Whether you’re looking for a quick bite of information or want to drop some knowledge on your dinnertime companions, here’s our Featured 5 of the Week!
Happy National Hamburger Day! In honor of the day, we wanted to highlight some of the benefits of that lean and juicy beef patty. Although beef can get a bad reputation, it is a highly nutritious food with many health benefits.
1. Excellent Source of Protein
Beef is one of the best sources of protein we can get. One burger patty contains between 20-24 grams of protein. If your goal is to reach 50 grams of protein in a day, one burger will get you about halfway there.
We need protein to build or maintain muscle mass. Just be sure to opt for leaner beef with less fat. For example, 85% lean, 15% fat, or 90% lean and 10% fat.
2. Beef is Full of Vitamins and Minerals
Beef is packed with vitamins and minerals. One four-ounce patty contains 15% of our daily value of iron, 45% vitamin B12, 2% calcium, and 50% zinc. Beef also contains selenium, niacin, vitamin B6, and phosphorus.
This is important because some vitamins and minerals can almost only be found in animal foods. For example, we get vitamin B12 from mainly animal foods, and we need this vitamin for our blood flow, brain, and nervous system.
3. Beef Prevents Iron Deficiencies
We already know that we get 15% of our DV of iron from a beef patty. Beef is one of the best ways to get iron into our diet and prevent deficiencies. We need iron for many reasons. One reason is to make hemoglobin in the body, which is found in red blood cells and carries oxygen from the lungs all over the body.
Iron is also necessary for energy, brain function, and to make some hormones.
4. Beef Contains Important Amino Acids
Along with vitamins and minerals, beef is also a source of essential amino acids. One amino acid it is especially high in is L-Carnitine, which naturally occurs in meat products. One four-ounce beef patty contains between 56-162mg of L-Carnitine, contributing a great deal to our 500-2,000mg needed per day. We need this amino acid especially for metabolizing fat.
5. It’s a Sustainable and Environmentally-Friendly Food
Cattle are necessary for land management. Good grazing on the land benefits the soil, water, and biodiversity, helping to protect the land’s natural resources. Cattle are also used to cut carbon emissions. Ranchers that own both grasslands and beef can cut emissions by 50%. One rancher in Texas is sequestering 2,500 tons of carbon a year, the same as taking 551 cars off the road.
Contrary to popular belief, cows are even carbon neutral because, over time, they do not emit more carbon than they eat. As long as the global cattle population remains steady, which it has over the past ten years, then no additional CO2 is added from cows.
We may think of ourselves as ’23 and me’ based on our pair of chromosomes, but really, we are closer to ‘3 million and me’ based on our microbiome. If you add up all of our genes, we are really 90% microbial.
3 million and me?
What do we mean? Throughout our intestines, we have about a mango-sized bag of hungry microbiota – which scientists are now considering an organ just like the liver or heart. This kind of tiny, powerful, and hungry bacteria, archaea, eukaryotes, and viruses determine your mood, immune system, and nutrition absorption. What type of microbiota you have depends on what you eat!
Because of its importance, microbial health has been a topic of significant discussion in the nutrition world for the last few years. By now, we’ve heard of the many gut-health-enhancing suggestions on how to boost pre- and probiotic production, such as fermented foods, daily probiotics, and a range of various fruits and veggies. But have you heard of postbiotics? They are a result of these pre- and pro-biotics you eat every day.
In relation to prebiotics and probiotics, postbiotics are the outcome of these efforts. What do I mean? Let’s do a quick pre- and probiotic 101:
Prebiotics are a wide variety of fiber, such as whole fruits, veggies, mushrooms, and even seaweed. Diversity is critical as it helps support a broad range of beneficial bacteria. For instance, some bacteria will thrive when you eat black beans, and some will happily multiply with spinach. If your diet is not varied, then those microbes that like certain foods will not flourish.
Probiotics are made up of fermented foods; specifically, 12 strains of bacteria synergistically grown together, shown to positively affect overall gut health. Think kombucha, yogurt, and kimchi.
Now for the new guy…
Postbiotics are compounds (or metabolites) created by the probiotic bacteria that help protect, renew, and assist the body’s essential and critical functions.
More on Postbiotics
Postbiotics are a relatively new term in the ‘biotics’ field. That said, there is substantial scientific consensus surrounding pre- and probiotics, but with postbiotics, this is not yet the case.
Here is what we do know: postbiotics are a byproduct of pre-and probiotics. They are metabolites or cell-wall components generated during fermentation in the gut. They are soluble byproducts secreted by live probiotic bacteria that include short-term fatty acids, extracellular polysaccharides, cell fractions, functional protein, and so on. What does this mean, and what do they do for you?
Postbiotics have drawn attention as of late due to recent research indicating they can have direct immune effects.
Clinical evidence on postbiotics shows that in healthy individuals, they improve overall health and relieve symptoms in a range of diseases, such as infant colic and adult atopic dermatitis, different causes of diarrhea, and many more.
