It’s the Merriest Time of Year (for calories!)

egg nog christmas

The holidays are fun and festive. At D2D we have been wondering how alcohol is processed in our bodies, but we still wanted to figure out which drinks could add to the merriment without adding to our waistlines! So we are presenting you the bad (and good) of alcoholic options.

Alcohol calories are empty calories with no nutritional value

While calories provide energy to fuel our bodies, not all calories are alike. For example, a calorie from an almond is not the same as a calorie from a chocolate chip because the fiber, fat, carbohydrate, protein, and sugar content vary significantly between the two. The almond calorie is more nutritious than the chocolate chip calorie – thus better for your health. However, calories from alcohol offer no health benefits.

The major sources of energy in food are fat, protein, and carbohydrates. When they are burned (metabolized), they provide different amounts of energy

We don’t use alcohol calories for energy. Alcohol is a toxin and your liver has to work hard to metabolize and discard it as quickly as it can. When you take that drink of alcohol, it is ultimately converted into acetate – and burned first. Your liver can only metabolize one drink per hour. What it cannot metabolize goes into your bloodstream – causing intoxication.

The alcohol metabolism is taking precedence before your food calories metabolize, thus inhibiting your digestive process. The metabolism of fat, carbs, and protein is reduced by at least 31%. When you sit down to eat dinner after cocktail hour, your meal doesn’t get digested until after all the alcohol is out of your system. While your body is busy eliminating this toxin, it stores your dinner as fat for future energy.

Learn how the body processes alcohol in this video.

Additionally, if you are imbibing in festive holiday cocktails which contain lots of added sugar, your body is storing the fructose component of sugar as fat, and you can expect some unwanted belly fat.

Alcohol also suppresses the part of your brain that tells you when to stop eating. Because the calories are empty calories, your brain is tricked into thinking you are hungry, thus you crave more food.

If you are a frequent drinker, those extra, unused calories compound over time and tend to accumulate around your waistline, contributing towards abdominal obesity. How many drinks is too many? More than two or three drinks a day, on average. So, if you drink nothing during the week, but consume 21 drinks over the course of the weekend, you can expect your waistline to expand.

How do we enjoy the holidays while still having cocktails?

A “standard” drink of alcohol contains roughly 14 grams of pure alcohol, and is defined as: • 12 oz. of regular beer, (usually about 5% alcohol) • 5 oz. of wine, (12% alcohol) • 1.5 oz. of 80-proof distilled spirits. (40% alcohol)

While they contain alcohol calories, straight liquors, such as whiskey, bourbon, scotch and rum, and gin, vodka and tequilas, without flavorings or mixers, have no carbohydrates and no sugar. Sounds ok, right? While this is an option, remember that the alcohol calories are metabolized first, and your liver is working hard to eliminate the alcohol.

Adding the mixers is a double whammy for your bodily systems

While straight liquor will contain no carbs or sugar, adding a mixer is a different story. In general, mixed drinks with an unflavored liquor and a sweetened soda or tonic water, for instance a vodka tonic, will contain 150 calories and 13.5 grams of sugar. Now, when you are drinking that drink, your body is not only working overtime to dispense the alcohol calories, it is now contending with the calories from sugar which are being stored as fat.

You will really pack on the calories, carbohydrates and sugar with specialty drinks such as Long Island Iced Teas and Margaritas, which are upwards of 700 calories each. Beware the enticing “drink of the day!”

The answer to imbibing in alcohol and keeping an eye on your waistline? Drink them on the rocks or with a splash of soda water or fresh fruit.

While straight liquor is low in carbohydrates, the mixers will increase this load.

source: Diet Doctor

Wine Time…

Before you order your next glass of crisp chardonnay, rosy Cabernet, sweet Reisling or bubbly Champagne, there are a few things about wine to consider to help you enjoy the evening’s festivities and make the next morning merrier, too!

A serving of wine is approximately 5 ounces. That comes to about 120 calories. However, most people pour themselves an 8 to 10-ounce glass of wine, which will boost your calories to over 200 calories per glass.

