Sugar is Sugar is Sugar

brown and white sugars

Based on multiple scientific studies on human health, researchers are finding that excess sugar consumption can suppress your immune system, elevate your blood pressure, contribute to obesity, increase the risk for heart disease, liver disease, cardiovascular disease and cancer, and can even give you wrinkles.

The AMA, the FDA, and WHO all recommend limiting sugar. While the AMA is the most conservative at 24 grams for women and 36 for men, the FDA and WHO indicate that there are benefits to keeping sugar to less than 5-10% of your daily calories, about 25 – 50 grams.

Yet, most Americans unknowingly eat between 80-110 grams of added sugar a day. There is the obvious location in sodas and candy bars. But the challenge is that sugar is often hiding in places where you might not expect it: ketchup, salad dressing, sauces, and yogurt.

For instance, a quick bowl of breakfast cereal can start your day off with a sugar high. Bran cereal with raisins has about 19 grams of sugar and some yogurts have as much as 17 grams of added sugar. Compare this with a peanut chocolate candy bar that has about 20 grams. Both start off your day dangerously close to your recommended daily amount! Sugar is addictive, so when you start your day with too much sugar, your body – and your brain –  wants more.

The sugar high: dopamine

Sugar has a direct relationship to dopamine, a neurotransmitter that helps control the brain’s reward and pleasure centers. When you eat sugar, it causes dopamine to be released and actually activates your brain’s “reward system.” This is known as a sugar high or buzz. But the cumulative effects of too much sugar are dangerous to your health. Take a look at this video produced by Ted-Ed:

Eating excess sugar isn’t doing your body any favors

As sugar rises in the blood, the pancreas releases insulin into the bloodstream. Insulin is responsible for glucose uptake into the cells, where it is used for energy. It also signals the liver and muscles to convert the glucose into glycogen for storage.

When your body produces too much insulin in response to high sugar and carbohydrates in the blood, your blood pressure increases. This is because high insulin causes magnesium stores to decrease. If magnesium levels are too low, the blood vessels will not be able to fully relax thereby causing restriction of the blood vessels and increased blood pressure.

Additionally, excess sugar, especially fructose, increases uric acid levels, which inhibit nitric oxide in the blood vessels. Since nitric oxide helps blood vessels maintain their elasticity, decrease nitric oxide increases blood pressure.

What is the difference between glucose and fructose?

Humans need glucose for energy. But too much glucose is stored in your liver and muscles and turned into fat.

The cells in the body do not use fructose for energy, so all of the fructose you eat is metabolized in the liver. Fructose is not used as an energy source. Instead, in the liver, fructose is turned into free fatty acids, very low-density lipoproteins and triglycerides, which are then stored as body fat.

Too much contributes to obesity, elevated blood pressure, liver disease, cardiovascular disease, and cancer.

What about the natural sugars found in fruits and vegetables?

You are not going to become obese by eating fruits and vegetables. While the body handles sugars naturally present in fruits and vegetables in a similar way to added sugars, the benefits of vitamins, minerals, antioxidants, and fiber make eating fruits and veggies worthwhile for your diet.

In addition, the fiber in the fruit and vegetables fills you up and slows down the rate at which your body digests the sugar, thus decreasing the glycemic impact. On average, you should have between 5 and 9 servings of fruit and vegetables per day.

To learn the sugar content in different fruits, the USDA provides a searchable nutrient database.

There are a lot of different types of sugar.  What makes them different?

Sugar comes from many sources. The most common is from sugarcane, sugar beets, and corn. Many people think sugars such as honey, agave, or brown sugar are better for you because they are “natural.” This is not true. Sugar is sugar—no matter where it comes from.

All sugar, except agave, have roughly the same ratio of fructose and glucose. Your body processes glucose and fructose the same way, no matter the source.

What about calorie count?

Each type of sugar, whether it is sucrose or high fructose corn syrup, provides the same number of calories. One gram of sugar has 4 calories, which means that 1 teaspoon is roughly 20 calories and 1 tablespoon provides about 60 calories.

What are the sugar alternatives?

You do have choices to satisfy your sweet tooth. There are two kinds of alternative sweeteners: natural, such as Stevia, and artificial, such as Splenda, Equal and Sweet’N Low. Stevia is made directly from the stevia leaf while the others are created in a lab, hence the difference between a natural sweetener and an artificial sweetener. To read more about the differences of these sweeteners, check out our post What is an Artificial Sweetener?

Labeling

The FDA has now included ‘added sugars’ in the new labeling process. These are sugars that are added during food processing or packing. A study led by researchers from the Friedman School of Nutrition Science and Policy at Tufts University and the University of Liverpool estimated that the new FDA labeling could prevent or postpone nearly 1 million cases of cardiometabolic disease, including heart disease, stroke, and type 2 diabetes over a 20 year period. For more on labeling, check out our D2D post on nutrition facts.

Food Future: What will it take to nourish a nation in 2050?

sun setting over field

Contributed article by Ryan Tipps, Managing Editor, AGDAILY

This article originally appeared in AGDAILY in March 2018 and was honored with a judge’s merit at the 2018 Agricultural Communicators Network awards.

For years, discussions about the future of the agricultural industry have converged on the arbitrary yet consequential date of 2050, a point two generations from now when the global population is expected to balloon to nearly 10 billion people. If the ag industry were to stay rooted in today’s technologies and understanding of arable land, we will need to find a way to increase production by about 70 percent to feed the world.

Yet agriculture is anything but stagnant. Particularly since the back half of the 20th century, technology has reshaped nearly every aspect of a farmer’s life. The general public doesn’t often share that perception, but the reality is that cutting-edge machinery, seed and crop protection, and data analysis have put a premium on scientific study to best produce and distribute food and fiber. From today’s battery-driven machines and savvy seed genetics to crops that optimize water and the potential to drive combines using virtual-reality goggles, keeping pace with population growth means building our technological infrastructure.

The question is whether what’s being done is enough to support the ag industry and to keep both our world’s developed and developing nations on a path toward future food security.

While activists work hard to inject antagonism into many food debates, there’s a growing belief among many ag corporations and industry associations that it will take everyone willing and able to contribute to our food supply to be able to reach our goals. We are an industry of many heroes — in the fields, the laboratories, and our roadways — but are we also creating too many perceived villains?

In a tweet last month, Robb Fraley, Monsanto’s Chief Technology Officer and a pioneer of genetic engineering, said, “Myth-busting organic & conventional farming: reality is both are safe & contribute to consumer choice, food security & affordability. Time to end the ‘food fights’ & celebrate ALL our farmers’ success!”

The industry has a better chance at realizing its 2050 production goals if everyone who has a stake in production talks with one another rather than at one another. Many companies are promoting forms of this inclusivity because it makes both ethical and business sense to do so.

Standing up for sustainability

“Sustainable” has become a 21st-century buzzword, but it has to be more than just that if agriculture wants to follow an arc of improving soil quality, resource conservation, and production growth. As much as the mainstream media and bloggers play up an enduring conflict between conventional and organic production, that perception doesn’t always play out at the ground level.

Syngenta, one of the world’s leading suppliers of crop protection, seeds, seed treatments, and digital ag systems, has many customers who farm using both types of production methods, a decision that is largely influenced by market demands and opportunity.

“Farmers should be able to choose what works best for their operation,” said Jill Wheeler, Syngenta’s Head of Sustainable Productivity in North America. “They look at it as, ‘I am producing. I want to put bread on my table and on someone else’s table. What is going to work best?’ We need farmers to be successful.”

Already, there have been crossovers in how and what producers learn from each other. Genetically engineered crops regularly lend themselves to no-till practices, something of a centerpiece to education provided by the USDA’s Natural Resources Conservation Services. In recent years, more organic producers, too, have followed suit and begun applying minimal- or no-till efforts to their land. Conversely, conventional growers are adopting the lessons learned by organic farmers’ longtime use of cover crops. In Iowa, for example, the use of cover crops recently increased by 18 percent year over year, and a 2017 Syngenta survey found that cover crops were among growers’ top interests, although the challenge of managing cover crops is something that appears to keep even more people from using them.