Let’s take black beans, for example. You prepare a black bean salad for lunch. You chew it all up, enjoy all the rich flavors, but then what happens when it leaves your mouth? Well, digestion is not just a simple food-in, excrement-out process. These beans you just ate are going to encounter a variety of microbial players in the gut along the winding gastrointestinal tract and in the colon.
One cool part about all this is that the foods (like the beans) determine your body’s specific microbial “players”. So, you can actually think of your gut as your own personal fingerprint – it is unique to you, it is unlike anyone else’s, and it is based on what you feed it. The foods we eat make up the bacteria that live and thrive in our gut!
I like to think about it in these two equations:
Variety of Fiber + Prebiotic foods = Healthy Gut Microbiome (Healthy Bacteria makeup)
Healthy Gut Microbiome (Healthy Bacteria makeup) = Multitude of Postbiotics
But, let’s get back to the beans! A bean is a legume packed with protein and fiber. Digestion starts in your mouth with enzymes in your saliva that begin the process of breaking down your food. It travels through your esophagus, where even more enzymes jump in to help them break down the process. These broken-down food particles feed the gut microbiota to produce short-chain fatty acids.
T-cells Taking Action
While they may sound little, these short-chain fatty acids are robust and directly affect T-cell production. What’s a T-cell? Glad you asked! A T-cell is a type of white blood cell that, at its core, tailor’s the body’s immune response to specific pathogens or invaders. You can think of T-cells like soldiers who seek out invaders and destroy them!
Here is the Science:Fiber is digested in your colon by bacteria and turns into short-chain fatty acids. Short-chain fatty acids serve as messengers to tell certain cells to turn on as immune cells, or T cells. These T cells multiply and turn into helper, regulatory, or cytotoxic T cells. They can also become memory T cells. The T cells are sent to peripheral tissues and can circulate in the blood or lymphatic system. Once they detect an antigen, helper T cells send out chemical messengers called cytokines. These cytokines (are good and not to be confused with the cytokine storm) fuel the differentiation of B cells into plasma cells (antibody-producing cells- these are what you need to fight off viruses!). Regulatory T cells act to power immune reactions. Cytotoxic T cells, which are activated by various cytokines, bind to and kill infected cells and cancer cells—helping to protect us against multiple viruses, like Covid.
Now, what if your body didn’t have enough fiber variety to produce these fatty acids needed for the T-cells? This can happen when we don’t feed our body enough variety of fruits, vegetables, and whole grains. It takes a combination of many types of these foods to maintain a healthy gut microbiota, which enables our body to break down and absorb nutrients from our food correctly and ultimately provides for our immune system defenses.
Short-chain fatty-acids +Vitamins + Minerals = More T-cell Production
More T-Cell Production = Better defense against pathogens & invaders
While beans are a great probiotic, many plant and animal foods can provide the fiber and protein needed to produce the fatty acids that produce T-cells. Think of T-cells as the ultimate result of postbiotics.
Who would have thought that a bean salad could achieve all that? I bet you’ll have a whole new appreciation for your lunch now that you know what an important role your food plays in preventing pathogens from attacking you.
How Can I Maximize Postbiotic Production?
Well, here is the deal: postbiotics are only produced in a body with a diverse microbiome. When you feed your gut a diverse array of dietary fibers and prebiotics, the probiotics are plentiful and varied. This variety of probiotics allows for more diverse postbiotic metabolites to be secreted. Postbiotic compounds play a critical role in regulating your organ system, your immune system, and your brain.
Think of your postbiotics as tools in your tool belt. You acquire those tools through fiber varieties. The broader range of tools you have, the more effective tool kit you have for your overall health.
As gastroenterologist Dr. Will Bulsiewicz, M.D., author of Fiber Fueled, puts it, “when you take a prebiotic or probiotic, people don’t realize that at the end of the day, the hope is to get some postbiotics. The entire point is about postbiotics.”
While part of the issue is many people don’t know this is the end game, it is also that our microbiome is not diverse in most cases. In The Mind-Gut Connection by Dr. Emeran Mayer, M.D., he notes that an alarming 90% of children and adults in the United States do not consume the recommended amount of daily fiber. We should eat at least 30 grams of fiber a day.
How much of each pre- and probiotic food is enough? 2-3 servings of prebiotics and 1-2 servings of probiotics each day – ingested in different ways—will suffice. The idea here is that if you fuel your body with enough pre- and probiotics regularly and in a variety of ways, your body will, in turn, produce myriad postbiotics—adding to that tool belt! And the conjunction of all these components is proven to have a significant impact on our overall health.
Your probiotic bacteria’s ability to make postbiotic metabolites is solely dependent on the amount of and diversity of fiber in your diet.
Maybe we should consider changing the phrase from “You Are What You Eat” to “You Are What You Digest”!
Getting More Dietary Fiber in Our Diet
While taking a daily probiotic can help diversify our microbiome, it is simply not enough. As we know, functional foods are critical to a healthy diet, which goes for fiber consumption as well. We must learn to feed our bodies with probiotic bacteria from whole foods.