One thing to keep in mind is that the higher the ABV, the more calories the wine has. Wines produced in the U.S. and in warmer regions, like Chile and Australia, generally have higher ABV (alcohol by volume) of 13-17%, whereas wines produced in Europe typically have a moderate 9-12% ABV. This is largely due to Europe’s more temperate climate and stricter regulations regarding alcohol content.

All sparkling wines, including Champagne and Prosecco, will have some sugar in them, as it’s a necessary ingredient for the fermentation process. In general, France, Spain and the U.S. have tighter laws around added sugar in sparkling wines, so these will be your safest caloric bet. Favor terms on the label like “naturale” or “zero” over “doux”, which means sweet.

Source: Wine Folly

Be mindful of how much wine you pour into your glass, and try to find wines with an ABV of less than 13% to keep the calories at bay. For a variety of wines with less alcohol, you might end up finding yourself in the European aisle of your favorite wine store, but that’s ok – perhaps you’ll find your new favorite varietal!

Beers at the Bar

Beer has a dense carbohydrate content. Generally, a 12oz beer has about 150 calories and 13g carbohydrates. To put this in perspective, drinking one bottle of beer is about equal to the carb count of one slice of bread. You might want to keep that in mind if you like drinking a six pack while watching football— you just consumed almost a half a loaf of bread.

Beer has been thrown in the high glycemic index category because of its high amount of sugar used during processing. But the sugar is maltose, does not include fructose, and is used up in the fermentation process. And unless you drink five beers in 15 minutes you won’t consume enough carbohydrates to spike your glycemic index. But the carbohydrates will stack on the pounds, so go for a light beer and you will feel better in the morning!

source: Diet Doctor

Drinking beer does give you the chance of having elevated uric acid compared to other alcohols. Hyon K. Choi, MD at Massachusetts General Hospital found that men who drank two or more beers a day were 2.5 times more likely to develop gout than those who didn’t.

There are actually some health benefits to beer! While it does depend on the beer and how it is brewed, a bottle of beer has trace amount of minerals that helps with heart and bone health, provides antioxidants, and may reduce the risk of diabetes. This is assuming a maximum of two beers a day for a man, and one beer a day for a woman.

Why do we get hangovers?

A hangover almost always means you are completely dehydrated! You have depleted the vitamins in your body, typically Vitamin A, B, and C. Not to mention, you have also accumulated acetaldehyde, which is a toxic by-product of your body metabolizing alcohol. It is responsible for headaches, nausea, increased heart rate and flushed faces. Yikes! Drink a glass of water at least between each cocktail, and one before you go to bed.
 (Wine Spectator)

Now that we have briefed you on the highs and lows of alcohol consumption, here are a few tested recipes to enjoy your holiday cocktails in moderation!

Sustainable Ag Series: Farmers

combine and tractor at harvest time - aerial photo

In our four-part series on agricultural sustainability, we illustrate how NGOsgovernment regulatorscorporations, and in this article, farmers, each achieve their sustainability goals as well as how they work together in larger initiatives.

“Growers are performing ‘sustainable practices’ but do not see them as such; they see them as just good farming practices and being good stewards of their land.” – Hank Giclas, Western Growers

The agriculture industry is often criticized for using too much water, using too many chemicals, and adding more carbon to the atmosphere. However, farmers have their boots on the ground and occupy the front lines of sustainability initiatives within agriculture. No farms, no food!

While some farmers employ better approaches to farming sustainably, no farmer deliberately damages human or environmental health or wants to waste their inputs, such as water, pesticide, and labor. As stewards of the land, it is in a farmer’s best interest to preserve all of their resources for future generations of farming.

Farmers are on the front lines of sustainable agriculture.

Sustainability encompasses many different initiatives for agriculture.

How do farmers address sustainable agriculture?

The road to sustainable farming is long and complex, simply because no single farming practice by itself establishes sustainability. Farmers are a community that must work together to protect their resources. To get insight into how farmers practice sustainability, we interviewed Nikki Rodoni, founder & CEO of Measure to Improve, LLC, a recognized leader in the fresh produce industry for building and implementing sustainability programs.