“I think things are getting better, and I’m so hopeful,” said Dr. Tracy Misiewicz, Assistant Director of Science for The Organic Center. “The NRCS is really promoting cover crops. That’s a technique that organic farmers have been using for a long time, and I’m happy to see it coming into the mainstream of agriculture.”

Programs such as the USDA’s Sound and Sensible initiative have helped to remove barriers to organic certification, and have worked with farmers to correct small issues before they become larger ones. (Image courtesy of USDA)

Despite these positive steps — the education and crossover of on-farm production strategies — the exact definition of “sustainability” remains elusive (often, too, muddied by the waters of social media).

Sustainability “is one of those words that’s said so often that it means different things to different people,” said Darren Wallis, Vice President of North American Communications for Bayer Crop Science. “Our focus is to help that farmer and to help the land be sustainable, whether that means fewer passes over their ground, thus less fuel spent, whether that’s herbicide-tolerant crops that enable no-till or less-till agriculture, whether that’s seed treatments in much smaller doses so that it’s much more targeted and much more effective. All of that adds up to sustainability.”

At Syngenta, sustainability centers around resource efficiency, responsible leadership, and the health and safety of people, while also being driven by the economic, environmental, and social needs of agriculture.

“A huge component of sustainability for us, and for every grower, is continuous improvement,” Wheeler said.

Misiewicz said that when The Organic Center talks about sustainability, it’s typically in the context of the environment — supporting natural ecosystems while simultaneously providing people with food. She said that includes supporting biodiversity, reducing water pollution, and building soil carbon.

“Every farmer I’ve met, organic or conventional, is trying to do good,” Misiewicz said. “Farmers are growing their crops, trying to meet their bottom line and all the while they are aiming to be good stewards of the land. There is room for more than one agricultural production system in the world — but we should all have the same ultimate goal of feeding the population in an environmentally friendly and sustainable way.”

A plan for the future

So, what is the way forward for this functioning, but occasionally inefficient and contradictory, agricultural system?

It’s understood throughout agriculture that there’s no silver bullet to improve productivity, said Wallis, who grew up on a diversified crop and beef cattle farm in Missouri before landing at Bayer. In fact, many in the industry believe that, because of things like the 60 percent yield improvement seen during the shift from old-fashioned to hybrid corn, the industry has already experienced its major leaps in productivity and that, from here onward, the tactics will involve tweaking the systems already in place.

The large gains came in commodity crops thanks to use of genetic engineering in plants, the safety of which was again confirmed in a recent analysis of long-term peer-reviewed research. During the Ag Media Summit in 2016, Monsanto’s Fraley noted that all types of agriculture are needed to feed nearly 3 billion more mouths in the coming generations. He also told a standing-room-only audience that almost all of his company’s vegetables are non-GMO, and many are grown by organic farmers, further highlighting the shared interests of conventional and organic farmers.

“What’s exciting is hearing the whole industry addressing that topic with a singular voice,” said Wallis. “I don’t think it’s one company addressing it that way; it’s the whole industry. I don’t think it’s just us describing it that way because it’s popular; I think it’s us describing it because that’s what we see value in.”

Most major agricultural companies are finding ways to connect with a broad range of growers. For example, Bayer offers crop protection that caters to orchards and vegetable fields, as well as more well-known corn- and soybean-centric products. Elsewhere, Syngenta has been growing its AgriEdge Excelsior platform and related Land.db software, its digital data-management tools that are agnostic to a grower’s production style.

Grain elevators in Illinois. (Image courtesy of Ron Frazier, Flickr)

In 2013, Syngenta also launched its Good Growth Plan, a measurable strategy that specifically addresses the 200,000 new people that need to be fed around the world on a daily basis.

The plan looks at making crops more efficient, enhancing biodiversity on 5 million hectares, reducing soil degradation on 10 million hectares, empowering those producers in developing markets operating on fewer than 5 acres, training 20 million more workers on safe food practices, and committing to fairer labor practices. These are concepts that can apply across the spectrum of growers, both in the U.S. and globally.

Amid the divisive rhetoric and negativity that often infect social media discussions of agriculture, it’s curious how many more farmers would embrace a plan such as this if the name of a “big ag” company wasn’t attached to it. It seems likely that there’s more unifying growers than there is dividing them — it’s simply that the divisions are amplified in the online arena, as well as by some documentaries and other media. Farmers all need to address their bottom lines, but understanding how they fit into the greater system benefits all of agriculture.

“Organic farmers aren’t going to traditional ag companies, and those companies aren’t necessarily talking to organic farmers,” Misiewicz noted. “So how do we bridge this gap, and say, ‘There is this technology out there, technology that’s been developed. How do we put you in touch with the people developing these technologies so they know what you need? And how do we make you aware of what’s out there that may be really helpful to you?’”

The answer is embedded somewhere in the same digital media tools that are used to vilify many farmers.

Data to bridge the divide

Robert Saik and his son, Nick, are among agriculture’s biggest champions of biotechnology. They both have done recent pushes on social media to better highlight ways that conventional and organic can be working together for the betterment of all farmers. Nick released a YouTube video examining the GMO-versus-organic discussion in an effort to point out that conventional and organic production methods aren’t as far apart as one might think.

Not long afterward, his father put out a call on Twitter seeking organic growers who are open to seeing value in generic engineering, something not currently permitted by the USDA in the National Organic Program or in production from other grassroots organic-like organizations, such as Certified Naturally Grown.

Getting past the talk and making innovation, technology, and stewardship hallmarks of the process — every process — is vital. The industry is already up against barriers from trade policy and other politics, global infrastructure, concerns about climate change, and research limitations in some sectors (Misiewicz said that a historical lack of organic research has contributed significantly to the yield gap in organic production when compared with conventional).

The frustrating thing is this: Wheeler thinks that we are already close to the production levels we need by 2050, but the industry is largely hindered by factors that affect distribution, as well as by waste.

“All of us are talking about it in a similar fashion, and it’s not just talk. It’s the ability for companies to address those needs using the different tools and the technologies we offer,” Wallis said.

With a focus on soil nutrients, cover crops, organic matter, hydration, and land optimization, data-management technology has been showcased as universally beneficial for farmers who have a couple of hundred acres on up.

This is where efficiency comes into play. Imaging and data analysis help farmers identify, for example, areas at pivot points in their fields that are underperforming. Sometimes inputs can be adjusted. Other times, farmers have opted to convert such space to pollinator or wildlife habitat or to put it into the Conservation Reserve Program.

These data-management opportunities have ag corporations ushering in new partnerships to improve land quality. Syngenta has worked with The Nature Conservancy on multiple occasions on projects such as addressing soil compaction from a pipeline installation on an Illinois farm and in using the AgriEdge platform in Saginaw, Michigan, to provide metrics on nutrient efficiency in the land.

“It’s that kind of thinking, of how we can work together and start testing some of these processes and seeing what happens, and what can help our farmers for the future,” Wheeler said.

Despite the excitement about harnessing data, things moved slowly in the industry for a long time, even among its Millennials. Only in recent years has adoption of data management accelerated, and there’s much more automation to data uploading than there was even a few years ago.

“It might be that the learning curve is such because, even though we’ve had these tools for a while, we haven’t always had a way to get that data into a manageable form and a manageable place,” Wheeler said. “That’s one area that we have to get better at.”

The long game

Technology-focused agricultural companies are used to looking ahead. When a seed or chemical product can take anywhere from seven to 12 years to get to market, it’s imperative to anticipate the needs of the industry and plan accordingly. Easier said than done, in many instances, but the major players in the industry are succeeding.

“As an innovation company, the technologies that our R&D teams are working on right now, depending on what they are, they may be as much as 10 to 12 years out,” Wallis said of the work being done at Bayer. “Looking at the population growth as it’s going, and looking at some of those demands, we absolutely take the long view.”

