2/10/11 Nourishing News Roundup

Our weekly roundup of links to headlines we think you’ll want to read…

How Grass-Fed Beef Can Reduce Global Warming

(Photo by Scott Bauer/USDA)

We’ve talked about the nutritional and animal-welfare benefits of grass-fed beef and bison. Grass-fed meat may help the environment, too, according to the Union of Concern Scientists’ new report, “Raising the Steaks: Global Warming and Pasture-Raised Beef Production in the United States.” As the report notes, beef production generates about one-third of the United States’ global-warming emissions, including 18% of our methane emissions. The report illustrates the best practices to raise cattle while reducing emissions, such as the importance of nutrient-dense forage for grazing cattle.

Bittman on Dietary Guidelines

We reported on the recently (and finally) released 2010 Dietary Guidelines for Americans. In his opinion piece for The New York Times, Mark Bittman ponders why the guidelines dance around the more important–and simpler–message that could have a genuine impact on America’s health: Eat real food.

Smart Shrimp

Like food writer Barry Estabrook (and Forrest Gump’s best friend, Bubba), I’m a sucker for shrimp. But as he notes in his Politics of the Plate blog, finding sustainably sourced shrimp can be tricky. That’s why he was so happy to discover sustainable British Columbia spot prawns. The only drawback: You’ll probably have to visit Canada to enjoy them, since the locals gobble most of the seasonal catch. Not a bad excuse to visit BC…that shrimp would be wonderful paired with a lovely Okanagan Valley wine!

More GE News

Last week, we reported on infighting among the organic community over the USDA’s decision to fully deregulate genetically engineered alfalfa while promoting the peaceful coexistence of organic and conventional (including GE) crops. As that hot debate continues in the the organic community, there’s been yet more news on GE topics. Last Friday, the USDA announced the partial deregulation of GE sugar beets, allowing farmers to plant that GE crop before the final Environmental Impact Statement is released in 2012. As Rodale reports, it’s a controversial move, to say the least. Meanwhile, Care2 reports that Mexico’s Interministerial Commission on Biosafety of Genetically Modified Organisms has put planting of Monsanto’s GE corn on hold pending more tests. And Bill Marler’s blog Food Safety News reports on a pair of bipartisan congressional bills to ban GE salmon. Apparently not all American lawmakers share the current administration’s biotech-friendly stance.

What intrigues us in all of this is the USDA’s insistence that GE and organic crops can coexist. We’re working on a story examining what that entails and whether it’s a realistic–and practical–proposal.

The (Fairly) Simple Message in the 2010 Dietary Guidelines

Do you eat your fruits and vegetables? Favor whole grains? Cook most of your meals at home? You’ve already hit most of the high points in the 2010 Dietary Guidelines for Americans released last week by the U.S. Department of Agriculture and Department of Health and Human Services.

In our previous stories about the advisory committee’s suggestions for the guidelines, we made some predictions based on recommendations that lined up with NOURISH Evolution’s core principles of sound nutrition, eco-clean eating, mindful meals and kitchen tips. Let’s see how we fared:

Prediction: Shift to a Plant-Based Diet

Outcome: One of the main goals of the 2010 guidelines is to encourage Americans to choose nutrient-dense foods, including fruits and vegetables, beans and legumes, and whole grains. In one of the most tangible takeaway messages, the guidelines instruct us to “make half your plate fruits and vegetables.” That’s pretty straightforward.

The guidelines also cover the benefits of plant-centered eating patterns, including DASH (Dietary Approaches to Stop Hypertension), the Mediterranean diet and even vegetarian and vegan diets.

Diary has a prominent place in the guidelines (no surprise there, given the dairy industry’s influence on the USDA), though with the recommendation to choose low-fat (1%) or fat-free variations. This is to help ensure we all get adequate calcium, vitamin D and potassium. The guidelines cite moderate evidence linking milk with bone and heart health. However, some experts question the benefit of dairy and other animal-based proteins for bone health.

The new guidelines give ample play to alternative protein sources, encouraging everyone to eat more seafood, soy products, beans, legumes, nuts and seeds. They even recommend replacing some lean meat and poultry with seafood.

Our take: We like the emphasis on plant foods, plus the tangible advice for how that plays out on your plate. It’s nice to see plant-based and seafood proteins given prominent play alongside meat and poultry in the variety of suggested options.

Prediction: Increase Environmentally Sustainable Food

Outcome: The advisory committee called for increasing environmentally sustainable agriculture and aquaculture but stopped short of recommending organics specifically. Indeed, the final guidelines include this statement: “Develop and expand safe, effective, and sustainable agriculture and aquaculture practices to ensure availability of recommended amounts of healthy foods to all segments of the population.”

