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Nutrition

9 Sustainable eating facts

A diet that emphasizes a variety of whole grains, fruits, vegetables, beans, nuts and seeds along with meat, fish, dairy and eggs can be an environmentally responsible one that supports a sustainable food system.

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Health and environmental concerns convince many people they should rethink their diets.

However, it’s important to know you can make informed food choices based on facts. By working with farmers and ranchers who use science and research to advance animal agricultural practices, commodity groups like Colorado Corn help ensure the availability of sustainable, healthy and delicious animal protein products.

Consider these facts from Shari Steinbach, MS, RDN, who is a nutrition and culinary consultant with more than 35 years of experience as a health professional. Steinbach works with retailers, food companies and commodities to create educational programs that provide meaningful solutions.

  • Compared to 1977, today’s beef producers raise the same amount of beef with approximately 33% fewer cattle, according to the National Cattlemen’s Beef Association. Improved animal health, welfare, genetics and nutrition has resulted in a 16% lower carbon footprint and fewer natural resources used for every pound of beef produced.
  • A retrospective analysis on pork production in the U.S. from 1960-2015 from the Pork Checkoff shows a significant reduction in the use of natural resources. Per pound of pork produced, producers have reduced land use by 76%, water use by 25%, energy use by 7% and their carbon footprint by more than 7%.
  • Compared with 75 years ago, dairy milk production now uses 65% less water, 90% less land and 76% less manure, which translates into a 63% smaller carbon footprint of milk, according to the “Journal of Animal Science.”
  • Sheep can consume dried plants to help prevent wildfires or eliminate weeds, which helps farmers avoid or at least minimize the use of herbicides. Across the U.S., farmers bring in sheep to graze leftover stalks and seeds after crops have been harvested.
  • All cattle eat grass, and those fed grain like Colorado Corn provide 19% more human-edible protein than they consume, according to a Council for Agricultural Technology task force report. Because cattle can eat everything from the kernels to the stalks, farmers can enhance sustainability by using every part of the plant.
  • The largest of cattle’s four stomachs is called the rumen, which provides upcycling benefits. Because the rumen is naturally filled with trillions of microbes, it can upgrade plants of little to no nutritional value into high-quality protein and micronutrients people can consume.
  • Based on guidelines from the Food and Drug Administration, one 3-ounce cooked serving of beef supplies more than 10% of the Daily Value for 10 essential nutrients including protein, iron, zinc and B vitamins. One 3-ounce serving of pork is an “excellent” source of thiamin, selenium, protein, niacin, vitamin B6 and phosphorus, and a “good” source of riboflavin, zinc and potassium. One 3-ounce serving of American lamb is an “excellent” source of protein, zinc, selenium, riboflavin, niacin, vitamin B12 and vitamin B6.
  • Dairy products provide an important nutrient package and are under-consumed. In fact, calcium deficiency is one of the most important global nutrient deficiencies, according to the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations.
  • study published in “Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America” simulated the environmental and nutritional impact of removing all animal foods from an American diet. When diets contained only plant-based foods, a greater number of nutrients fell below recommended levels, most notably calcium and vitamins A, D and B12.

When taking steps to improve your diet and make the planet healthier, you can combine eating a balanced diet with another important goal: reducing food waste. On average, 40% of all food brought home in America alone goes uneaten, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture, which means food waste costs the average family $2,500 annually.

A diet that emphasizes a variety of whole grains, fruits, vegetables, beans, nuts and seeds along with meat, fish, dairy and eggs can be an environmentally responsible one that supports a sustainable food system.

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Nutrition

Food safety when eating outdoors

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Photo by Quaritsch Photography from Unsplash.com

It may already be September, but summer is far from over! There’s still plenty of warm and sunny days perfect for picnics and barbecues. Unfortunately, this time of year is also a favorite for foodborne bacteria that cause foodborne illness (also known as food poisoning), which multiply faster at temperatures between 40°F and 140°F. 

Follow the tips below to keep your food safe when eating outdoors.

Before your picnic or barbecue

  • Defrost meat, poultry, and seafood in the refrigerator. If you thaw by submerging sealed packages in cold water or defrost in the microwave, the food should be cooked immediately afterward.
  • Never reuse marinade that touched raw foods unless you boil it first. Instead, you can set some of the marinade aside before marinating food to use for sauce later.
  • Marinate foods in the fridge, not the countertop.
  • Wash all produce before eating, even if you plan to peel it. The knife you use to peel it can spread bacteria into the part you eat. Fruits and vegetables that are pre-cut or peeled should be refrigerated or kept on ice to maintain quality and safety.
  • If your picnic site doesn’t offer clean water access, bring water and soap or pack moist disposable towelettes for cleaning surfaces and hands.
  • Don’t forget to pack a food thermometer!