Wheeler believes that that view has gotten even clearer for Syngenta. She noted that her company’s acquisition by ChemChina means Syngenta reverts to being a private company and will be less driven by quarterly financial results. Instead, it will have the opportunity to put resources into projects that will pay dividends down the road.

“Agriculture is so incredibly diverse that it has its own challenges that way,” she said. “But it also means that, from a technology perspective, we’re looking at what technologies apply to this field, what will work best here or over there, with the understanding that they’re all going to be a little different.”

Tomato plants are fed from water filtered through a sand media filtration tank system and along underground drip irrigation tubes 10 inches below the surface in Woodland, California. (Image courtesy of USDA)

Misiewicz at The Organic Center keeps up to date on what little research is available in the organic sector, including analyzing how things would shake out if more land was converted to organic production. She knows that the need for arable land, and its increasing scarcity in the U.S., is a limiting factor for a complete production shift to organic, but she feels that changes to growing patterns and reducing waste is important.

“That way, we’d be greatly increasing the sustainability of our food production, and we could feed 9.5 billion people by 2050, and we wouldn’t have to use more land than we do now,” the California-based Misiewicz said. “Research shows that we need to take a multifaceted approach to our food system, and if we address these other factors, organic can be a huge part of the solution.”

That connects with the solution that many entities are preaching. If “sustainability” is the industry’s major buzzword, then “diversification” can’t be far behind. That can be seen in crop selection and rotation, as well as in what particular plant genetics are chosen.

While “big ag” is seen as relying on thousands upon thousands of acres of corn crops in the Midwest, the investment being made in small growers can’t be overlooked either, not in a world in which these smaller growers account for about 70 percent of food produced globally.

“It’s amazing how many operations there are like that in the world,” Wheeler said.

And in the same way that there is a growing industry push toward acceptance of multiple types of production — whether conventional, organic or even vertical and hydroponic — there are efforts to showcase small-grower inclusivity, too. The table is big enough for all farmers to come together and find the best path forward. The challenge is making sure that there are enough labor and financial and environmental resources to have that table properly stocked three decades from now.

Coming Soon to Your Favorite Foods: The New Nutrition Facts Label

nutrition facts label on a potato chip bag

Why is the label being updated?

Hard to believe it has been over two decades since the label was last updated — especially when you consider all the new research that has been published surrounding obesity and chronic illness in the United States and its correlation to an unhealthy diet. By January of 2020, food manufacturers with $10 million or more in annual sales will be required to comply with the new label.

The edits to the label are being enacted to better educate consumers on their dietary choices, and hopefully remedy the current consumer issue of label literacy. A study provided by Label Insight concluded that 67% of consumers find it difficult to determine if a product meets their nutritional needs, simply by looking at the label. Equally as shocking, almost half (48%) of consumers are left feeling uninformed about what they are consuming, even after reading a product label.

The Federal Food, Drug, and Cosmetic Act (FD&C) directed the FDA to change the labeling so consumers can be smart about their diet. The FDA is in charge of these updates, and the motivations behind the changes are based on results from scientific studies, research in the public health sector as well as expert recommendations. These updates will provide the information you need to make better dietary decisions for yourself and your families.

“Our intent is to update our existing educational materials and create new educational opportunities to explain the overall role of using the label to assist consumers in maintaining healthy dietary practices, with an emphasis on each of the new changes of the label.” –FDA

How to best read the new label

Surveys conducted by both the International Food Information Council Foundation and the American Heart Association show that only 28% of consumers say that nutritional information is easy to find on current packaging. The D2D team wanted to create a helpful reference illustrating where to locate specific nutritional information on the label, and tips on how to apply this to your daily diet.

Click here to download!

Details on the changes

Formatting updates. The FDA determined that several pieces of information on the label are of utmost importance for consumers to know, such as calories and serving size, thus you will see an increase in font size and boldness.

Serving Size changes. Since 1993, when our current nutrition label was created, the amount that people eat and drink has significantly changed. It is all too easy to eat an entire container not realizing that the nutritional facts are for more than one serving. Soda is a perfect example. The package size of a soda can has changed from 8 to 12 ounces, and we now see a 20-ounce size on the grocery store shelves. The new serving sizes will reflect more realistically what a person consumes in one sitting.

Daily Value updates. The Institute of Medicine has concluded that nutrients such as fiber, vitamin D, and sodium should all be looked at as a percentage of daily value (%DV), to better understand each nutrient within the context of your daily diet.

Definition and addition of “added sugars”.  Added sugars are sugars that are added to foods “during processing or are packaged as such.” This is not to be confused with the sugars that are naturally occurring. A series of expert groups, including the American Heart Association, American Academy of Pediatrics, the Institute of Medicine, and the World Health Organization, have recommended decreasing the intake of added sugars to no more than 36 grams per day for men and 24 grams per day for women. You need to count added sugars as part of your total daily intake. For details on how your body digest sugar check out Sugar is Sugar is Sugar.

Addition of Vitamin D and Potassium. The CDC conducted a nationwide survey showing that the U.S. population is deficient in both vitamin D and potassium. Vitamin A and C will no longer be required on the label (but can voluntarily be included as companies see fit), as deficiencies in these two nutrients are rare.

Fats. The FDA will continue to require the Total fat, Saturated fat and Trans fat, while Calories from fat will no longer be a necessity. This is due to scientific conclusions that the type of fat is more important than the amount of fat.

Footnote Change. The footnote will now read “*The % Daily Value tells you how much a nutrient in a serving of food contributes to a daily diet. 2,000 calories a day is used for general nutrition advice”, to clarify what percent daily value means.

D2D On the Farm: The Row We Hoe

Fresh vegetables from Hindinger Farm

2018 Farm Income is at a 12-Year Low

You might be surprised to learn that the family farm still prevails! 99% of the farms in the United States are family-owned, and these farms account for approximately 89% of total farm production.

But the bigger picture of American agriculture is sobering. A volatile commodity trading environment, higher operating costs, and lower crop prices have farm income forecasts at a record 12-year low.

The effect of these factors, which are beyond a farmers control, ripple down to the grocery store. For every dollar consumers spend on food at the supermarket, the farmer receives just 14.8 cents.

“The prices that farmers have been receiving for their products aren’t paying the bills, and too many are being forced to give up farming.” – National Farmers Union

The Row We Hoe – Hindinger Farm

On a broad vista of 120 acres in New Haven County, Connecticut, fourth-generation Hindinger Farms grows a variety of fruit and vegetable crops from early spring until late fall. Seven days a week, fourteen hours a day, George prepares the fields, nurtures the plants, weeds, keeps crop pests at bay and harvests the crops. Liz takes care of the farm stand, finances, and marketing.

As with many smaller farms, the costs of running their farm can sometimes exceed the income they produce from growing and selling their fresh fruits and vegetables. These substantial costs include insurance, electricity, fuel, loan payments, equipment, labor, irrigation, seeds, nursery stock and much more. So, they are always looking for ways to increase revenue and get people to eat more fruits and vegetables!

The Hindingers – Anne, George, and Liz run the 4th generation family farm in Hamden, Connecticut. The farm produces vegetables and fruits from May through November.

The Dirt-to-Dinner team chatted with the Hindingers to get a better sense of their farm and operations.

D2D: Tell us about the beginnings of Hindinger Farm.
HF: Our grandparents emigrated from Germany in the 1890s, bought the farmland, and started raising turkeys, pigs, and a few vegetable crops. They did all the farm work themselves and would sell at the wholesale market in New Haven. In 1955, Liz and George’s father expanded farm production by adding more fruits and vegetables.

Picking strawberries at Hindinger Farm, 1914

D2D: Do you grow with organic or conventional methods?
HF: Actually, for over 30 years we have practice Integrated Pest Management (IPM) which you could consider the best combination of the two. IPM allows us to prevent pest damage to fruits and vegetables while minimizing pesticide use.

We regularly test our soil, rotate crops and scout the fields for pest damage to stay ahead of their cycle. We utilize the resources of the Connecticut Agricultural station to help identify and manage crop pests. Fallow fields are cover-cropped to nourish the soil, and beneficial plants are planted alongside crops to help produce a healthy and biodiverse ecosystem.