Feeding our microbiome with a wide variety of plant foods is the best thing you can do to boost postbiotic production; you will need 5-7 daily servings of a variety of the below foods:
Whether you’re looking for a quick bite of information or want to drop some knowledge on your dinnertime companions, here’s our Featured 5 of the Week!
Epicurious, a popular food site, recently announced they would no longer post recipes with beef because of cattle’s role in climate change. However, cattle can play a positive role in climate change, and farmers and ranchers are proactively working to reduce methane output. Here’s how!
1. Livestock is one of the best tools for land management
Livestock is used by ranchers to better manage the land, which benefits the soil, water, and biodiversity. This works by good grazing management and cattle grazing in the right places. It’s also suitable for native plants, wildlife, and managing fire risk.
How does this work? Well, when cattle graze, their hooves dig up the soil, where seeds then drop in from neighboring plants. Cow manure acts as the fertilizer, and the grasslands thrive because they’re a carbon sink. In Texas, one cattle rancher, Meredith Ellis, is sequestering 2,500 tons of carbon (after enteric emissions) a year. This is equal to taking 551 cars off the road.
3. Grass-fed vs. Feedlot
95% of all cattle start their lives on grass then finish them in the feedlot. Many argue that feedlot cattle contribute to atmospheric methane more than grass-fed. However, it’s just the opposite. Grass-fed cattle emit approximately 20% more methane because it takes them about a year longer to reach market weight.
Animal nutrition companies are also researching ways to further reduce the release of methane anywhere from 3% to 50% through animal feed. Cows burp more when they eat roughage in grass versus a highly nutritious and tailored feedlot diet. When the roughage breaks down, methane is produced.
4. Dairy Digesters
The dairy industry has benefited from anaerobic methane digestors for quite some time now. How? Dairy farms collect the manure and plow it into rubber-lined ponds next to the barns. Each of these helps capture methane. The methane is then used as electricity for the farm or sold back on the grid.
Farms that do this are GHG-negative because they use methane instead of fossil fuels. California has committed to a 40% reduction of dairy methane emissions by 2030 just by using digesters.
This is because, over time, they do not emit more carbon than they eat. When cows eat plants, it consumes carbohydrates, which contain carbon.
After the plant enters their stomach, they bring it back up to chew some more; then it goes back down into their stomach to be digested by the microbes, called methanogens.
This is when a portion is belched as methane and is released into the air. This methane is to blame because it’s 28 times more potent as a GHG than CO2. However, the good news is that it only lasts in the air for about eight to ten years. Then, it converts into one part CO2 and two parts H2O via hydroxyl oxidation.
There’s a lot of mixed information swirling about on social media regarding the new healthy trend, “intuitive eating”. The nutritionists and dietitians promoting it seem very happy, healthy, and peaceful, as if their body literally tells them what foods it needs. As someone who has studied nutrition to increase health for myself and others, I thought this was a great way to give my body what it wants while eliminating the inevitable guilt that comes with “slipping up.”
What is Intuitive Eating?
Intuitive eating was created by dieticians Evelyn Tribole and Elyse Resch in 1995. They started the trend with their book, “Intuitive Eating: A Revolutionary Program that Works.” However, it wasn’t something completely new. In 1978, Susie Orbach published, “Fat is a Feminist Issue,” which focused on emotional eating—a substantial component of intuitive eating. Intuitive Eating is gaining popularity now because of social media.
Intuitive eating generally focuses on self-care, rather than a strict regimen. It combines instinct, emotion, and rational thought into one practice.According to Evelyn Tribole, “intuitive eating is a personal process to honor our health by listening and responding to the direct messages of the body in order to meet your physical and psychological needs.” But how can this work, when the U.S. suffers from a 42.4% obesity rate and a 12.3% malnutrition rate?
The founding principles to successfully practice intuitive eating are as follows:
My Experience with Intuitive Eating
I’ve seen KFC’s Nashville Hot Tenders all over TikTok. I don’t normally crave fast food (except the occasional Chick-fil-A, of course!), but they looked so good, and I love chicken tenders, so I decided to “listen to my body” and try some.
They tasted delicious, but almost immediately afterward I felt sluggish. I was tired, lethargic and surprisingly, very thirsty. I thought, if only I had listened to the way my body felt after eating the tenders before I ate them, I probably wouldn’t have had any.
As Jack Bobo described in his new book, Why Smart People Make Bad Food Choices, our minds are influenced by outside narratives. In my case, TikTok’s KFC videos. We are confronted with compelling reasons to eat certain things, and our brain retains that and seeks it out despite our better judgment. Why?
The decision was easy. Easy? Yes. Our brain did not have to find another food or research something else to eat – it already knows this food is delicious — so our tired minds make the easy decision.
But per my experience, easy is not always best.
That we are influenced by the media and advertising is a no-brainer. But what is not so simple, is that our brain plays the biggest role in helping us stay healthy and lose weight. Eating intuitively could actually increase your cravings and make you gain weight.
Is There Any Science Behind This?
