels of omega-3 fats and a more health-beneficial ratio of omega-6 to omega-3 fats in regeneratively grown meat.
“Despite small sample sizes, all three crop comparisons show differences in micronutrient and phytochemical concentrations that suggest soil health is an underappreciated influence on nutrient density, particularly for phytochemicals not conventionally considered nutrients but nonetheless relevant to chronic disease prevention,” Montgomery said.
Researchers also discovered regenerative grazing practices produced meat with a better fatty acid profile than conventional and regional health-promoting brands.
“Together, these comparisons offer preliminary support for the conclusion that regenerative soil-building farming practices can enhance the nutritional profile of conventionally grown plant and animal foods,” Montgomery said.
Data from the study is part of the research for an upcoming book, What Your Food Ate: How to Heal Our Land and Reclaim Our Health, authored by Montgomery and Anne Biklé. Published by W.W. Norton.