Kale and Collards — two late-season crops.

D2D: Do you require seasonal labor?
HF: Yes, we hire H2-A workers from Jamaica. We provide housing, transportation and comply with the rules and regulations of The Immigration and Nationality Act. These workers are vital to our operation as without them we would not be able to farm. We cannot find local labor to work long hours, come back season after season, and genuinely care as much about our farm.

D2D: There is an upward trend in consumers’ desire for buying locally-grown food, and research forecasts that this trend will continue as consumers demand transparency and sustainability. What do you think of this?
HF: We earn the majority of our income by selling directly to consumers through our farm stand and seasonal Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) subscriptions.

But, we live in a town of 60,000 people and have approximately 300 CSA subscriptions. So, consumers are shopping elsewhere or not eating enough fruits and vegetables! This may be out of convenience, time constraints, or a better price point in the grocery store, but the reality is you cannot compare the freshness and variety of locally-grown produce with that you find in a grocery store.

“We estimate that if our customers would spend just $5 more per week on produce, we could be ahead of our expenses.”

Sweet corn – a summertime favorite.

D2D: How do you try to differentiate yourself to bring in more customers?
HF: We are the farmers, and the people who meet us can get honest answers on anything they ask. We work the same soil as our great-grandparents did, and think that heritage resonates with a lot of people. We also sell vegetables from other farms, milk and cheese, jams, jellies, and gift items to help customers get more shopping done in one place.

George Hindinger promotes the annual strawberry festival on Connecticut Local TV

D2D: How have you adapted to social media?
HF: A social media presence on Facebook, Google Search, and even Tripadvisor have helped bring in customers to our farm. People and families have fun when they are here: they meet us, can visit with our petting goats, and enjoy a tractor ride or tour of the farm. And they go home with fresh fruits and vegetables to feed their family.

D2D: What else do you do to bring more customers to the farm?
HF: We host our famous Strawberry Festival every June, with ice cream, face painting, and music. The festival is excellent exposure and brings in many people outside the community to learn about our farm. We also host a fall harvest where we make and sell apple cider and sell lots of apples, pumpkins, gourds, squashes, and any other fall vegetables in season.

The Hindingers grow the most delicious peaches!

D2D: What will you plant differently this year than last?
HF: Every year we grow something different for our CSA customers. Maybe it’s a new type of squash, bean or tomato. The seed companies always have a great selection in January when we do our seed purchasing. Additionally, we will be growing more cut flowers this year so that people can have a fresh bouquet adorning the dinner table.

D2D: Farming is a lot of hard work. Why do you do it?
HF: We love the farm, the land, and our community.

D2D: What about the next generation – will they assume the farm?
HF: At this time, we are still working with the next generation to carry on with the farm. They have witnessed our struggles, good years and not so good years, and are not sure they want the same life. But we remain optimistic: as we modernized the farm and brought it into the age of technology, our children have the opportunity to take the farm again to the next level.

Do you know a farmer who would like to share their story? Let us know at connect@dirt-to-dinner.com

Healthy Sugar? The Sweet Taste of Tagatose

chocolate chip cookies

Sugar is the holy grail of sweetness.

Along with having the perfect texture and mouth-feel, sugar also makes foods taste sweet. It is inexpensive to produce and is a very flexible cooking ingredient. Its properties can withstand freezing temperatures, as in the case of ice cream, as well as high heat, as in the case of warm chocolate chip cookies.

Being that it is in most of our favorite treats, it is no surprise that the body craves it! When we ingest sugar, a chemical reaction occurs in the brain where dopamine is released. Dopamine triggers a feel-good sensation in the body and causes the body to crave more of the sugar.

It is no wonder that the United States ate 11 million metric tons of sugar in 2018 alone – that is 81 pounds per person per year!

It is a struggle to keep sugar at arms-length. According to Mintel, 87% of consumers are cutting back on sugar in their diet, but white granulated sugar, honey, brown sugar, and maple syrup are still the top five choices. These products still get processed in the body the same way. So, consumers remain confused!

Tagatose may be the answer to the world’s craving for sweets.

Tagatose is a good-for-you sugar. Good for you? Seems impossible, but true: tagatose is healthy and has all the physical properties of granulated sugar.

When we were introduced to Bonumose, a tagatose manufacturer, at an iSelectFund event, we were naturally a bit skeptical. The idea of a “healthy” and delicious sugar seemed impossible. How does it stack up against real sugar?

Tagatose has many health benefits.

It is a Prebiotic. Tagatose feeds the healthy bacteria in your gut. The small intestine absorbs about 25% of tagatose and then it gets eliminated. The rest goes to the large intestine where it is fermented by probioticswhich, in turn, benefits your colon and overall health. Tagatose also helps inhibit the absorption of fructose and glucose in the liver.

Remember, prebiotics feed the probiotics in your gut. Tagatose has a symbiotic relationship with certain healthy gut probiotic bacteria that prefer to consume tagatose over other bacteria- a perfect match for a healthy immune system.

No glycemic spike and it lowers your blood sugar. Tagatose can slow down glucose levels in both healthy and diabetic individuals. It even has the potential to be a treatment for diabetes. It inhibits the absorption of sucrose and maltase in the small intestine, thus lowering blood sugar levels. Through clinical trials, it has been shown to increase HDL cholesterol (the good kind).

Assists in weight loss. Tagatose provides sweetness without the same amount of calories as regular sugar. It has 1.5 calories per gram versus sugar’s 4 calories per gram. Tagatose has fiber-like characteristics, so it gives satiety and doesn’t make one crave more.

Tooth Friendly. It is well known that sugar promotes tooth decay. Tagatose has been reviewed by the FDA and is approved to be a non-tooth decay sweetener. It can be used in toothpaste and mouthwash.

Generally Recognized as Safe (GRAS). In 2004, the FDA gave tagatose status to be used as a sweetener in foods and beverages. The European Union has allowed tagatose to be used as a “novel food ingredient” without any restrictions on usage. However, research has shown that amounts over 10-15 grams per meal or 45 grams per day may cause gastrointestinal distress in some people.

Tagatose is categorized as a rare sugar.

Tagatose is one of many other monosaccharides found in limited amounts in nature and fruits such as apples, oranges, pineapple, as well as milk, certain grains, and cacao. Rare sugars have been expensive to produce and cannot be mass produced like sugar cane, honey, or maple syrup. Because of this, rare sugars have not been considered for use as a sweetener, until now.

Studied for 30 years in South Korea and Japan, tagatose was first created from extracting and fermenting lactose in dairy milk. In Asia, it has been used as a sweetener but in limited amounts. CJ Cheiijedang in South Korea is the largest producer. Still, because of its expense, it has not been widely used as a food ingredient. While you can purchase tagatose on Amazon for about $16.00 per pound, cane sugar is roughly $1.60 per pound.

Bonumose has a patented production technology that could be a game changer.

Located in Charlottesville, Virginia, Bonumose has patented a process to make tagatose from low-cost starch. Their process uses run-of-the-mill corn starch or by-product starch from potato processing, pea protein production or even tapioca, which is abundant in Southeast Asia. Their patented process is a combination of water and a proprietary enzyme blend which produces extremely high yields of tagatose. As a result, they can reduce the production cost by at least 75%.

Bonumose is led by CEO Ed Rogers, who began his career as an Alabama litigator and an entrepreneur in animal food technology. Ed teamed up with Dr. Daniel Wichelecki, biochemistry Ph.D., shortly after Dr. Wichelecki finished his post-doc work at the University of Illinois Urbana- Champaign. Dr. Wichelecki invented the starch to tagatose technology.

Bonumose is a B2B company that will be selling tagatose for formulation in beverages, dairy products, and healthy snacks.

“By driving down the cost of tagatose, we can make it possible for companies to produce healthy, delicious, vitality-improving foods and beverages that are affordable for all income levels. We see it as a moral imperative to enable great-tasting, healthy foods even to those who do not have great incomes.”
– Ed Rogers, CEO, Bonumose

How does Tagatose taste?