The National Institute of Health (NIH) makes it clear preliminary studies show that the more you stop yourself from eating food you are craving, the more that craving diminishes. NIH researchers are bullish on these findings while still noting more research is warranted.
Studies found that intuitive eating practices are associated with better weight stability than those who followed rigid diets. Furthermore, intuitive eating has shown to improve psychological and behavioral health, including reducing binge-eating.
But if you read carefully, it is weight stability and not weight loss or gain. As with every diet, there are challenges associated with intuitive eating. Researchers found that women who participated in intuitive eating experienced many social and environmental barriers that limited success, including their own varied emotions and support from family and friends. Also, many women found that the “unconditional permission to eat” was the most challenging part of the diet.
This demonstrates a need for self-control and self-discipline to find success with intuitive eating. It is no surprise that research shows that resisting those cravings will help you lose weight. Resisting cravings is easier when you think about how your body feels after eating certain foods more than how they crave the foods before.
Studies also show that our gut microbiome craves what we feed it. So, if your diet consists of chocolate, candy, and junk food, managing your cravings while practicing intuitive eating will be more difficult – if not practically impossible. Remember, your brain lights up when it even thinks about sugar. A diet consisting of sugar will only make you crave more. If your base diet is already healthy, full of fruits and vegetables, then intuitive eating will be much easier because your body will crave healthy food.
From what I learned in both my experience and research, intuitive eating is most helpful for those who suffer from disordered eating or binge-eating.
By welcoming all foods with kindness, you limit the chance of binge eating “restricted” foods, such as chocolate and chips, because you’ve incorporated them into your diet in a limited, healthy way.
I’ve never been one to try out fad diets, so my experience with intuitive eating was very similar to my eating on a normal basis. I still made sure to eat my servings of fruits and veggies every day, but I also did not limit myself. I am under no false impression that every person is cognizant of their intake of fruits and vegetables. Without the foundation of knowing what I needed before I let myself enjoy the occasional food I wanted, I probably would not have fared as well. Maybe I would have skipped the fruits and vegetables altogether.
So for me, an educated eater, if I felt my sweet tooth coming, I indulge in a piece of dark chocolate. If I really was not feeling the salad I had planned on having for lunch, I make myself something else, like a wrap. One night, we decided to have a bonfire and I made myself a s’more because they’re my favorite. I didn’t allow myself to feel guilty or ashamed after, but I also didn’t allow myself to have three or four. I listened to the need but quickly recalled how sluggish I felt after the KFC experience, so I moderated my snack.
As far as exercise goes, I always listen to my body to avoid injuries. I have my weekly workout schedule that typically remains the same. But, if one day I really don’t feel like running and want to jump rope or lift weights instead, I do that. What I don’t do is let myself go days in a row without moving. Again, it’s all about moderation. If I’m halfway through my run and my ankles hurt, I stop and walk.
However, exercise is critical for maintaining a healthy lifestyle, which is why it’s one of the main tenets of intuitive eating.
It’s easy to sometimes feel ashamed after eating foods that “aren’t good for us.” I know I have been there. But just remember, one decision does not have to impact your next. If you grant yourself permission to have a piece of dark chocolate after dinner and end up eating the whole bar, don’t let that decision ruin your week. Restart your intentions with your next snack or meal.
My Big Takeaways
Here’s my advice if you want to give “intuitive eating” a try:
Be kind to yourself, but have discipline. Remember that your end goal is to be healthier overall.
Stay active. Even if you don’t feel like running, do something else. I rotate between running, walking, boxing, HIIT, and strength training.
Find fun and creative ways to eat your fruits and vegetables. I love having fruit in the morning and adding veggies to my lunches and dinners. I eat veggies in pasta, rice, salads, and other dishes.
Always make sure your food tastes GOOD. If you force yourself to eat something just because it’s healthy but you don’t like the taste, you’re not going to want to eat it again. Even with veggies, make them taste good. Add your favorite seasonings and dressings.
Stay focused on your goals. My goal is to be as healthy as I can, while also enjoying life and food. I eat pizza. I eat sushi. I eat burgers. But, I also love broccoli, brussels sprouts, and strawberries. Eat all your food in moderation and always keep moving toward your goals.
Be mindful. Intuitive eating requires you to stay mindful of your health, nutrition, and body.
Whether you’re looking for a quick bite of information or want to drop some knowledge on your dinnertime companions, here’s our Featured 5 of the Week!
Many consumers are now following a ‘clean eating’ lifestyle. But what is clean eating, and is it really the best way to stay healthy? We checked out the science to determine if clean eating is for real or just another marketing gimmick.
1. What Is Clean Eating?
The most basic definition is eating a diet of fresh, often organic, whole foods and nothing processed. This trend started as a way to eliminate heavily processed foods, like white bread, cereal, and junk food from diets.
2. Processed Gets A Whole New Meaning
As we said above, the clean-eating trend was meant to get rid of heavily processed foods. However, the program now labels all foods that have been altered from their most natural form as processed.
