Nutrient Density - - - It’s for Real!

by Gary Kline


We are hearing a lot of talk these days about nutrient density in foods. That’s a good thing.  It’s also something I’ve talked about for several years.  Finally, the logic and good sense deductions have reached a critical mass for this concept to take hold and move us to a level of greater general and individual health.  Plus, it fits in with everything else we need to do for planetary health and sustainability.


But though there is lots of talk about nutrient density, who is doing studies to demonstrate that the correct and full fertilization of croplands and gardens actually brings about the intended rise of mineral content in our foods, be they vegetables, fruits, meat or dairy products?  Is the actual connection being proven?


Well, one person at least, if only in a small way, has done a garden trial over the course of three years fertilization with actual measurement of the change in nutrient minerals in a crop he grows.  I’ll come back to the story and results of this small study after doing a broader inquiry into the relationship of plant nutrition (especially minerals) to human health and happiness.  The whole spectrum, from soil to plant to animal to human health, needs to be understood as a system and appreciated as such.  We have to get the system set up right.  As I have noted on numerous occasions, the mere stamp of “organic” is no guarantee of nutritional quality.  The question we need to ask growers is, “Got minerals?”.


Dr. Weston A. Price, in his monumental 1939 classic, Nutrition and Physical Degeneration (pp. 274-6), pointed out a stark difference between primitives living on their native food and modern “civilized” people eating their civilized diet of processed, denatured and deficient foods.  He showed that the primitives consumed a conservative minimum of five times as much of most or all the minerals essential to optimal health.  To quote the salient sentence:


“It is of interest that the diets of the primitive groups which have shown a very high immunity to dental caries and freedom from other degenerative processes have all provided a nutrition containing at least four times these minimum requirements.”


Price then proceeded to give the actual measured mineral content of four nutrients (plus fat soluble vitamins) in 12 populations he studied in countries all around the world, plus two minerals in Eskimos and Canadian Indians.  The average figures ranged from 5.1 to 17.4 times the U.S. Department of Labor’s minimums times two.  You can be sure most Americans did not, and do not, get the minimums.  Might this explain much of America’s rapid rise in degenerative diseases?


Another interesting and profound finding of Price, as well as by McCarrison’s study of rat diets and behavior and that of Pottenger with cats, was that inadequate diet greatly affected behavior and sociability.  The healthier and better fed the humans (plus rats and cats) were the happiest and most gentle.  The healthy Hunzas, initially brought to prominence by McCarrison, were real world evidence of that principle.  Sadly, that is now past-tense.  Civilization finally got to them.


All three of the above-named investigators established, unmistakably, that animals (and humans) fed unnatural, inferior and deficient diets tended to suffer debilitating and even hideous deformities, various diseases and reproductive abnormalities, impotency, weaklings or still-births.  What is more, the most poorly nourished became aggressive, anti-social and vicious.


How much of the aggression, hostility and violence seen today can actually be laid to malnourishment as a major factor?  Not just mere “food”, but genuine nourishment with nutrient-dense foods, to the exclusion of junk food and empty foods, could go a long way toward bringing about social tranquility and world peace.  Amazingly, it has also been shown that hostile behavior, as well as reproductive impotency, can be reversed through proper feeding.  Dr. William Albrecht demonstrated this in rabbit feeding studies. The savage beast might, indeed, be soothable.  Thus, if we fed our prison community well, there would be fewer returns and the extra cost would be money well spent.


Back to that gardener’s nutrition study I mentioned.  Bob Levinson is a retired soil and materials engineer who took a particular interest in the notion that proper feeding and soil mineralization could produce foods of superior nutritional quality, health and disease resistance.  Bob is also a Master Gardener and wants to help popularize this little-regarded health notion.  But he went further than most of us, starting with garlic and now the Berlotti bean.  For the past three years Bob has sent his beans in to a lab for analysis of their nutrient mineral content.  The results and the trend with increasing soil fertility has been clear and rather astounding.  Beginning with 2013 and now 2014, every nutrient, except nitrogen, copper and zinc, in 2014, went up, and often dramatically.  See for yourself.  The results are presented below.


Mineral Nutrient Analyses of Berlotti Beans


Responses to Three Years of Treatment in the Garden of Bob Levinson on San Juan Island







Mg/100 g

Mg/100 g

Mg/100 g

Nitrogen (N) *




Phosphorus (P)




Calcium (Ca)




Magnesium (Mg)




Potassium (K)




Boron (B)




Manganese (Mn)




Copper (Cu)




Zinc (Zn)




Iron (Fe)





* Nitrogen is a non-mineral, but essential in the making of proteins (which sometimes are assessed separately).  The main nutrient decline in this chart was the reading for nitrogen in 2014, which went back to the 2012 level. 


