The Health Cost of Higher Yields

Americans typically like things big, beefy, and super-sized. We even have our own tagline of “American size portions” to show our preferred humongous portion sizes. This mentality breeds the “bigger is better” belief, but when it comes to crop yield and our health that may not be the case.

Farmers rely on this mentality of more is better because a bigger yield and a bigger harvest equals a bigger profit. How could they not when the people and the government drive crop market prices so low that today’s farmers strive to make a living or to even just break even, unless they have hundreds if not thousands of acres.

Low prices happen when we let others drive the value of what our products are worth, and ultimately define what our worth is. You may be rolling your eyes and thinking what the heck does this person know. Well I have a unique perspective and background where I feel I see things from a deeper view.

I have a B.S. degree in Human Nutrition and Dietetics with a minor in Plant and Soil Science. I’ve been farming since 2013, been health coaching since 2016, and have been managing the laboratory research and development of an agriculture company since 2016 specifically testing a variety of microbes and understanding their relationship with various nutrients, fertilizers, organic and inorganic products. I work daily on how human, crop, and soil health best function.

Everyday I learn more and more on how soil life and health impacts human life and human health. I have found that how we treat our own bodies and our health has a direct connection with how we treat our soil and our soil health.

For example, I have found taking a microbial mix of over a dozen microbes and combine it with processed sugars (you can find in many processed foods we eat), two massive species of bacteria result. These two species are present and dominate the human gut making current antibiotics useless. These make crops look beefier, but because microbial diversity is lost it also loses its ability to uptake optimal levels of nutrients, if at all, to become a nutrient-dense product.

This may sound strange but let me explain how it works in other life forms, say humans.

If you constantly give someone candy bars, donuts, Oreos, processed breads, and whatever foods with processed sugars, what happens?

They become large, overweight, beefy and sturdy looking individuals, and if you were to weigh them for their worth like we do with crop yields then the bigger they are the more value and more money they are worth. Right?

Yet with what we know about obesity and beefier individuals, we know a lot of health risks come with that weight including, but not limited to: chronic pain, heart disease, cancer, diabetes, digestive issues such as IBS and constipation. Having more weight than is needed causes more disease, ill health, and stress on the body.

Overweight individuals actually have an impairment to their digestive system from usually more than one source. Processed sugars are just one thing, but add other process foods, man-made chemicals, toxins, overconsumption of meat, emotional and physical stress from our past and daily lives, the constant pressure to take on more things all the time combines a lethal dose where our lives and that of our children are less than the generation before us.

Our bodies are just not made for the world we have created.

The same effect is happening to our crops and our soils. When we place the pressure for big yields, rather than a better, nutrient-dense yield, we push away from the need for and the integrity of health.

What Experts Say about Nutrient-Density of Foods

It is well known among experts that the quality of our crops is decreasing. In 2004, the Journal of the American College of Nutrition released a study which compared nutrient content of crops at that time with 1950 levels. Declines were found as high as 40%. (1)

Dr. Donald Davis, lead researcher for the study, offers one explanation for the dramatic declines:

Another source shows, when comparing the USDA food tables between 1963 and 1998, Wallach reports that:

  • Crops whose harvesting practices have not changed historically showed stable vitamin and mineral content over the years.

  • By contrast, significant reductions in vitamin and mineral content were consistently present in crops that are produced by more intensive, industrialized farming practices. (3)

Even modern nitrogen-based fertilizers have a tendency to make crops bulkier, yet nutrient poor. Mother Earth News interviewed agricultural expert Charles Benbrook, Ph.D., who explained the phenomenon:

The effect is one of which is beneficial to the producer, but not the consumer. Consumers pay more for heavier, water-laden produce that contains less vitamins and minerals.

Agricultural industry emphasizes those fertilizers that improve the “look” of the harvest, and not the actual nutritional value of the produce itself.

  • It IS possible to produce healthy-looking plants with low content of vitamins and minerals.

  • The actual nutrient content of produce grown today is drastically lower than in pre-industrial times, and varies widely depending on farming practices, quality of soil, and storage and transportation methods.

  • Food tables are at best averages, and there are no current regulations that require testing or monitoring of nutritional content of produce or meat sources.

The Issue Isn’t Producing More

We already produce enough to feed 10 billion people, we are currently at 7.6 billion people, more than enough food to feed everyone on the planet. How it is distributed and being mindful of how much food we throw away are things we need to workout in ensuring everyone is cared for.

What we actually need

We need to place more value on nutrient-density. Nutrient-density is what translates to better health for the soil, plants, humans and all life on the planet. We need to start measuring, eating, and paying for quality of foods and how it optimizes our health on a cellular level. We need to charge more for the effort it takes to grow nutrient-dense foods and give farmers a living wage to sustain a livelihood, so they can better concentrate on providing the health we need to function at healthy levels.

What You Can Do

Achieving better health for everyone and the planet is to concentrate on taking responsibility for your own health. You are the only one who can control what you consume for your body. If we all decide to start focusing on nutrient-density our farm fields and health would change drastically. So here are some things you can do to start building more nutrient-dense foods:

  1. EAT mostly whole, plant-based foods

  2. SOURCE as much food from local farmers and organic foods (can and freeze foods when they are in season to eat throughout the year)

  3. BUY local, organic, non-GMO foods

  4. GROW your own food using practices that promote nutrient-dense foods

  5. VOLUNTEER your time on a sustainable organic farm

  6. ASK your local farmer if their food is produced for nutrient-density, ask them if they would change to prioritizing nutrient-density. Farmers change their supply practices only when the consumer changes their demand.

If health is a struggle for you and you are at a crossroad where you need more support in your health journey, you can make an appointment on my online scheduler here:

to schedule a time and see how I may be able to help solve your current health issues.


(1)Davis D, Epp M, Riordan H. Changes in USDA Food Composition Data for 43 Garden Crops, 1950 to 1999. Journal of the American College of Nutrition. 2004;23(6):669-682. Available at: Accessed August 22, 2018.

(2)Study suggests nutrient decline in garden crops over past 50 years. University of Texas at Austin. 2004. Available at: Accessed August 22, 2018.

(3)Wallach, J. Our Food is Deprived of minerals: the Proof. Longevity Institute Newsletter. 2006; Newsletter 16. Available at: Accessed August 22, 2018.

(4)Long C, Keiley L. Is Agribusiness Making Food Less Nutritious? Mother Earth News. July 2004. Available at: Accessed August 22, 2018.


Ariel Zimmerlein is a Holistic Health Coach and Farmer. She uses her B.S. in Human Nutrition and Dietetics and her lifetime learning and experience with chronic illness and childhood trauma to empower others to live life fully regardless of the circumstances they have been given. She runs her farm, AZ Farm and Wellness, and loves to grow food for its inner and outer healing benefits.

She focuses her practice on nutrition, stress, with special interest in mental/emotional health. She serves those with chronic health conditions who are challenged by pain, isolation, depression, and anxiety.

Visit her at to learn more.

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