Dirt-to-Dinner gave baking with tagatose a try. We replaced sugar with tagatose in baked oatmeal chocolate chip cookies, brownies, and our favorite banana bread. When we asked our friends and families to taste test the treats, they concluded that while the brownies were too hard and over-browned, the cookies were tasty with great texture, and the banana bread was just perfect!  Look for our recipes posted on our facebook page.

While you can buy tagatose for baking, it is still currently still made from lactose. Despite this, it is considered lactose free for those who have lactose intolerance.

So how will consumers adapt to these rare, good-for-you sugars? Well, we are sold, and for those who love the taste of sugar, we think tagatose will let us have our cake and eat it too!

What’s in a name? In this case, quite a bit.

grilled hamburgers in bun with bacon and cheese

The world needs more protein.

Population growth and rising standards of living will increase the demand for animal meat and vegetable proteins in the decades ahead. Experts say we will need 50% more protein by the year 2050 to provide adequate protein for everyone.

What are the alternatives to animal production?

Many argue for a greater consumption of vegetable proteins. Indeed, plant-based protein products, such as Beyond Meat are now a significant factor in the marketplace.

But entrepreneurial scientists have recently generated another alternative: cell-based meat, where cells from an animal are cultured and grown in a lab.

Dirt-to-Dinner examined “meatless meat” in A New Burger. Since that report, the science and industry behind this new source of protein continue to develop. Companies such as Memphis Meats, Mosa Meats, and Modern Meadow also report positive feedback of cell-based meat as a legitimate player in the protein sector.

“At Memphis Meats, we have a “big tent” philosophy, and collaboratively work with consumers, regulators, mission-oriented groups and major meat companies to help feed a growing planet in a sustainable way. This is a goal that everybody shares.” Uma Valeti, CEO Memphis Meats

Trending today is a positive reaction from consumers on texture, taste and other matters important to consumer acceptance of the product.  Production advances are slowly working on bringing the price point and availability for the product into a range acceptable to consumers.

Grilled Duck, Memphis Meats

But one key element of the developmental process remains unresolved – and is a source of high emotion, intense debate and competition…

It’s what to call this innovative meat!

“Cell-based meat” is a leader within the industry. Cell-based is a neutral, scientifically accurate term that is commonly used by proponents, detractors and neutral observers alike. It references the composition of the products in this category. It parallels and creates a clear distinction from “plant-based protein” and “animal-based meat.”

“Cultured meat” has been discussed in the nomenclature debate. After all, the meat is produced from a cultured sample of the cow, chicken, pig, fish or other target animal. But “cultured” is used in fermented foods such as yogurt and even cured meat, so could lend itself to consumer confusion.

“Laboratory meat” or “lab meat” may conjure up images from a sci-fi movie. Consumers like foods that invoke happy images of a well-fed and satisfied family, not a science lab.

Another contender, “clean meat”, calls attention to the lab’s sanitary conditions, but is yet another unsavory mental image for the shopper. The term, “clean”, also draws objections from those who fear it suggests other types of meat aren’t clean and are therefore somehow suspect.  Consumer advocacy groups worry if the product is called “clean meat,” consumers may assume it is safe and won’t take adequate precautions in preparing it for consumption.

With the innocence and cyber-world orientation that comes with youth, a 12-year-old listened patiently to the debate and responded with a different approach to the type of name that seems right.  “You’re talking about a new kind of protein, really.  You know, Protein 2.0.”

The roster of possible names goes on and on, as do the objections and concerns.  Some animal producers even question whether the product should be called “meat” at all. Take our poll and let us know what you think!

Why is this naming debate so important?

The name serves as the frontline effort to introduce this important new source of protein to the global marketplace. For most of the public, the product’s name will be the first step in building its awareness and introducing its value to consumers. A name that turns people off will do as much to impede or accelerate acceptance of the product as any other single factor. To understand this challenge, look no further than the difficulty of the public acceptance of GMOs. 

What would you call this new protein source?

The survey results are in! Responses were accepted from January 10 thru February 14th, 2018. There were 101 responses. Leading the pack of suggested names (with 6 or more respondents) were:

Cultured Meat
Cell-based Meat
Protein 2.0
Craft Meat
Lab Meat
Eco Meat
Neat Meat

Other names suggested (5 or under respondents) were: Clean Meat, Franken Meat, Alt Meat, Fake Meat, Stem Cell-Based meat, Cheat Meat, Nutrimeat, InVitro Meat, Synthetic Protein, Fake Meat, CIL (Created in Lab) Meat, Lab-Cultured Protein, NuMeat, NuCaro (Latin), and Alternative Protein, “Do NOT call this meat”, and “If this meat does not have active vitamin B12 it is harmful to humans”.

Would you eat a product made from cell-based meat?

Our survey indicated that most respondents would!

In an ideal world, this new source of protein – whatever it is called – shouldn’t be used to promote one type of protein over another (e.g., “superior” in terms of value, quality, economic cost, natural resource demands, ethicality or humaneness). A name that seems to disparage another protein source could provoke an unhealthy competitive environment within the sector when a collaborative effort to boost protein production is most needed.

The name also has implications for the relationship of this emerging industry with government. In a November 2018 statement, the FDA and USDA proposed a ‘joint regulatory framework wherein FDA oversees cell collection, cell banks, and cell growth and differentiation, and the USDA will oversee the production and labeling of food products derived from the cells of livestock and poultry.”

California Megafires and the Effects on Agriculture

wildfire in the background of farm field

California leads the nation in producing 90% of all fruits, nuts, and vegetables.

Grapes, almonds, tomatoes, broccoli and much more are grown in the fertile valleys between mountain and sea. Unmatched by any other state in terms of output per acre, the yield in California is 60 percent higher than the national average.

In addition to being a major produce player, California holds the #1 spot in dairy production in all of the U.S., grossing upwards of $6.5 billion in 2017. Cattle for meat production in California is valued at roughly $2.5 billion.

To round out this workhorse state, California produces over 90% of all U.S. wine.

However, California’s recent drought and long dry season make it more susceptible to fire. In the past two years, uncontained wildfires have devastated over 7.3 million acres of land in the golden state. That is about the size of Connecticut and New Jersey combined!

Infographic by Sara Chodosh, capturing the intensity of the fires in California in the last five years.

The majority of the 2017-2018 fires were contained within the forests and non-agricultural land, but a number of rangelands, cannabis farms, dairy farms, citrus groves, avocado orchards, and vineyards were affected, making an impact on growers and California’s $50 billion agricultural industry.

 

The rate of burn for the 2018 Camp fire is incomprehensible; increasing in speed from 20,000 acres to over 100,000 acres burned in two days. That rate of scorch is equivalent to one football field burning every second. (Source)

Wine: Unintended Ashy Undertones

Unlike the 2017 fires where most of the wine crop had already been harvested, 2018’s bore witness to California’s most severe fires, which spread just before or at the onset of ripening, when grapes soften and change color.

Grapes are vulnerable to smoke damage because of their permeable skin. Depending on fire intensity, length of smoke exposure and stage of vine growth, unharvested grapes can take on smoky, ashy, or bitter characteristics. Consumers find this “smoke taint” unappealing.

While only a small percentage of wines may have been affected by fires and smoke, and these undesirable characteristics of smoke taint can be managed, winemakers do have to take on added costs in eradicating these flavors to avoid disappointing wine drinkers!

Scorched ground and shriveled grapes at the Michael Mondavi Atlas Peak Vineyard (Source: Winespectator.com)

Livestock Rangeland Scorched

The wildfires had an impact on the region’s farms and ranches, burning buildings, and the grazing land for dairy cows, cattle, horses, and other livestock. Butte County, where the 2018 Camp Fire raged, suffered rangeland losses of 30,000 to 40,000 acres, displaced animals, and destroyed pens, corrals, barns and more.

