Do modern fruits and vegetables contain nothing but "sugar and water"?

I got cornered earlier this week by someone who was insisting that there was no point in eating fruits or vegetables because the ones that we can get to eat contain nothing but “sugar and water” (their phrase).

Their argument went something like this. Fruits and vegetables used to produce “good stuff” (again, their phrase) because they needed it to protect the plant against insects, fungus, diseases and the like. But, since all of our fruits and vegetables today are treated with insecticide, fungicides and antibiotics, they have no need to produce the “good stuff” on their own and so don’t contain any. Someone asked about organic fruits and vegetables and they responded that even organic farming uses substances that function as insecticides, fungicides and so on and so had the same problem. (They also spent some time claiming that the FDA knows all this but covers it up so that the doctors they support can continue to make money off of us getting sick but I had pretty much tuned out by that point.)

Of course, this person was trying to sell us a nutritional supplement (and an MLM distribution scheme to go with it) so my skepticism is running pretty high.

Now, my reaction is that a strawberry or whatever is going to produce whatever substances it is genetically programmed to produce in pretty much any circumstances and that a healthy plant has got to produce better fruit than a bug-eaten, moldy or diseased one. On the other hand, I do know that we have to be exposed to something before we will produce antibodies against it but have no idea if that concept relates to this argument or not. Also, my wife knows the person in question and insists that they wouldn’t be pushing the stuff unless they were pretty convinced of what they were saying and were getting some benefit from it themselves.

So, is there anything to their argument? I’m thinking that they are maybe drastically overstating a possible effect, but I’m an engineer not a biologist. Anyone with some real knowledge in these areas have any input?

Your friend doesn’t understand how biology works. This is, I think, a version of Lamarckian biology-- that organisms acquire or lose traits by use or lack of use. So, is your friend saying that modern oranges have no Vitamin C? That modern carrots have no carotene (if not, what makes them orange)?

Fruit contains nutritious tasty stuff precisely because that way it’ll be eaten by birds etc, which will also eat the seeds and excrete them somewhere where they’ll grow into new fruit plants. It has nothing to do with protecting the plant against anything.

On the other hand, tobacco leaves are full of toxins for exactly this reason - in its natural environment the tobacco plant has to ward off a whole host of potential predators. But this doesn’t make tobacco healthy to humans - just the reverse, in fact.

Some loss of nutrition might be a by-product of breeding vegetables and fruits for size and sturdiness, rather than flavor. It’s not too much of a stretch to think that a small, tender, dark red farmer’s market strawberry has more good stuff in it than a large, pale, styrofoamy supermarket berry.

Fruits and vegetables do have sugars and water to varying degrees. The sugars are more complex than processed sugar. The digest more slowly so are more likely to be used as energy than stored as fat.
Fruits and vegetables also have vitamins and minerals that we assimilate better than we do pills. And they have all important fiber, which is especially important in preventing colon cancer.

Good lord, what an idiot. There are perfectly reasonable sounding scare tactics around the vitamin and mineral content of food - no reason to make up ridiculous stories to sell supplements.

Try, instead: fruits and vegetables are bred for longevity, durability and looks, not nutritional content. Why do supermarket tomatoes taste so awful? Because they’re bred to be bruise resistant and picked when they’re not ripe, then sprayed with a chemical that turns them orangey-red, but doesn’t “ripen” them in any real sense. We all know about tomatoes, but peaches don’t taste like peaches anymore, strawberries don’t taste like strawberries, snozzberries don’t taste like snozzberries…

Or: Fruits and veggies start to lose many of their nutrients as soon as they are picked (they didn’t evolve to hold on to them, see, since they’re “meant” to be eaten on the spot by birds and animals, and sellers don’t particularly care to breed them to hold onto their nutrients after picking - they’re more interested in appearance). The produce in your local market has probably been sitting in a warehouse or on a truck for months before you eat it - sometimes years, in the case of root vegetables. After all that time, there’s a fraction of the nutrient value left in it.

Or even: Modern farming practices deplete the soil of many of its nutrients. If the nutrients aren’t in the soil, they can’t be put into the produce. Commercial farmers add fertilizers to the soil, sure, but we really don’t know every important trace element that every plant has, and we’re probably missing some, or using versions that are not very bioavailable to either the plant or our bodies.

But, the last I knew, plants’ fungicides, insecticides, et al, weren’t vitamins and minerals - they’re generally alkaloids and essential oils. While alkaloids have other fun properties like being hallucinogens, they aren’t vitamins and minerals.

Just sugar and water, huh? What about the cellulose, can’t we count that in too?