Our take: We would have liked more specifics on what they mean by “safe, effective and sustainable.” Moreover, the new guidelines have a specific recommendation to eat 8 ounces of seafood per week, which will serve to increase demand for fish. It would have been helpful to include the advice to choose sustainable seafood.

Prediction: Eat Attentively

Outcome: The advisory committee called for Americans to be mindful eaters, but we didn’t think this advice would make it into the final guidelines because it would prove too hard to put into specific terms. We were wrong! The final guidelines’ address many aspects of food behavior, including tips ranging from tracking calories to paying close attention to feelings of hunger, noting when you tend to overeat, and not eating while doing other activities like watching TV. Other strategies that fall under the mindful-eating category include planning meals, using smaller plates to minimize portions and reading food labels.

Our take: We’re pleasantly surprised to see the guidelines address this issue in such specific terms.

Prediction: Learn to Cook, America

Outcome: Previous incarnations of the Dietary Guidelines have struck me as scolding. The advisory committee’s recommendations were no different, taking Americans to task for eating too many meals out. But they also favored including recommendations to improve cooking literacy, including safe food handling and teaching kitchen skills in schools. That’s advice the final guidelines has taken.

A substantial section addresses the need to overhaul the cultural environment to support healthier individual food choices. These measures include improving access to healthy food, working with food producers to develop better options and supporting healthy-eating legislative measures. Then there’s little nugget:

“Empower individuals and families with improved nutrition literacy, gardening, and cooking skills to heighten enjoyment of preparing and consuming healthy foods.”

Our take: We heartily support any measure that encourages people to enjoy cooking–and eating. The more comfortable you are in the kitchen, the more control you have over what you eat and the easier it is to make healthy, seasonal and sustainable food part of your diet.

Nourishing Issues 2011: Will Nutrition Get Real?

This is part 3 in our Nourishing Issues 2011 series, in which we’re spotlighting a few key topics: food safety, local food and nutrition. The list could be much longer, of course, but these are three biggies that we’re sure to revisit throughout the year.

Hmmm. I’d hoped to have some actual news to report in this post, since the 2010 Dietary Guidelines for Americans were due to be released, well, last year. These guidelines, issued jointly by the U.S. Department of Agriculture and the department of Health and Human Services, are updated every five years. They’re a big deal, because they influence public health policy, including programs like school lunches. The finalized 2010 guidelines may be released by the end of this month. Or maybe not.

As we reported last fall, the USDA and HHS are evaluating the recommendations made by the 2010 Dietary Guidelines Advisory Committee (DGAC) of experts and based on all the latest nutrition research. As we noted then, many of the recommendations were in line with NOURISH Evolution’s core values of sound nutrition, eco-clean food, mindful meals and cooking skills. As for the finalized guidelines, here’s what we anticipate the guidelines will include, based on the committee’s recommendations:

Predicted guideline: Eat more fruits and vegetables.

Our take: Duh, this has been part of every version of the dietary guidelines since they were first published in 1980. Trouble is, government recommendations do little to encourage Americans to eat more fruits and vegetables–consumption rates have been flat since 1999.

But we don’t expect the finalized guidelines to go along with the advisory committee’s call for a shift shift toward a more plant-based diet with only moderate amounts of lean meats, poultry and eggs. That’s excellent advice, but it’s hard to imagine the USDA will overlook influence from the powerful beef, poultry and egg lobbies, which will want to keep their foods on the American plate.

Predicted guideline: Reduce the recommended intake of sodium to 1,500 milligrams per day (that’s a little over 5/8 teaspoon of salt) for the general population, down from 2,300 milligrams (about 1 teaspoon) in the 2005 Dietary Guidelines.

Our take: Because the evidence is so strong, we think the final guidelines will lower the recommended daily allotment of sodium.

Predicted guideline: Americans need to get off the SoFAS (solid fats and added sugars, that is).

Our take: We think the final guidelines will urge Americans to minimize their consumption of solid fats (butter, cheese, fatty cuts of meat and the like) and added sugars, both of which comprise more than a third of the American diet and contribute to our ballooning obesity rates.

But here again, the USDA will continue to deliver a conflicting message–on the one hand, urging moderation and a healthy diet while on the other working with the industry to create programs that promote consumption of the very foods contributing to our nation’s health problems. Cheese, anyone?

Will we be right? We’ll revisit this when the 2010 guidelines are–finally–released. At the very least, we’re hoping the new guidelines also come with a fresh new graphic. The 2005 guidelines came with a confusing color-coded pyramid that no one liked.

Also in this series:
What Will It Take to Make Our Food Safe?
The Evolution of Local