The Thomas Fire impacted all 7000 acres of rangeland stewarded by the
RA Atmore & Sons and Rancho Ventura Conservation Trust.

“Many of the oak woodlands were lost to the fire, as well as cattle, miles of fences, and other ranch infrastructure. The grasses and other vegetation are coming back. We will be battling invasive and noxious weeds now more than ever. We will need to adaptably manage woody species within the rangeland to achieve realistic goals that serve to improve forage, enhance wildlife habitat and protect our urban neighbors from the devastating effects of wildfire. One thing we learned from the Thomas Fire was “it’s not a matter of if the next Thomas Fire will come; but when.”  Richard Atmore, Ventura County Annual Crop and Livestock  Report, 2017

A cow walks by the flaming hillside in Groveland, California, August 2013. Source: Noah Berger, for National Geographic

Fruits & Veggies Fried

Ventura County, home to 118,000 acres of prime farmland and more than ½ of the total harvested acreage in the country for avocado, lemon, celery, and strawberries, was hit particularly hard during the 2017 Thomas Fire. The fire inflicted severe damage on hillside ranches, consuming forage needed for livestock, destroying barns, irrigation systems, equipment and machinery, and scorching or incinerating several thousand acres of avocado and citrus trees.

“We estimate that we lost 80% of our avocado crop for this year and next. At this point, four months after the fire, we project that over 40% of our avocado trees are dead or unlikely to recover fully. That is over 60 acres. Avocados take several years to come into full production. Even if we could replant right away, we are looking at about 6 years to full recovery.,Realistically, if we replant everything to avocados, it will be many years before we can get back to 2016 production levels.”  –Deborah Brokaw Jackson Brokaw Ranch Company  (SourceVentura County Annual Crop and Livestock  Report, 2017)

As the fires in the hillsides raged, the smoke traveled for miles. This complicated the lives of the farmers and farmworkers and the harvesting of perishable vegetables. The thick smoke haze delayed ripening and harvest, and workers couldn’t work in the fields due to unhealthy air conditions. An already stressed labor situation now experienced shortages of manpower.

Soiled Soil

Wildfires have a direct effect on soil. Contrary to a prescribed burn— which is a healthy burn often utilized by farmers to eradicate weeds or unneeded brush, or by forest rangers to manage forests from forest fires— an uncontrolled wild burn can yield heat levels above 400 degrees. These temperatures can cause irreversible harm to the land.

When the soil is burned at such high temperatures, the organic matter is incinerated. Depending on the intensity and duration of the fire, the recuperation time can be upwards of three years for soil to fully restore nutrients back to its original state. The hard, ashy residues that are left on the topsoil decrease the ability of the soil to absorb water, which increases the likelihood of runoff.

The graphic depicts the inability of water to penetrate the ashy soil, which causes dangerous runoff. (Source)

Because the soil can no longer take in water, there is an increased risk for landslides and flooding. In addition, the silt from the landslides can overrun the reservoirs, contaminate drinking water and create blockages in irrigation systems that supply water to farmlands. Flood risk remains significantly higher until vegetation is restored—up to five years after a wildfire. Mudslides and flooding are the current challenges California is facing in the wake of the recent fires.

How are farmers and ranchers protected from these disasters?

The U.S. Federal government plays a significant role in assisting farmers and ranchers with financial losses caused by natural disasters through the USDA’s Farm Service Agency.

The Disaster Recovery Reform Act of 2018 acknowledges the shared responsibility of disaster response and recovery and aims to build the nation’s capacity for the next catastrophic event.

Hemp, Hemp Hooray!

hemp plants against blue sky

An Opportunity for American Farmers

The hemp marketplace is projected to be $1 billion dollars by the end of 2018and close to $2 billion dollars by the end of 2022. American consumers are wild about hemp products, with hemp CBD oil and other CBD-derived personal care products leading the way. Currently, the U.S. has to import hemp textiles from China; hemp seed from Canada, and industrial products from Europe. Now, with clearance in the Farm Bill, American farmers can participate in this market.

What’s so unique about hemp?

Hemp has roots in American history! In the 1700s, America considered hemp a staple crop and its strong fibers were used to make rope, canvas sails, fishing nets, clothing, and even American flags. George Washington grew acres of it on his farm at Mt. Vernon and predicted at one point that it would be a more valuable crop than tobacco. Popular Mechanics Magazine dubbed hemp “The Billion Dollar Crop.”

Hemp became vilified in the 1930s and has been illegal to grow since the 1937 Marijuana Act.  There was one exception to this when the government called upon farmers to grow hemp to help win World War II. Despite this momentary pardon, it has been listed as a Schedule I Drug since 1970. Hemp’s Achilles heel has always been that it looks too much like its bad-ass cousin, marijuana.

Both hemp and marijuana are members of the Cannabis sativa family, but the key difference is that hemp contains less than 0.03% THC (as defined by federal law), which is the psychoactive component that gets you high when you smoke pot. Hemp is grown and harvested around the world, harvested primarily for fiber, seeds, and CBD.

Hemp is a versatile and sustainable crop

Other than the extreme desert or high in the mountains, hemp will grow in most soils. The plants develop a thick canopy cover and shield out weeds, thus demanding fewer pesticides. With its long taproot and thick root system, the plant helps nourish the soil. Its seeds, stalk, leaves and even roots can be processed into thousands of products. Think of the growing opportunities for American farmers!

The seeds are high in healthy fats, protein, and fiber and produce food as well as oil paints, printing inks, and soaps, lotions, and balms.

The hemp stalk, which is strong and fibrous, can be blended with other materials to make composites for automobile dashboards, door panels, trunk liners, and other interior parts; or manufactured into handbags, denim, fine fabrics, paper cardboard and packaging, and rope, canvas, carpeting, insulation, and can even be a fiberglass substitute.

The leaves can be mulched into compost, mulch, and animal bedding. The roots can be used as compost. The whole plant is naturally loaded with healthy terpenes and cannabinoids and many varieties are grown to make CBD and other functional medicines.

source: Dandy Graphics

Hemp can be fit into a crop rotation and provide farmers with another source of revenue. Victory Hemp Foods contracts farmers to produce hemp grain for their production facility. According to their analysis, hemp commands a higher net price than corn or soy. In Kentucky, some farmers are replacing their tobacco fields with hemp. In Colorado, some farmers are turning to grow hemp in addition to wheat.

As there is a steady demand for hemp as a raw material, many states are ahead of the game and have taken the regulation into their own hands. Before this week’s legislative vote, 40 states had removed barriers to its production.

According to the 2018 Congressional Research report, Hemp as an Agricultural Commodity, hemp represents a profitable niche market and a viable alternative crop for U.S. growers. In their report on the top 10 producing states,  Hemp Industry Daily provides snapshots of hemp production including sales and market potential.

Because hemp was not allowed to be grown as a large commercial scale in the U.S.,  profitability studies are limited, but research institutions, such as Cornell UniversityUniversity of Kentucky and the State of Colorado are compiling this economic information for farmers.

The Regulations – Hemp wins

Last week, the U.S. Congress passed the final version of the 2018 Farm Bill. The new five-year bill lays out the complex web of policies and programs governing the U.S. food system and includes a major win for the nascent hemp industry.

Hemp supporters, championed by Senator Majority Leader Mitch McConnell of Kentucky, are jumping for joy over the loosening of restrictions to grow and harvest hemp, thereby offering the potential to bring in additional farm income. Probably most important is that the loosened restrictions will open up sources for funding and research, and farmers will be able to obtain bank loans and federal crop insurance, an enormous safety net for commodity crop farmers.

“At a time when farm income is down and growers are struggling, industrial hemp is a bright spot of agriculture’s future.”

-Senator Majority Leader Mitch McConnell on Twitter December 11th, 2018

But while it is freed from federal prohibition, there are still some restrictions to grow hemp and you won’t be able to grow it in your gardens like tomatoes, basil or beans. For instance, it must be grown with a THC content of less than 0.03% and the USDA must approve a states’ plan for licensing and regulating hemp. If a state doesn’t come up with a plan, the federal government will provide the framework. The law also states that non-compliant growers can be prosecuted.

