CORRECTION: Read This Before You Eat Corn This Summer


Turns out the radiation bit is not true.  The New York Times reported Sunday that this was an error.  Thank goodness!

I may never eat corn again.  According to a story in today's New York Times Sunday Review, the supersweet corn I wait anxiously for every summer was born in a cloud of radiation.

Jo Robinson writes that we are "breeding the nutrition out of our food."

As farmers and scientists try to make our food more tasty, they're often breeding out the very nutrients that make it good for us, she reports.

Corn originally started out more bitter, with kernels you had to crack open with a hammer, and farmers and others started mucking around with it to come up with a more tasty version.  More on that later.

Robinson says it didn't just happen with corn.  She notes that while we're all being told to eat more fruit and vegetables, a lot of the very good stuff we're supposed to get just isn't there anymore.  She gives corn as an example.  "Unwittingly, we have been stripping phytonutrients from our diet since we stopped foraging for wild plants some 10,000 years ago and became farmers," Robinson relates.

These phytonutrients are what protect us against diabetes, heart disease, cancer and dementia.  And they're slowly being overridden by our desire for sweeter, better-tasting food.  Robinson says in her article that each fruit and vegetable in our stores has a unique history of nutrient loss.

With corn, geneticists as far back as the 1920s began exposing seeds to radiation to learn more about "the normal arrangement of plant genes."  They "mutated the seeds by exposing them to X-rays, toxic compounds, cobalt radiation and then, in the 1940s, to blasts of atomic radiation."

A scientist was studying kernels made from these seeds and popped a few into his mouth, startled at how sweet they were.  "A blast of radiation had turned the corn into a sugar factory!" Robinson writes.

Yesterday The New York Times ran a correction for the story on corn.  Turns out corn was never exposed to radiation (wonder where that came from)? to make it sweeter.  Thanks, readers!

So here begins the nutrient-weakening story of corn.  The sweetest varieties of this corn are almost 40% sugar. (Just what we need, huh?)

But boy, does it taste good!  And this is happening (just not with radiation) to a lot of our fruits and vegetables, Robinson asserts.  Slowly, to make them more palatable to our taste buds, we are rinsing them of their nutrients.

Robinson says there are still some vegetables that retain their original bounty of these compounds, naming arugula and scallions as two. But you can only live so long on lettuce and onions!

Robinson points out that the USDA "exerts far more effort developing disease-resistant fruits and vegetables than creating new varieties to enhance the disease resistance of consumers." She notes on the side that she's talked to several USDA plant breeders who have spent years developing a new kind of pear and carrot without once figuring out what the nutrition value is.

So, what do we do?  There's not a whole lot, according to Robinson.  Still eat your fruits and vegetables. But consider getting more nutrients from vitamins or supplements, I guess.


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