Farmers are taking care of the soil…

Rodoni emphasized the importance of healthy soil and states that farmers are already doing a fantastic job at improving soil health. As we discussed in Soil: It is much more than Dirt, healthy soil means healthy crops. Healthy crops lead to more resilient crops that, in turn, help farmers in many other facets of sustainability, such as decreased water usage since the soil holds and absorbs more water, thus preventing running off; less fertilizer usage since healthy soils hold more essential nutrients and reduce nutrient runoff; and less pesticide usage because crops are more resilient and better equipped to fight off pests with their innate defenses.

Healthy soil = healthy crops. The soil is a paramount sustainable initiative for farmers.

All those benefits can be enhanced when farmers adopt and use additional technologies and practices such as soil moisture sensors, precise irrigation methods, and Integrated Pest Management (IPM) to further increase efficiencies. And to top it all off, the farmer ends up with a higher yield and better quality of the crop.

Healthy soil is a win for farmers and consumers around the world because it increases the soil’s resilience, which in turn increases crop resilience and, ultimately, the resiliency of farming communities.

Farmers are conserving water…

Craig MacKenzie, a New Zealand farmer highlighted on Global Farmer Network, discussed his ability to manage irrigation on his farm from his cell phone. His carrot, radish, chicory, wheat, and ryegrass fields have sensors buried in the soil that send him real-time information about the soil moisture levels. This allows MacKenzie to adjust irrigation accordingly. He’s currently looking into fertilizer sensors to help detect the levels of nitrate, potassium, and phosphorus in the soil.

Ceres Imaging provides an app for farmers to help understand water stress, plant nutrient uniformity, pest emergence, and other issues in their fields. source: Precision Ag

Duncan Family Farms, which operates farms in Arizona and California, also uses sensor technologies as well as plastic mulches and floating row covers to help create and maintain moisture in their fields. Other methods they use to conserve water include growing crops during cooler months of the year to avoid high evaporative heat conditions; using transplants instead of seeds as seeds take more water to germinate, and growing some crops under cover in controlled environments.

Row covers can help maintain soil temperatures, reduce water inputs, and reduce weed infestation.

In addition to the use of sensor technologies to conserve water, farmers are also switching from furrow and overhead irrigation systems to drip irrigation, thus substantially cutting their water use.

Sustainable farming helps to sequester CO2

All these practices have many benefits including playing a role in reducing atmospheric greenhouse gas concentrations through carbon storage in soil and vegetation called carbon sequestration.Scientists at the  University of California, Davis estimate that U.S. rangelands could potentially sequester up to 330 million metric tons of carbon dioxide in their soils, and croplands are estimated to lock up more than twice that amount—up to 770 million metric tons. That is the CO2 emissions equivalent of powering 114 million homes with electricity for a year.

Sustainable agriculture practices enhance carbon sequestration in soils.

In addition to on-farm sustainable practices, farmers must also work with a wider network which includes local government, corporations, and NGOs.

How corporations, governments and NGOs are working with our farmers

By working together, sustainable agricultural practices can be referenced, measured and validated. There have been efforts throughout the agriculture industry to assist farmers in implementing sustainable practices. While many agricultural companies such as DriscollTaylor Farms, Tanimura and Antle’s Plant TapeJohn DeereMonsantoCargill, and Bunge (to name a few) have their own corporate sustainabilityinitiatives to help guide farmers, there are many joint initiatives as well.

Sustainable Agriculture Initiative Platform was created in 2002 by Nestlé, Unilever, and Danone to facilitate the sharing of knowledge and best practices throughout the food value chain to support the development and implementation of sustainable agriculture practices.

Farm Sustainability Assessment (FSA). Farmers can use the FSA to assess and improve their on-farm sustainability practices while communicating them to customers in a consistent way. Additionally, the assessment criteria meet the sustainable sourcing needs of many companies and can be used by governments, NGOs, universities, and consultants as a reference for defining the scope of sustainable agricultural practices.

Two organizations with more specialized and narrowly focused missions are Land O Lakes’ SUSTAIN and the Stewardship Index for Specialty Crops.