Additionally, growing hemp is only part of the equation. As the market expands, so will the number of harvesters, processors, and distributors. This represents an exciting chapter in American agriculture!

The Year in Food News: What To Know Before 2019

world being pierced by a fork illustration

Within this post we discuss the following topics:

Trade Tensions with China. How does this affect you?

NAFTA is Dead, Long Live USMCA. Well, Sort Of…

What’s the Farm Bill? About a half-trillion dollars— or maybe more.

The 2018 harvest is almost done. What does it mean for food prices?

Keeping CRISPR Alive in Europe

Glyphosate Debate No Closer to Resolution

Trade Tensions with China. How does this affect you?

After the G20 summit in Buenos Aires, the United States and China announced a pause in the on-going trade dispute between the two nations, with President Donald Trump agreeing to postpone a scheduled increase in U.S. tariffs on Chinese goods set to go into effect January 1, 2019.

On December 1st, Trump agreed to a 90-day tariff truce in order to give both sides time to begin a serious discussion of the myriad of trade and intellectual property issues leading to the escalating series of tariffs. News reports indicate that as part of the agreement, the Chinese have agreed to step up purchases from the United States, including agricultural products such as soybeans. Just exactly what other agricultural products, and in what time frame, remain unclear.

As of December 11, the Chinese are believed to have resumed soybean purchases. President Trump was quoted saying the Chinese are “buying tremendous amounts of soybeans.”

So what does this mean for U.S. food consumers?  Not much, immediately.

The food industry continues to have more than enough commodities to satisfy immediate demand, even if the Chinese resume larger purchases of U.S. soybeans and other farm products.

The real issue for consumers is the long-term economic health of the farm sector. Exports are an important aspect of farm revenue, yet net farm income has been declining steadily in recent years, to a level about half its 2013 peak.  Without a clearer picture of future market stability for U.S. exports, that pressure is likely to continue.

With more and more farm operations on margin, look for further growth in farm size as farmers consolidate, and continued pressure for investment in the technological and operational improvements to keep food costs down.

Related Reading:
In the News: China Trade on Soybeans and Pork
Net Farm Income Projected to Drop to 12-year Low
How Consolidation is Changing Rural Agriculture
Examining Consolidation in U.S. Agriculture

NAFTA is Dead, Long Live USMCA. Well, Sort Of…

President Trump raised eyebrows by signing a new trade deal among the three countries known as USMCA (the U.S.-Mexico-Canada Agreement), formerly known as NAFTA.

What’s the big deal?  Quite a bit for certain sectors of the U.S. economy, notably the automotive industry – and agricultural interest in all three countries.  Favorable trade terms under NAFTA helped agricultural trade among the three explode.

U.S. agricultural exports under NAFTA grew from $11 billion in 1993 to over $43 billion in 2016, making Canada and Mexico the second- and third-largest markets in the world for U.S. producers.  Canadian and Mexican ag interests – and consumers – reaped comparable benefits.

USMCA would build on NAFTA’s open trade principles to extend favorable ag trade terms to several sectors previously outside the tri-lateral agreement, including poultry, dairy, and eggs.

Preserving the open trade spirit behind this long-standing trade policy has never been more important to U.S. agriculture. The U.S. farm sector’s reliance on a robust export market as a major source of farm income provides us with the low-cost food we eat today.

Should food consumers care?  As with most major public food policy issues, the immediate effect of all this is virtually undetectable. But its role in preserving the economic health of a vibrant and responsive food system isn’t.  Without policies that help create economic opportunity for U.S. farmers, consumers can’t assume the world’s most productive and efficient food system can stay that way indefinitely.

So, if you like to eat and feed your family with an abundant and affordable supply of wholesome food,you might listen with at least one ear when those talking heads on TV mention trade.

Related Reading:
The USMCA explained: Winners and losers, what’s in and what’s out
United States-Mexico-Canada Agreement
What is NAFTA?

What’s the Farm Bill? About a half-trillion dollars— or maybe more

As the year winds down, a lot of people in and out of Washington are breathing a sigh of relief over the final resolution of the running battle for new farm legislation. The bill passed with an 87-to-13 vote in the Senate on Tuesday, Dec 11thand will now go to the house, where it is expected to pass as well. This new five-year bill lays out the complex web of policies and programs governing the U.S. food system.

The National Association of State Departments of Agriculture

The bill makes no major changes in policy direction, and still covers everything from crop subsidies, crop insurance and conservation programs to urban farming, research and nutrition assistance programs – and a heck of a lot more in between, including new hemp regulations.

The 2014 Farm Bill has been estimated to cost taxpayers about $488 billion, although the final tally may come in a tad lower than that figure. Comparatively, the 2018 Farm Bill is expected to cost taxpayers $827 billion.

The share of that spending going to farmers? This is a bit controversial. Commodity programs, crop insurance, and conservation make up only 19 percent of the tab.  About 80 percent – four of every five dollars in the bill – goes to some form of nutritional assistance for those who are in need. This is commonly referred to as SNAP (Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program), or food stamps.

The 2018 compromise is expected to address various cost-control mechanisms but nonetheless entails 10-year spending of about $687 billion, according to the Congressional Budget Office.

So, what do consumers get for their tax dollar?  Even though a small amount goes to the farming network, the Farm Bill provides the framework of policies and programs — the rules of the road — needed to guide production, processing, research, product innovation, manufacturing, marketing, retailing and all the other elements of a modern food system.

It provides the framework essential to attracting investment and incentivizing the effort that keeps the system responsive to the evolving needs and demands of consumers.

The American public gets a stable, innovative and reliable food system, unlike anything seen in previoushistory. It’s government policy-making that can be argued to actually work, and work well, especially in today’s fractured political system.

Related Reading:
What is the Farm Bill — and why should you care?
Congress just passed an $867 billion farm bill. Here’s what’s in it.
Farm Bill: A Short History and Summary
The Farm Bill (archives from the NYT)

The 2018 harvest is almost done. What does this mean for food prices?

The end of the calendar year normally means corn and soybean farmers are wrapping up harvests of their crops.  Tough weather conditions have slowed the harvest in some production areas.  But overall, more than 90 percent of the corn and soybean harvest is completed. The final numbers will impact future farm production trends and have implications for future food prices.

Corn and Soybean Digest

The Department of Agriculture will release official numbers for the crops in mid-January.  But all signs point to a good harvest for corn and soybean producers, with some early estimates pointing to crops of more than 14.6 billion and 4.6 billion bushels, respectively.

Why should anyone outside the farm community care about such dry and mind-numbing statistics?  Because they point toward the future for supplies of the commodities that fuel the American food system – and the prices consumers are likely to be paying.

Experts are looking to see not just what stocks are on hand, but what farmers’ intentions for the next crop year will be.  Big stockpiles – and an export outlook clouded by trade tensions — can mean tough markets for soybean exports, for example.  Waiting for higher commodity prices, many farmers stockpile their crops rather than sell them thus creating more uncertainties. That may lead to smaller planted acreage for soybeans in the coming year as stocks increase and producers look for alternative crops, such as corn or specialty crops such as hemp.

Government estimates of food expenditures, meanwhile, show modest growth in prices paid for food.  USDA estimates say, prices for food consumed in the home should hold flat, or rise by only 1 percent, while prices for food consumed away from home are projected to be up 2-3 percent.  This is mainly due to higher labor costs.  Projections for 2019 show similar modest increases in food prices.

What keeps food costs so stable in the midst of such ups and downs in the commodity world? Part of the answer lies in the complexity and efficiency of the modern food chain.  Statistics show that the cost of key commodities represents a small fraction of the total food dollar – somewhere between 12 and 15 percent, by most estimates.  (Incidentally, the commodity share of the food dollar has shown a steady decline in recent decades.) The remainder goes to processing, packaging, transportation, retail costs, food service costs and other costs (such as energy, financial expenses, and insurance).