With this definition, processing can include steaming your vegetables or putting fresh ingredients into the blender for a smoothie. Frozen veggies are also considered processed, which can mean less nutritional value for the consumer since some veggies, like peas, are flash-frozen when harvested to protect the nutritional content. By keeping “clean”, you may be lacking nutrients.
Just like the “natural” label, there are no regulations surrounding what it means to be “clean.” Eating your fruits and vegetables is essential, organic or not.
4. What Is Clean Meat?
Clean meat is produced using safe and regulated practices. Animals were harvested following the standards set by the USDA, and the meat was inspected before going to the grocery store. But isn’t this the case for all meat? You got it!
If “clean meat” were held to a different standard than our current global regulations, it could lead to increased foodborne illnesses and a less safe food system. Also, just because meat is organic or grass-fed doesn’t make it any more “clean.”
5. Labor Regulations
We have to ask: if the “clean” grass-fed, organic beef you’re eating was farmed under harsh or unsafe labor conditions, is it still considered clean? The majority of consumers following a “clean-eating” diet focus solely on the processing of food, rather than if the food was created using safe and regulated labor practices. And, since good labor practices are a huge part of sustainability, this is important.
Shouldn’t we reward the companies employing safe labor practices with our business, even if the food is slightly processed? Because, in reality, even chocolate is made from processing cacao beans.
Today, I am reviewing an insightful book about the relationship between consumers and food. Why Smart People Make Bad Food Choices by Jack Bobo, CEO of Futurity, “where food meets future”. Bobo previously served as the Chief Communications Officer and Senior Vice President for Global Policy and Government Affairs at Intrexon Corporation. In 2015, he was named by Scientific American as one of the 100 most influential people in biotechnology. Prior to joining Intrexon, Bobo worked at the US Department of State for thirteen years as a senior advisor on global food policy.
After reading it, I felt like I did not really know myself after all. I am a pretty adventurous and active individual. I eat well, exercise, get sleep, and make good choices to stay healthy. Or do I? Are my brain and my body tricking me? Are marketing efforts on social media and at the grocery store completely confusing even the educated consumer? Apparently so.
Here is the framework that Bobo applies to human behavior and our food system:
The Mindscape: How our minds trick us into thinking we are making the right decisions.
The Foodscape: How the food landscape (restaurants, TV, radio, social media, grocery) has an invisible hand that guides us toward unhealthy choices.
Transforming the Foodscape: What we can do to redesign our food system using behavior science to improve food choices and live to be a healthy 100 years old.
Our brains can play tricks on us. Bobo discusses the tendency to hold onto confirmation bias when we agree with the information that confirms what we already believe. This can impact our existing knowledge about food.
Rather than spend time searching for knowledge that challenges our beliefs, we look for facts that support or defend them.
This means that it is hard for us to change our minds. When was the last time you changed your mind? Not about what to have for dinner – but your position on a political issue or a food issue. According to Bobo’s research, those who constantly evaluate their beliefs and are willing to change their mind are those who have the sharpest intellectual capability. This is called “intellectual humility” which is a sign of “curiosity, openness to new information, and ultimately, intelligence.” As we read his book, Bobo is asking us to rethink and be curious and intellectually humble when pondering our relationship with food.
To Decide or Not to Decide
I did not know that we can only make so many decisions in one day. Tired brains make poor decisions, according to Deborah Cohen, author of A Big Fat Crisis: The Hidden Influences Behind the Obesity Epidemic – and How We Can End It. “Decision fatigue” happens when our brain – or body – is tired and we just want to make the easiest choice possible.
Think about your decisions at the end of the day. It’s time for dinner and you are rushing to the grocery store between work and home. You have to make choices when browsing the 40,000 items along the aisles. This can be a scary place because we are taught to fear our food.
Tired and hangry, you make the simple decision to have pasta and tomato sauce for dinner. The aisle is full of an overwhelming array of different pasta sauces. Hmm….as you look at the labels that read gluten-free, GMO-free, hormone-free, you forget to look at the more critical label that shows the caloric, fat, and sugar contents. And, when our brains are overworked, we usually want to reward ourselves by buying a special treat like ice cream, cookies, or just one candy bar.
The Health Halo Effect
Have you ever noticed that reading one single word or phrase can influence our choices? This is the “halo effect” in action. For instance, we might see “lowfat” on the label and assume it is low in calories and then eat more than we should. Another example is the label, “natural”, which conjures up beautiful fields, sunny days, and produce coming straight from nature. Truth be told, the USDA has never defined “natural”.
According to Food Insight, the information hub created and curated by nutrition and food safety experts at the International Food Information Council nonprofit organization, 70 percent of consumers perceived that foods with the “natural” label were healthier.
Bobo recommends paying attention to your “halo” foods. “Low in sodium” might mean high in fat or “lowfat” might mean high in sugar. Once you understand what motivates you, then you can carefully select the foods that really are healthy.
“The only thing we have to fear is fear itself.”
– Franklin D. Roosevelt
Bobo also reminds us that food is safer today than at any point in human history. He cites Hans Rosling, who wrote the book Factfulness. Our literacy, democratic government, parkland, and food production are just some of the categories that have gotten better over the years. Yet we still have unnecessary fears that signal our brains to worry. Why is this?