SUSTAIN works with their partner retailers, like Walmart, to develop customized solutions that allow farmers to reduce their greenhouse gas emissions without reducing their profits. For example, SUSTAIN created a product to help farmers use nitrogen more efficiently and, when used properly, allows them to use less nitrogen fertilizer.

Stewardship Index for Specialty Crops (SISC) is comprised of growers, buyers, and public interest groups collaborating to develop and share metrics and stewardship indicators in the specialty crops (fruits, vegetables, and nuts) industry. Alison Edwards, director and facilitator at SISC, spoke to us about the importance of the entire supply chain’s involvement with sustainability. When the whole supply chain is involved, the data being collected on the farm can be interpreted correctly and the sustainable farming story can be told in a more effective way.

Alison talked about the importance of having metrics— “you cannot manage what you cannot measure.” SISC’s metrics allow growers to internally benchmark which sustainable practices work the best for their farm, crop, climate, and soil conditions and report these tangible efforts to buyers and consumers.

In 2012 Campbell Soup Company began collecting sustainability performance metrics from their tomato grower using SISC’s metrics. Over a five-year period, they were able to track water and fertilizer use on their supplier farms. The adoption of drip irrigation across a group of 50 tomato farms resulted in a 22% reduction in average water volume.  By collecting this data, Campbell’s can now concretely demonstrate and share with their stakeholders how their tomato growers are actively adopting best practices and driving real resource conservation.

The government is also involved with sustainable agricultural efforts. For example, the USDA’s Natural Resource Conservation Service has advocated and established several conservation and soil health programs into the 2014 Farm Bill, as well as supporting working land conservation programs like Conservation Stewardship Program (CSP), and Environmental Quality Incentives Program (EQIP). These programs support farmers and ranchers adopting conservation practices, like crop rotation, cover cropping, low tillage system management, etc., and in turn receive financial and technical assistance for their contribution to sustainability.   

Communicating Sustainability to the Consumer

The farmer-consumer relationship certainly has its challenges. When farmers are trying to implement new and more sustainable practices, it can be nearly impossible to communicate the results to consumers. We know that consumers want to know where their food comes from— but there is little-to-no communication between farmer and consumer. Because of this, marketing experts are telling farmers that they need to tell their stories, to reconnect with and inform consumers about how their farm operates and how their crops are grown and harvested. Walk down the aisle of the grocery store and you will see farmer’s highlighted on milk and orange juice cartons and boxes of cereal. But aside from these ad campaigns, creating a direct link between farmer and consumer is no easy task. Complicating the dialogue is that these days, when farmers make the news, especially regarding environmental issues, they are depicted as environmental villains. Unfortunately, these stories are misrepresentative and ignore the genuine stories of farmers and ranchers who are adapting to and embracing sustainable practices promoting soil health, minimizing water use and pollution, and reducing greenhouse gas emissions while contributing to and improving the quality of the food supply.

Sustainable Ag Series: Governments

looking up at a government building with blue sky above

In a four-part series on sustainability, we are illustrating how farmers, NGOs, corporations, and in this article, government regulators, work together in order to facilitate and execute sustainable objectives in agriculture. We want to better understand how these partnerships affect consumers and our food supply chain.

How do government officials address agricultural sustainability?

The role of sustainability and governments is difficult to define. There is no ‘unified government’. Each town, city, state, and country has its own unique agenda, accountability to their constituents, and the concept of collaboration with other organizations.

Adding further complexity to this equation are lobbyist organizations that attempt to influence regulators from the municipal level all the way up to the country’s legislative system. As a result of these variants, governments can either help or hinder those they have vowed to protect. For example, the Great Lakes, the Mississippi River, and the Hudson River are cleaner today due to government-imposed pollution controls. The Colorado River, on the other hand, is regulated under numerous contracts, laws, and regulatory guidelines within seven different states, leading to many environmental and river flow issues.