Packing coolers

  • Place food from the refrigerator directly into an insulated cooler immediately before leaving home.
  • Use ice or ice packs to keep your cooler at 40 °F or below.
  • Pack raw meat, poultry, and seafood in a separate cooler, or wrap it securely and store at the bottom of the cooler where the juices can’t drip onto other foods. Place beverages in a separate cooler; this will offer easy drink access while keeping perishable food coolers closed.
  • Minimize the time coolers are held in the trunk of the car, as the trunk can get very hot. Bacteria can multiply rapidly at high temperatures. Once at the picnic site, keep food in coolers until serving time (out of direct sun) and avoid opening the lids often.

Grilling

  • Have clean utensils and platters available. Cook meat, poultry, and seafood to the right temperatures ─ use a food thermometer to be sure (see FDA’s Safe Minimum Cooking Temperatures Chart). Keep cooked meats hot at 140 °F or warmer until serving time — set them to the side of the grill rack to keep them hot.
  • When removing foods from the grill, place them on a clean platter. Never use the same platter and utensils for cooked food that you used for raw meat, poultry, or seafood.

Time and temperature 

Don’t let hot or cold food sit in the “Danger Zone” (between 40 °F and 140 °F) for more than 2 hours – or 1 hour if the outdoor temperature is above 90 °F. If they do, throw them away.

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Skipping breakfast may increase chance of kids and teens developing psychosocial health problems

It is not only important to eat breakfast, but it’s also important where young people eat breakfast and what they eat.

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Young people who eat healthy breakfasts at home have better psychosocial health, shows a recent study in Frontiers in Nutrition. While previous research has reported the important role of a nutritious breakfast, this is the first study to look at the reported effects of whether kids eat breakfast, as well as where and what they eat. These results provide valuable insights and recommendations for parents and their children.

“Our results suggest that it is not only important to eat breakfast, but it’s also important where young people eat breakfast and what they eat,” said first author Dr. José Francisco López-Gil of the University of Castilla-La Mancha in Cuenca, Spain. “Skipping breakfast or eating breakfast away from home is associated with increased likelihood of psychosocial behavioral problems in children and adolescents. Similarly, consumption of certain foods/drinks are associated with higher (eg, processed meat) or lower (eg, dairies, cereals) odds of psychosocial behavioral problems.”

Breakfast matters

In this study, López-Gil and his collaborators analyzed data from the 2017 Spanish National Health Survey. This survey included questionnaires both about breakfast habits as well as children’s psychosocial health, which included characteristics such as self-esteem, mood, and anxiety. The questionnaires were completed by the children’s parents, or guardians, and the results included a total of 3,772 Spanish residents between the ages of four and 14.

Among the most important results, López-Gil and the team found that eating breakfast away from home was nearly as detrimental as skipping the meal entirely. The authors suggest that this may be because meals away from home are frequently less nutritious than those prepared at home.

The results also showed that coffee, milk, tea, chocolate, cocoa, yogurt, bread, toast, cereals, and pastries were all associated with lower chances of behavioral problems. Surprisingly, eggs, cheese, and ham were linked with higher risks of such issues.

Beyond nutrition

Although this study is limited to Spain, these findings are consistent with research performed elsewhere. The availability of nutritious breakfasts at schools would likely influence the results in some locations.

But other factors, such as the social and family support that young people can receive during breakfast at home, may also play a role in the observed benefits. The authors emphasize the need for further studies to understand the cause-and-effect relationships behind their observations, but they still suggest the usefulness of these results.

“The fact that eating breakfast away from home is associated with greater psychosocial health problems is a novel aspect of our study,” said López-Gil. “Our findings reinforce the need to promote not only breakfast as part of a healthy lifestyle routine, but also that it should be eaten at home. Also, to prevent psychosocial health problems, a breakfast that includes dairy and/or cereals, and minimizes certain animal foods high in saturated fat/cholesterol, could help to decrease psychosocial health problems in young people.”

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Nutrition

It doesn’t matter much which fiber you choose – just get more fiber

The benefit of dietary fiber isn’t just the easier pooping that advertisers tout. Fermentable fiber — dietary carbohydrates that the human gut cannot process on its own but some bacteria can digest — is also an essential source of nutrients that your gut microbes need to stay healthy.