Bobo also talks about the availability bias. Our brains like to judge an event depending on how easily we can retrieve it from memory. Of course, when scary thoughts linger in our brain, they prevent us from changing our mind to something more scientifically based even if it is positive.
Alarming news is the media’s “clickbait” and so we are inundated with it causing us to irrationally fear things and worry. For instance, which is more dangerous: sharks or mosquitos? Mosquitoes spread disease and are responsible for hundreds of thousands of deaths annually. Shark attacks average about 80 a year. So why do we always think of Jaws when we swim in the ocean? Movies about sharks sell better than killer mosquito movies.
After reading the just first section of Bobo’s book, I know more about myself. I now know why I overbuy at the grocery store – especially when I am hangry. I know why when I am out to dinner with friends on a Saturday night and have had a couple glasses of wine, we dive into chocolate chip cookies for dessert. I also know why I might have a snack before dinner after a long day of traveling. What else do we have to guard against?
If we cannot entirely trust our brains, can we trust the environmental factors that influence the quality and quantity of food we eat? According to Bobo, apparently not. The foodscape is any area that affects our food decisions such as at home, grocery stores, gas stations, shops, and restaurants as well as on social media, the radio, and television. Here are three of the most important factors that Bobo outlined which have adversely influenced our health.
It all started at the movie theater. In the 1960s, David Wallerstein wanted his patrons to eat more high-margin products, like popcorn, candy, and sodas. He realized that his customers were not going to get up in the middle of a movie and buy another bag of popcorn. Nor were they going to appear gluttonous and sit down with two bags.
What did Wallerstein do? He made everything bigger. Much to his excitement, sales of popcorn and Coca-Cola shot up. After his movie theater success, Wallerstein went on to work for McDonald’s, where Ray Kroc, McDonald’s CEO, came around to the “supersize” concept in 1972.
We all know what has happened since. But why do we eat so much anyway? As it turns out, our eyes and our stomach are not a good judge of what to eat. Jack Bobo details experiments where participants consumed soup from a tube where they couldn’t see how much they were eating. Because the stomach takes about 20 minutes to tell the brain it is full, they overate.
Our eyes are not much better. People tend to eat what is in front of them. Study after study on meals like macaroni and cheese, sandwich sizes for lunch, even fruits and vegetables, have shown that the bigger the portion, the more people eat.
It Is All About The Label
When I look back at pictures of the 1960s, everyone looks thin and fit. Yet, as a society, we know more about health, wellness, and food than ever. We know that sugar is bad for us. We know to eat healthy fats with omega-3s and limit processed saturated fats, like sausage and bacon. We even have the FDA-mandated Nutrition Labeling and Education Act. The hope with labeling was to encourage healthy food to be created by food companies and eaten by the consumer. So what gives?
Bobo says that it is because we really don’t read the labels! According to eye-tracking research, only 9% of people look at the calorie count. Apparently, we all lie to ourselves and think that we read the label, but we just buy what we know and like. Labeling didn’t work on restaurant menus either. Either it is ignored, or consumers look at the dollar per calorie ‘deal’ on food.
The Power of Socialization
Bobo points out that we eat more when we are with friends and family at a holiday meal (that one is obvious) or just on a casual Saturday night. Of course, this has been studied as well and the findings suggest that – the longer we sit, the more we eat. We also overindulge together to assuage the guilt. No one wants to be the only one ordering dessert. This doesn’t mean that you should skip these fun events, it just means that you should pay attention to how much you are eating.
Transforming the Foodscape
As I see it, healthy eating is incredibly difficult. After reading his book, I will never go on “food autopilot” again. I now understand that, at times, I cannot be trusted. Especially with chocolate…
Luckily, I can take comfort knowing that I am not alone, and we have to engage our brain and our stomach when we encounter social media, restaurants, or even our local grocery store. But Bobo also points out that a healthy life is not just looking at food in isolation. He cites Blue Zones, specific regions where locals have exceptional longevity, to demonstrate simple elements to a healthy lifestyle.
In his final chapters, Bobo outlines several ways to weed your way through the complexity of food choices. He also encourages the food industry to take part in his movement to create healthy food options.
You can join Bobo and be part of the movement for healthy eating by following his suggested solutions in his book, which are both for you as a consumer and, just as importantly, those in the food industry.
All is not lost when it comes to our health. We hope Why Smart People Make Bad Food Choices readers feel empowered with a new level of awareness and understanding of why we all behave the way we do when it comes to our food choices.
I have outlined just a few of his concepts in this article to give you a flavor of his analysis of our food system. For more detail and clarity on his perspectives, we encourage you to read the book, which you can find on Amazon.
Whether you’re looking for a quick bite of information or want to drop some knowledge on your dinnertime companions, here’s our Featured 5 of the Week!
GMO and CRISPR are two technologies that help farmers grow our food with fewer pesticides, less water, and less impact on the environment. But, these technologies work in different ways and provide us with various opportunities.