Maybe your friend meant that modern fruits and vegetables are lacking in the protein that used to be found in them due to various bugs, worms or whatever. :slight_smile:

The problem with supermarket produce is more likely to be associated with extra stuff it might have (chemical additives, pesticide residue, etc.) rather than a lack of nutritional value. As long as the stuff isn’t rotting, it’s going to be reasonably good for you. There is an argument to made that if you don’t get fresh produce, you’re often better getting produce that is frozen on site, and then using it immediately after thawing. But now we’re getting down to diminishing returns.

The person was talking out of his (her?) butt in order to get you to buy stuff.

If she’s selling, then this comes under the category of ‘she got told a story to sell and she believes it.’ The fact that she’s willing to believe the story in order to make a sale does not make it true. It just means she’s not picky about her facts. The fact that she feels better now that she’s selling a nutritional supplement may have nothing at all to do with the supplement and everything to do with the excitement of the story and selling and being sold. 'Cause if she’s selling a distribution scheme, it’s one that someone else is selling to her. Being sold a scheme is a lot like being courted. It can be quite a tonic.

Years? I think that’s a bit of an exaggeration.

When I worked in a potato chip factory, there was a ‘dry’ time each year when potatoes were in short supply – it went from about mid-January until April. That was the time when the last of the Red River Valley potatoes that had been stored since Fall were used up, and the early crops from places like Florida & California had not come in yet. (It’s a real bitch to make your way thru a Minnesota snowstorm to get to work, only to be sent home after 2 hours because they’ve run out of potatoes.) If potatoes could be stored for ‘years’, I’m sure the company would have done so during good years, to avoid this crisis each winter.

And working at the nation’s largest wholesale food distributor, I remember visiting a produce center in the Spring, and being surprised to see a small room full of cases of apples, kept chilled and in the dark, which had been picked last Fall. The workers told me that the whole place had been full last Fall, and these were the last of the Fall apples, and would be going out to stores around Easter time. Nothing was said about keeping any vegetables longer than a few months, not years. Even the markers on the bins were labeled in months, with no way to indicate years, so I can’t see them storing produce for years.

Also, this was a few years ago, before the extensive import & transport of produce. Now, with southern hemisphere produce from places like Chili & New Zealand showing up in local supermarkets during winter, it seems like there would be even less storage of local season produce happening.

Thanks all, it sounds like my first first reaction was more or less accurate.

WhyNot - I’ve heard the same things you mention and agree that if they had taken that line of reasoning then I might have listened to them a bit more closely, but it actually seemed that she was avoiding that topic since she was trying to convince us that organic and natural produce was just as bad. (One of the points she kept pushing was that the core of their product was harvested from wild plants growing in the Amazon (to which they somehow had exclusive access, naturally) so that if we wanted any actual benefit from anything we ate we would have to get their product.)

Yllaria - The person in question was in a very serious auto accident a while back and was in physical therapy for a while. They have only recently gotten back to the point where they can walk without a cane and are crediting this product with “letting them walk again”. (Apparently physical therapy and natural healing don’t count for anything.) Of course, they use a homeopath as their primary physician so who knows.

She also claimed that the stuff had helped cure everything from cancer to MS in other people but quickly added that “we can’t officially say that though because this is just a nutritional supplement, not a drug”.

As a side note, the reason I’m concerned about this is that my wife seems to be buying into it. She actually bought a month’s supply of the stuff (which definitely isn’t cheap). I’ve tried explaining that while I agree that we could probably do better with what we eat, we could probably get just as good if not more benefit simply by picking up an extra pack or two of strawberries and oranges every week, but her response was that I’m “too cynical” and “don’t want to believe anything”. But, that’s not a topic for GQ.

Anyway, thanks for the feedback everyone.

The “stuff” plants use to protect themselves against insects etc. is bad stuff, very very bad stuff. If indeed it was true that it was being bred out, then our fruits and vegetables would actually be healthier for us.

I makes sense that if a fruit is making lots of pesticides, it’s diverting energy away from growth so fruits could have been bred to be low pesticide as a side effect of yield. There doesn’t have to be anything lamarckian about it.

The sugar in fruit is fructose which is simpler than table sugar which is sucrose. It’s true that they digest more slowly but that’s as a result of the cellulose, not because it’s a “complex” sugar.

Cite that produce is ever stored more than a year? The longest I’ve heard of are apples which are stored for 9 months or so.

And humans used to eat more cellulose, which required the vermiform appendix to assist in breaking it down. Since we don’t eat so much anymore, we have no need for the appendix, and so we don’t have one.

Wait, what?