Copper went down slightly and zinc substantially, so these should be added for next year’s garden.  We need to know ideal levels for each mineral. 


Over the course of three years Bob fertilized with BLOOM No. 3 (Garden Essentials), a little lime, some compost, foliar sprayings of Sea-Crop minerals, and, significantly, charcoal (biochar?) pre-soaked in dilute Sea-Crop to pre-charge it.  Exact quantities are not known, but the proof seems to be in the pudding.



Now that we have some accurately measured numbers to work with, a number of perplexing questions arise for which I will try to give answers by way of explaining how plants and their nutrition works, as I understand it.


We know that modern Americans, because of their diet and the declining state of our agricultural soils, are woefully deficient in practically every known mineral nutrient, and this has serious consequences.  It follows that more of practically every mineral is needed, but is a random increase in all of them a good thing?  Can some be overdone and do they all need to be in some optimum ratio or proportion to one another to be in the right relation to our physiological needs? 


I think the answer to both those questions is yes, but how do we know what the maximum or optimum level needs to be in our bodies?  What are the optimum proportions to reach nutrient balance for minerals, but also for vitamins, amino acids and numerous other nutrient forms?  We have many answers when it comes to plant nutrition.  The answers to these questions for humans are probably out there, but I don’t have them.  We can’t go by the USDA recommended minimums.  Nevertheless, I strongly suspect that if we get mineral balance and mineral density right in our foods, we are three-quarters of the way to taking care of the whole system, which then automatically takes care of us, as long as we eat intelligently and from both animal and plant sources - - - the way we started out two million years ago.  As I used to say in college (c. 1960), “Back to the cave!”.


Here’s another perplexing question or quandary.  We know that many animals, notably cows, are able to instantly detect which food stuffs are “right” or best for them, nutritionally and healthwise.  When missing a certain nutrient mineral, they often have a strong craving or hidden hunger and will go to desperate lengths to satisfy it.  They will eat to satiation, and then maybe leave it alone for a while.  We humans evidently have lost that instinctual ability, but what about plants?  Do plants know what they need or lack and if they are offered a banquet of nutrients, will they pick just what they need (and only what they need) to balance their internal chemistry and physiology? 


I think the answer to that question is no.  Plants do not have the ability to pick and choose soil nutrients according to their physiological needs.  If it is not there, we must supply any given deficient nutrient in the right form and quantity to achieve optimum growth characteristics and nutritional health.  But when we have done that, usually with the aid of a professional soil test and analysis, we likely have achieved maximum nutrient density and nourishment value for ourselves.  I say that because it makes sense; it fits with everything else in the total picture of natural health as worked out by eons of natural selection and ecosystem functioning and feedback.  What doesn’t work eventually gets weeded out.  What works best goes to the head of the class.  The ideal soil gives the ideal crop to give us ideal nutrition.


Where is the evidence for my “no” answer?  Plant roots go searching for nutrition, but I don’t think they can search out specific nutrients or select the right amount for their particular need of the moment.  I suspect plants are essentially indiscriminant feeders.  They will take up whatever they run into and are able to extract from the soil.  This sometimes means taking up toxic levels that kill them, or us.


How else could we explain luxury consumption where a plant takes up way more nitrogen for its needs with detrimental consequences for its health?  Why else would a plant take up far too much potassium when it needs calcium and consequently have this be injurious to our health if that is our steady diet?  A plant that is deficient in some mineral is going to be sub-par in health and sub-par as nourishment for animals or humans that feed on it.  And the plant, on its own, can do nothing about and likely has no “awareness” of, its need.  It simply suffers and, if it is weak enough, nutritionally, it is all but certain to be attacked by pests and vulnerable to disease agents.  Modern agriculture has yet to make use of this obvious fact.


When a plant is in perfect health, this is a reflection of highest nutrient density and it will be immune to diseases and pest attacks.  As a rule it will also taste best and have the best keeping quality.  That may not be 100% true, but I’d be willing to bet it’s in the 90th percentile.  There are parallels to our own nutritional operation, but they aren’t exact as between the animal and plant kingdoms.  After all, we are arguably more intelligent than plants, and we have different roles and jobs to do in maintaining the system that has been set up.  When we understand what that system is and how it works, we are able to keep it well maintained.  There’s able, and then there’s willing. 



© 2014 Gary L. Kline

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