As if we needed another reason to save our beloved planet, new research is showing that rising carbon dioxide levels in the atmosphere are adversely impacting the nutritional value of our fruits and vegetables. That’s right, the veggies we’re eating now aren’t as healthy as they were a century ago. Are we eating all this kale for nothing?
How does something like climate change effect the nutrients inside a plant, you ask?
Think back to grade five science. Plants use the process of photosynthesis to convert the carbon dioxide in the atmosphere into food and oxygen. That ‘food’ consists of sugars and starches which make up part of the plant. With the increased C02 levels in the atmosphere, plants are working overtime to use it all. That means they’re producing more sugar and starch than they need, leaving less room for them to house more nutritious stuff like protein and minerals.
Scientists have been predicting this for years and the numbers become increasingly concerning with the increase in carbon dioxide concentration. As far back as 2014, a study in Nature called C02 a ‘threat to human nutrition’ and singled out zinc and iron as minerals that are diminishing in grains and legumes in particular. Another, published in the same year, had similar findings.
A more recent study published by Harvard last week finds similar decreases in plant protein. They suggest that plants’ protein levels can drop by up to eight per cent when grown in environments with higher C02 concentrations. The study goes so far as to warn that some sub-Saharan African countries and south Asian countries will face protein deficiency challenges as the century progresses. If levels continue to rise, 18 countries will lose more than five per cent of their dietary protein by 2050.
According to the lead researcher on one of the 2014 studies, Irakli Loladze, there isn’t much to be done other than stop the rise of C02 in the atmosphere. As we’ve all discussed ad nauseam, the only way to combat the effects of climate change is to address how we treat the planet and decrease our carbon footprint.
‘As CO2 concentrations keep rising, you’ll be adding more and more [sugar and starch to plants],’ Loladze said, ‘And that will happen in every corner of the world because CO2 concentrations affect every plant and every field.’
Talk about an inconvenient truth.