5. How They Work
GMO and CRISPR work differently. For GMOs or genetically modified organisms, a gene is transferred from one species to another to provide an organism with a new trait—for example, a pest-resistant or drought-tolerant crop.
CRISPR is much more precise. It alters or deletes DNA from the same species to reach the desired outcome, again like pest resistance or drought tolerance.
4. Who They Affect
As you may have noticed above, not only does the process of GMO and CRISPR differ, but also who they’re made for. GMO is used for different species, as genes are transferred from one species to another one. For example, in Bt Corn, Bt, a natural insecticide, is taken from the soil and inserted into corn, making the corn pest resistant.
CRISPR, on the other hand, is only used within the same species. An example of this is drought-tolerant corn. CRISPR uses genes already within the species to achieve the desired outcome.
3. CRISPR Can Delete Genes
Unlike GMOs, CRISPR can do more than simply edit genes; it can also eliminate them altogether. Because CRISPR is so precise and used within the same species, it can delete DNA to reach its desired outcome.
One example of this is the non-browning mushroom. Here, the gene responsible for browning is silenced or deleted. This way, the mushroom achieves a longer shelf life, leading to less food waste.
2. CRISPR Can Be Used for Natural Evolution
Again, unlike GMOs, CRISPR has the power to alter natural evolution in a species of plants. With CRISPR, scientists can shorten the natural evolution of plants by years. Theoretically, scientists can evolutionary change the future through CRISPR.
1. CRISPR Can Also Be Used on Humans and Animals
CRISPR is used on more than just plants. Humans and animals can also receive benefits through this technology. For humans, scientists are using CRISPR technology to find cures for Type I Diabetes, Alzheimer’s, and other human diseases.
In terms of animals, scientists have been working to introduce genetics from Angus cows born without horns to dairy cows. With this, dairy cows can be saved from the pain of manual horn extraction (disbudding).
Every day we choose what to eat. This never used to be a big deal. But today food has become synonymous with politics. I get it. My sister’s family and mine are a close-knit bunch who have mixed views on eating meat. Among our group of children, we have two vegans, two vegetarians, and four meat-eaters. We love each other a lot and we don’t ask the vegans to cook steaks, or the meat lovers to make only plant-based dishes. Instead, we work together to make sure there is enough food for everyone’s plate. Then, we spend our time caring about each other as people, not poking about what we are eating. It is a matter of respect and support for everyone’s choice.
So, why can’t Epicurious do the same for their readers?
Epicurious is riding the climate change wave, but unlike my family, it is not finding a middle ground. They are certainly entitled to their opinion, but are they informed by science or some other factor? Even more audacious, they’re indirectly telling the people, families, and communities associated with beef that it is acceptable to just go out of business.
I have casual conversations with friends and acquaintances who are diligently participating in ‘Meatless Mondays’ or even skipping red meat altogether because they think they are doing a good deed for the climate.
So, is this true? If we banned all cattle, would we reduce global greenhouse gases (GHGs)? No, we would not. Here is a better question: what if everyone knew that meat can be part of a broader climate solution instead of a climate problem?
We want to give you a more nuanced, data-driven perspective so you can come to your own conclusion.
Cows solving climate change? What?!
Raised in Minnesota, I can tell you there is no more beautiful sight than the grasslands. In the late ‘60s, my bedroom window overlooked a wetland prairie. Whether you think of them as prairies, pampas, steppes, or savannas, about one-third of our global land is open grasslands…tall grasses blowing in the wind, full of deer, elk, songbirds, wildflowers, and cattle.
As a 1,000-acre rancher in South Carolina told one of us at D2D, “I am really a grass farmer.” When cattle roam freely, their hooves dig up the earth, seeds drop in from neighboring plants, manure adds fertilizer, and the grasslands thrive. The open land thrives because it is a carbon sink.
As Meredith Ellis, a cattle rancher from Texas told us, “our ranch is sequestering 2,500 tons of carbon (after enteric emissions) each year – equivalent to taking 551 cars off the road.”
Grass-fed and Feedlot finished?
Did you know that about 95% of all cattle start their lives on grass and then finish the last third of life in the feedlot? Many argue that once cattle are in the feedlot, they contribute to the atmospheric methane. Yet it is the reverse: grass-fed cattle emit approximately 20% more methane because it takes them about a year longer to reach market weight.
Because of the tremendous environmental benefits of grassland, we are not saying that all cows should be raised in a feedlot, but to point out that corn-fed cattle simply produce less methane. Additionally, many animal nutrition companies are currently researching for the ‘holy grail’ in animal feed to further reduce the release of methane anywhere from 3% to 50%. The reason? More belching occurs when cattle eat the roughage in the grass versus a highly nutritious and tailored feedlot diet. It is when the roughage breaks down that methane is produced.
Moooving over for dairy to digest methane
Putting beef production aside for a moment, we also noticed that Epicurious did not ban another bovine product from their recipes – dairy. Is it because dairy cows produce less methane than cattle? Let’s take a look at the 250 million dairy cows all over the world.