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Photo by Nadine Primeau from Unsplash.com

That huge array of dietary fiber supplements in the drugstore or grocery aisle can be overwhelming to a consumer. They make all sorts of health claims too, not being subject to FDA review and approval. So how do you know which supplement works and would be best for you?

A rigorous examination of the gut microbes of study participants who were fed three different kinds of supplements in different sequences concludes that people who had been eating the least amount of fiber before the study showed the greatest benefit from supplements, regardless of which ones they consumed.

“The people who responded the best had been eating the least fiber to start with,” said study leader Lawrence David, an associate professor of molecular genetics and microbiology at Duke University.

The benefit of dietary fiber isn’t just the easier pooping that advertisers tout. Fermentable fiber — dietary carbohydrates that the human gut cannot process on its own but some bacteria can digest — is also an essential source of nutrients that your gut microbes need to stay healthy.

“We’ve evolved to depend on nutrients that our microbiomes produce for us,” said Zack Holmes, former PhD student in the David lab and co-author on two new papers about fiber. “But with recent shifts in diet away from fiber-rich foods, we’ve stopped feeding our microbes what they need.”

When your gut bugs are happily munching on a high-fiber diet, they produce more of the short-chain fatty acids that protect you from diseases of the gut, colorectal cancers and even obesity. And in particular, they produce more of a fatty acid called butyrate, which is fuel for your intestinal cells themselves. Butyrate has been shown to improve the gut’s resistance to pathogens, lower inflammation and create happier, healthier cells lining the host’s intestines.

Given the variety of supplements available, David’s research team wanted to know whether it may be necessary to ‘personalize’ fiber supplements to different people, since different fermentable fibers have been shown to have different effects on short-chain fatty acid production from one individual to the next.

“We didn’t see a lot of difference between the fiber supplements we tested. Rather, they looked interchangeable,” David said during a tour of his sparkling new lab in the MSRB III building, which includes a special “science toilet” for collecting samples and an array of eight “artificial gut” fermenters for growing happy gut microbes outside a body.

“Regardless of which of the test supplements you pick, it seems your microbiome will thank you with more butyrate,” David said.

The average American adult only consumes 20 to 40 percent of the daily recommended amount of fiber, which is believed to be a root cause behind a lot of our common health maladies, including obesity, cardiovascular disease, digestive disorders and colon cancer. Instead of having to go totally vegetarian or consume pounds of kale daily, convenient fiber supplements have been created that can increase the production of short-chain fatty acids.

The Duke experiments tested three main kinds of fermentable fiber supplements: inulin, dextrin (Benefiber), and galactooligosaccharides (GOS) marketed as Bimuno. The 28 participants were separated into groups and given each of the three supplements for one week in different orders, with a week off between supplements to allow participants’ guts to return to a baseline state. 

Participants who had been consuming the most fiber beforehand showed the least change in their microbiomes, and the type of supplement really didn’t matter, probably because they were already hosting a more optimal population of gut bugs, David said.

Conversely, participants who had been consuming the least fiber saw the greatest increase in butyrate with the supplements, regardless of which one was being consumed.

In a second study the David lab performed with support from the U.S. Office of Naval Research, they found that gut microbes responded to a new addition of fiber within a day, dramatically altering the populations of bugs present in the gut and changing which of their genes they were using to digest food.

Using their artificial gut fermenters, the researchers found the gut microbes were primed by the first dose to consume fiber, and digested it quickly on the second dose.

“These findings are encouraging,” said graduate student Jeffrey Letourneau, lead author of the second study. “If you’re a low fiber consumer, it’s probably not worth it to stress so much about which kind of fiber to add. It’s just important that you find something that works for you in a sustainable way.”

“It doesn’t need to be a supplement either,” Holmes added. “It can just be a fiber-rich food. Folks who were already eating a lot of fiber, which comes from plants like beans, leafy greens, and citrus, already had very healthy microbiomes.”

“Microbiota Responses to Different Prebiotics Are Conserved Within Individuals and Associated with Habitual Fiber Intake” by Zachary Holmes, Max Villa, Heather Durand, Sharon Jiang, Eric Dallow, Brianna Petrone, Justin Silverman, Pao-Hwa Lin, and Lawrence David appeared in Microbiome.

“Ecological Memory of Prior Nutrient Exposure in the Human Gut Microbiome” by Jeffrey Letourneau, Zachary Holmes, Eric Dallow, Heather Durand, Sharon Jiang, Verónica Carrion, Savita Gupta, Adam Mincey, Michael Muehlbauer, and James Bain, Lawrence David appeared in ISME Journal.

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