Including the three branches of the U.S. Government, there are many variants within the legislative process. (image source:

At the end of the day, government officials have authority. They can allocate the financial resources that support farmers and their sustainability efforts. Additionally, there are many government grants that support scientific research that promotes eco-friendly and sustainable business practices. Elected officials can play a very important role within agricultural sustainability: they create, negotiate and pass the laws and regulations that protect our environment.

For example, the EPA’s renewable energy and clean energy programs are designed to help energy consumers, state policymakers, and energy providers by creating technical assistance and networks between the public and private sector across energy, water, and waste. Agstar promotes the use of biogas recovery systems to reduce methane emissions from livestock waste. The Smartway Transport Partnership is a public-private collaboration between EPA and the freight transportation industry to improve fuel efficiency.

The government can also allocate funds to sustainable projects that are already underway. In November 2015, USDA Secretary Tom Vilsack announced $314 million in funding for waste and water infrastructure improvements in rural communities in the United States. Coordinating this initiative is The EPA’s Water Infrastructure and Resiliency Finance Center.

Watch this video on how the Farmer’s Irrigation District in Oregon used these loans to improve and protect the water supply for the area’s farmers.

The authority that governing bodies possess are meant to be helpful— but, there are instances where governments overstep and implement a regulation that may negatively affect agriculture.

In Zimbabwe, for example, GMOs are illegal to grow, sell, and import. The government has argued that this policy protects the environment and makes its sellable crops more favorable for export to Europe. However, the country is still struggling to feed its growing population and poverty levels are rising. If the Zimbabwean government were to legalize GMOs, the drought facing farmers and hunger plaguing the country would finally have a feasible solution.

One solution to help Africa’s farmers produce crops and food is to let them gain access to the crop technologies that millions of others take for granted. (image: GMO Answers)

“We are not picky when it comes to receiving GMO or non-GMO food. The situation is unbearable.”
— Spiwe Mucharanji, Tariro Orphanage Trust

Closer to home, the obesity epidemic in the United States has prompted cities such as Berkeley, Philadelphia, and New York to impose a sugar tax on sugary drinks. While there are conflicting studies indicating whether this has actually curbed consumer behavior, the tax demonstrates the government’s ability to try and persuade certain behavior from consumers. Is it the government’s responsibility to influence personal decisions?

Read Dirt-to-Dinner’s post on the Sugar Tax.

How government regulators work with corporations

“Government and business, acting together, can accomplish a great deal by utilizing each other’s strengths and compensating for each other’s weaknesses.” (Global Sustainability, Mark Lefko)

The public-private partnership is the one that can work well. Many large corporations will work with local governments to better execute and grow their sustainability efforts. As we discussed in our Sustainable Ag Series on Corporations, governments possess a reach and authority that corporations often do not. Therefore, international corporations will work closely with governments to 1) abide by local laws and 2) to enable their sustainability initiatives to have optimum impact.

Unilever, an international consumer goods company whose brands include Dove, Lipton, and Hellman’s, “works with governments around the world to train small farmers in modern agriculture and business methods.” (Global Sustainability). The governments can act as an intermediary between farmer and corporation and provide incentives for these partnerships— i.e. tax credits for corporations and loans for farmers.

Without the help of the local government, Unilever could never accomplish as much as they do.

“We don’t have the capabilities to reach that many farmers, aggregate them, and train them in management, agricultural techniques, board management, social standards, etc. So you work with these different organizations, and as you do this, you secure your value chain, you provide the livelihoods that undoubtedly will come back to you, because obviously, we cannot prosper if these communities don’t prosper.”
-Paul Polman, CEO Unilever

In Xinjiang, China, Unilever is providing smallholder tomato farmers training. As a result, farmers in the program have seen, per hectare, yields increase by 7.5 tonnes, water use reduced by 1500m3, and pesticide spraying reduced by 150g. (image: Unilever)

How government regulators work with farmers

Government funding will provide farmers with financial grants and loans in order to promote and help expand sustainable farming efforts. In the United States, there are many innovative programs and resources provided by the USDA. If you are a first-time farm buyer, for example, the US government will help you obtain access to affordable farmland by providing a special joint-financing loan option.