The dairy industry has benefited from anaerobic methane digesters for years. Dairy farms collect the cow manure and plow it into rubber-lined ponds right next to the barns.
Each of these coverings looks like a dome and helps capture methane. And then, to make a long story short, methane is used as electricity for the farm or sold back on the grid.
These farms have cheap electricity and are GHG-negative because they use methane rather than fossil fuels. In fact, California has committed to a 40% reduction of dairy methane emissions by 2030 just by using digesters alone.
Just to give you an idea of the importance of animal feed, let’s take a look at India…
They have 56 million dairy cows, more than the E.U., Brazil, U.S., and Russia — combined. Of course, they don’t eat their cows; they just use them for dairy products.
Because their feed and milking systems are not as sophisticated, a cow only produces 2,600 pounds of milk a year versus the U.S.’s 21,000 pounds per cow, on average. Therefore, India needs eight more cows to give the same amount of milk as one U.S. cow. And at 6 million head, China’s dairy cows have a similar production rate as India.
That is a lot more methane!
What if we DID NOT eat beef?
That might be extreme – but it’s what people are thinking. Especially now, given Epicurious’s three million subscribers. Pat Brown, CEO of Impossible Burger, said it is his mission to remove meat from our diets. And ReThinkx predicts that the animal industry will be almost extinct by 2030.
Yes, plants are critical for our health. (Have you had your 3-5 servings of fruits and vegetables today?) But the nutrients that meat provides are critical, too. What would happen if all we had to choose from were only plants and grains? To find out what an animal-free country would look like, Robin White and Mary Beth Hall of the Department of Animal and Poultry Science at Virginia Tech and U.S. Dairy Forage Research Center, studied the impact of a vegetarian country on U.S. GHG emissions, economics, and nutrition.
In short, White and Hall found a reduction in GHGs of 2.6%, or 28% of agricultural emissions. They explain that there would be 23% more food but deficiencies in U.S. nutritional requirements of minerals, vitamins, and fatty acids. For example, eating a lean 8-oz. piece of steak provides you with 45 grams of protein, versus eating a cup of black beans with only about 15 grams. You get more protein with fewer calories.
There would also be an economic impact. What do we tell the ranchers, farmers, feeders, processors, marketers, and more who have invested billions of dollars creating protein for human health, not to mention the trickle-down effects on local economies?
Cows are carbon neutral. Really!
Despite popular thinking, the reality is that cows are neutral carbon emitters! How? Over time, they do not emit more carbon than they eat. It is undisputed that plants pull carbon dioxide (CO2) out of the air and then combine it with water and sunlight to make carbohydrates and oxygen. The plants use carbohydrates as fuel for growth and emit oxygen into the air as a byproduct. Very handy for us as we need that to breathe.
When a cow eats a plant, it consumes carbohydrates – which contain carbon. It swallows the plant into their four-chambered stomach. The first chamber is massive and holds enough food to fill your bathtub – about 50 gallons. After the plant enters their stomach, they bring it back up to chew some more – “chewing their cud.” The food then goes back down to the stomach to be digested by the microbes, called methanogens.
This is when they belch a portion as methane which is then released into the atmosphere. This methane is the culprit, as it is 28 times more potent as a GHG than CO2.
The good news is that it only lasts for about eight to ten years before it converts into one part CO2 and two parts H2O via hydroxyl oxidation.
Here is where it gets interesting: according to Frank Mitloehner, Professor and Air Quality Specialist at the University of California, Davis:
“If you are not adding additional cattle or cows to the earth, then there will be no additional methane and no additional global warming.”
As long as more cows are not introduced on the planet, then no additional CO2 is added. For the past ten years, global cattle population has been steady at around 1 billion, yet the average annual presence of methane has steadily increased.
Sources for chart: noaa.gov, U.S. Department of Agriculture; USDA Foreign Agricultural Service; ID 263979.
Putting this in perspective
So where does agriculture stand in relationship to global GHG contribution? According to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, it is about 12%.
There is no doubt that methane is a powerful GHG that we want to keep out of the atmosphere. But it does not all come from animals. According to NASA, the methane sources can be broken out as follows: 30% wetlands, including ponds, lakes, rivers; 30% related to oil, gas, and coal extraction; 20% by agriculture, including livestock, waste management, and rice cultivation; 20% wildfires, biomass burning, permafrost, termites, dams, and the ocean. Here are more detailed breakdowns:
Freedom to Choose
We are already so divided as a country on a variety of political and social issues. Why are we doing this with food and our climate? Yes, cattle emit methane. That is a fact. It is also true that humans have creatively adapted to a life of comfort and health for thousands of years. Let’s use methane reduction for cattle as a lesson in innovation to make our food and our planet better. Let the science speak for itself and not let emotions get carried away.
I quickly recall my family and I debating issues at the dinner table, but at the end of the day, we respect each other’s thinking. We are environmentalists. We are fierce advocates of sustainable food, innovation, and making the world a better place while also being pragmatic about protecting humans and animals. And we also realize how incredibly fortunate we are to choose what we eat each and every day.