New research ties regenerative farming practices to improved human health and nutrition.
New research has made the case that soil health is inextricably connected to human health.
Research conducted at Rodale Institute and abroad have shown that soil health and farming practices can have a direct impact on the benefits we receive from food.
Here’s what researchers found:
1. Management Matters
Ergothioneine (“ergo”) is a naturally occurring antioxidant that may reduce the risk of neurodegenerative diseases like Alzheimer’s. Ergo is found in many common foods, but the highest levels are in mushrooms, since it is only created by fungi-like bacteria in soil.
Results from Rodale Institute’s Farming Systems Trial, the longest running comparison of organic vs. conventional farming practices in North America, have also found high levels of ergo in no-till oats. Oats from no-till plots were found to consistently have higher ergo levels (as well as high vitamin B3 and beta glucans) than plots that are consistently tilled.
Why is this significant? The presence of this important antioxidant in the food chain depends on healthy fungal networks in soils, many of which are destroyed in industrial farming through fungicide use and tillage. Tillage breaks up the soil and underground networks, destroying critical fungal systems that contribute to ergo in food. As industrial farming continues to degrade the soil, we are losing vital nutrients that protect against some of the most harmful diseases of our generation.
2. Cardiovascular Health
Another groundbreaking study found that increased consumption of ergothioneine not only maintains neurological health, but also correlates with lower risk of cardiovascular problems.
A study from Britain in 2019 showed that a diet rich in ergothioneine demonstrated a decreased risk of health issues like coronary artery disease, stroke, and more.
These studies showcase the wide range of health benefits that are being forfeited when we degrade soils and why regenerative organic and no-till agriculture are key to healing people and the planet.
3. Quality Over Quantity
While the reduction of disease is an important area of human health, nutrition is also critical.
New data from the Farming Systems Trial in 2019 found higher levels of essential amino acids in organic wheat, regardless of tillage practices.
Amino acids are the building blocks of protein, which is essential to human nutrition and health. Some amino acids are more essential to human absorption than others.
While further analysis is required in order to draw conclusions on the quality of the protein in organic wheat, this data shows that the nutrients in food may be impacted by farming practices.
Contrary to many critiques that organic agriculture can’t feed the word, when combined with previous data on organic yields, this data suggest that organic can not only produce a comparable quantities of food, but could also produce a commodity that is of higher nutritional quality than conventional products.
Our food thrives in healthy soil that is teeming with life—microbes, bacteria, fungi, and much more. When we disrupt the soil microbiome with chemicals or tillage, we also disrupt the important pathways that deliver health benefits to our food. Research like Rodale Institute’s Farming Systems Trial, Vegetable Systems Trial, and others are working to provide concrete evidence that if we want to lead healthy lives, we need to protect the health of our soil.