The USDA offers many programs for small scale farmers. (image: USDA – Guide to Sustainable Farming Programs)

Internationally, governments will facilitate partnerships between corporations and farmers to help encourage local development. In 2015, international food-production company, DSM and the World Food Program, in partnership with Africa Improved Foods Ltd. (AIF) and the Rwandan government, facilitated the construction of a $60m factory in Rwanda. In addition to the commercially sold food made at the factory, AIF also works with the Government of Rwanda to create nutrient-dense foods for impoverished communities, which are distributed by the World Food Program. (DSM)

In addition to providing factory jobs, this initiative also helped farmers improve the local-food processing industry and motivated farmers to utilize sustainable farming practices. The factory currently works with over 9,000 large and small grain cereal farmers.

Another example of regulators working with farmers is the Renewable Fuel Standard of 2005, which was put in place for the benefit of American farmers. Each tank of gas must contain roughly 10% corn or soy, which has been converted into fuel— this is called ethanol.

On November 30th, 2017, the Trump administration continued this mandate requiring US refineries to incorporate 19.29 billion gallons of biofuels into our gasoline supply. This is about 40% of the US corn crop and 30% of the US soybean crop. This keeps corn and soy prices higher than they normally would be, which benefits farmers— but there are significant environmental side effects. Corn and soy are grown on land that ultimately requires more irrigation for these demanding crops. 

Ethanol production requirements may be good for farmers and their production of corn and soy crops but put an ecological strain on the environment. (image: US Department of Labor)

Producing one gallon of ethanol takes half a gallon more water than producing a gallon of gasoline. The issue is that most ethanol facilities are within a 100-mile range of the crops, which means that precious water sources are being tapped, including the Ogallala Aquifer.

Better to use that water to grow crops for food and not fuel.

The ecological strain it places on US farming does not outweigh the monetary benefit of higher corn and soy prices. It will be interesting to see how the US government and farmers will work together in this space moving forward.

How government regulators work with NGOs

“Under ideal circumstances, all three types of entities—businesses, governments, and NGOs—can come together to maximize the power of all three to address the problems of poverty, health, gender inequality, and disease.”

As we saw with the Government of Rwanda’s partnership between DSM, AIF and the United Nations: World Food Program, farmer, government, NGO, and corporation have successfully worked together in order promote change and sustainability.

Heifer International is another NGO that works closely with both farmers and governments to provide microfinancing to alleviate hunger. They teach environmental sustainability to their farmers and promote climate-smart agriculture and livestock production solutions. They do so by lending money to families to help them to buy agricultural products, such as a cow, chickens, or bees. This then helps the family to sell goods like milk, eggs, or honey. Heifer teaches these families how to manage their purchase and grow their livestock, thus helping families become self-sufficient rather than depending on government handouts. In order to expand its global reach, Heifer has partnered with other large-scale corporations and local government officials.

Food Network chef and avid Heifer International supporter Alton Brown explains how Heifer makes a difference through gifts that keep on giving.

How government regulators address consumer concerns

The government is legally responsible for the safety of the people, or consumers, that they were elected to represent. So, while various governing bodies might address sustainability initiatives differently, they all want to make their environment a better place for their current residents and their future inhabitants.

There are many different laws in place that can affect consumers. The United States, for example, has over 30 different laws that regulate the interaction of humans and the environment, This list includes the Clean Air and Clean Water Acts, which help to regulate and protect air and water quality.

The Clean Water and Air and Acts are celebrated across college campuses and non-profit organizations to motivate consumers to be a part of a healthy living environment. (Image sources: My Clean Water Act and The Clean Air Campaign)

Additionally, on a local level, governments will often monitor town water levels to help maintain the needs of local farmers. If the area is experiencing drought, those living in the town will be asked to stop sprinkler use, take shorter showers, and even turn off the faucet while brushing teeth. While refusing to abide by these requests won’t land you in jail, being a mindful consumer will help to protect the environment.

“Businesses, governments, and NGOs can and often do work together for their mutual benefit and for the benefit of global society as a whole”
Global Sustainability, Mark Lefko