Related Reading:
USDA – Food Dollar Series
National Farmers Union: The Farmer’s Share
USDA Graphs Explain The Breakdown of a U.S. Food Dollar

Keeping CRISPR Alive in Europe

The European Court of Justice earlier this year ruled that held gene-edited crops must be subject to the same onerous regulatory standards as genetically modified organisms (GMOs).

Crisprtx

While many anti-GMO groups hailed the Court’s actions, reaction to the ruling ranged from howls of outrage to sighs of despair among the scientific and agricultural communities.  The ruling would effectively make Europe a non-player in the world’s efforts to use gene editing technology – known as CRISPR – to spur the next generations of agricultural innovation and progress in better plant development.

Now 75 leading scientists from a spectrum of European life science research centers have called upon European policymakers to reverse the court’s decision.  How policymakers respond will provide the next big indictor of which direction Europe will move in the global effort to produce the innovative new plants needed to deal with growing world demand for food – plants capable of resisting disease and pests, crops capable of dealing with changing climatic conditions, organisms capable of thriving on less water and fewer added field nutrients.

Related Reading:
In the News: European Court Hinders CRISPR Technology
CRISPR & Co are GMOs, says EU court

Glyphosate Debate No Closer to Resolution

2018 was a big year for glyphosate – the key ingredient in Monsanto’s widely used herbicide, RoundUp.

Glyphosate has been under steady and sometimes heated attack by a range of individuals and organizations concerned that excessive exposure to RoundUp can cause cancer.  When a California jury awarded $289 million to a man claiming the product caused his cancer, the debate entered a new and even more contentious phase. The award was later reduced to “only” $78 million, but new trials involving thousands of claimants remain in the works in various locations.

Expect to see the battle spill from the media and courtroom to the legislative arena.  Bayer AG, who acquired Monsanto for $63 billion in June 2018, has signaled its intent to continue battling to defend what it sees as a proven and important tool for farmers worldwide.  In early December, the company garnered widespread media coverage when it posted more than 300 studies regarding the safety of glyphosate. As part of the company’s “Transparency Initiative,” the release was touted as an important step in establishing trust in the science behind its products.  That material also has been provided to the European Parliament as part of their deliberations on the renewal of authorization for glyphosate production.

The debate in the European Parliament mirrors the political divisions related to GMOs.  Many legislators see a need to embrace science and products that maintain the EU’s competitive position in the global agricultural system.  But others favor a more restrictive approach as they think it is the best way to protect human health and the environment.

Related Reading:
National Pesticide Information Center: Glyphosate
Bayer committed to transparency: Posts more than 300 glyphosate safety study summaries online

Why Should We Care About Bees?

honey bee landing on flower

These hard-working creatures not only pollinate most of the food we eat, but they also make delicious honey! As a beekeeper, I have learned that bees require care much like any other family pet. But how can I keep my bees healthy with the ever-present pesticides in our suburban setting?

This past summer I tried my own method of protecting my bees. On a beautiful sunny day, I interrupted a commercial tree sprayer who was doing “preventative” insect spraying on our neighbor’s trees and bushes. He was perplexed when I told them that I had a honey bee hive in my yard. On one hand, he was under a maintenance contract to take care of trees, and on the other hand, he understood the spraying hazards to any type of foraging bees.

Checking the hive

While I may have made an impression on this sprayer by chasing him down, it is not feasible to manually protect the five-mile radius or 3,200 acres around my house— which is the distance that bees will travel in search of nectar and pollen.

And these types of insecticide sprays, called neonicotinoids, are not the only thing I need to worry about! I have to watch out for the wax moth, small hive beetle, signs of Nosema virus, and the dreaded varroa mite, on top of making sure the “girls” have enough to eat. Are there enough different sources of nectar and pollen for them to forage on? And winter is coming… does my hive have enough honey stores to make it through the season?

 

These honey bees (hives are in the background) are well-cared for and have a nice supply of nutritious forage.

While my bees have it easy with the care I provide (and how fast I can chase down neighborhood sprayers), wild bees, bumble bees and the other 3,999 species of bees in North America might not be as lucky.

We need bees for food!

Pollinators are responsible for 35% of the world’s crop production and 90% of the pollination in wild plants. That equates to one out of every three bites of food we eat and all the wildflowers in the woods and prairies! Unfortunately, the populations of these native bees, butterflies and other important pollinators are shrinking. Imagine your diet without raspberries, almonds or blueberries. If it weren’t for these pollinators fertilizing the crops, we would be very sad consumers!

Leafcutter Bee

Bumble Bee

Digger Bee

Mining Bee

Some of the native bees species of North America.

What is causing this shrinking population? While neonicotinoids are not the only smoking gun, the effects of these insecticides ignite passions on both sides of the debate.

What is a Neonicotinoid?

“Neonics” are used in agriculture, home gardens and even on your pets as an insecticide to kill sap- sucking and chewing insects that eat tender leaves from crops or drive your dog crazy from scratching. Neonicotinoids act on an insect’s central nervous system, causing paralysis and death.

Neonics are applied either as a spray, dust or added to irrigation water. Staple crops such as corn, soy, and canola, use seeds that are pretreated with neonicotinoids. When used as seed treatments, neonicotinoids are taken up by all parts of the plant as it grows. This means that foraging bees and insects may come into contact with neonicotinoids as they are foraging on pollen and nectar.

Tree sprayers such as this are common around suburban neighborhoods. Have a conversation with your contractor to see if spraying is really necessary.

The research against Neonicotinoids is not entirely conclusive.

To study the effect of agricultural chemicals on bees, scientists perform laboratory, semi-field, and field tests. Of these, realistic field tests are the most difficult to conduct, as the variables such as weather and bee foraging patterns are never constant. On the other hand, laboratory tests are often criticized because the exposure to chemicals is manipulated and controlled, and not representative of a bee’s normal foraging activities.

The Pollinator Network at Cornell University compiled an overview of the scientific evidence on neonicotinoids. “Overall, the majority of laboratory and semi-field research demonstrates neonicotinoids can be harmful to honey bees; however, the majority of field studies find only limited or no effects on honey bees.” There is agreement, however, on the negative impact of neonicotinoids on bumble bees.

Bumble Bee loaded with pollen

Penn State Center for Pollinator Research adds, “Wild and managed pollinators face numerous stressors. Honey bees, other managed pollinator species such as bumblebees and orchard bees, and wild bees suffer from exposure to parasites and pesticides, and loss of floral abundance and diversity due to increased land-use. In addition, habitat destruction limits nesting sites for wild pollinators. Unfortunately, these stressors may interact synergistically to produce more detrimental effects on pollinator health.” (Penn State Center for Pollinator Research)

Today’s neonicotinoids are less toxic to vertebrates than the older synthetic chemicals they replaced, but they are still a threat.  And the “organic” insecticides options aren’t any safer. Pesticides approved for organic use can cause significant harm to bees as well. (The Xerces Society provides some very useful information on organic pesticide application.)

How do we manage pests and protect pollinators?

At the Penn State Center for Pollinator Research, biologists call it Integrated Pest and Pollinator management (IPPM), but if you are familiar with the term Integrated Pest Management (IPM), pollinators add a new dimension to this accepted paradigm.

“Neonics – and other pesticides – are valuable tools for growers, but we know that pesticides kill bees as well under the “right” conditions. And bees are exposed to a heck of a lot of pesticides because we are asking them to pollinate our crops. We may not know exactly the extent to which pesticides are responsible for bee populations declines – particularly since so many factors interact – but we know what to do about it – IPPM!”

—Christina M. Grozinger, Director, Center for Pollinator Research, Penn State University.

In this video, Penn State biologists demonstrate that both pest management and pollinator protection can be achieved when they are used in an integrated pest and pollinator (IPPM) context.

 

What YOU can do to help pollinators!

Plant wildflowers and other native plantings in your yard or neighborhood to provide nutritious forage for the bees and other pollinating insects. Provide housing for pollinators. Your local Audubon or State Agricultural Extension will have many recommendations. If you must use pesticides, be selective in your timing and dose: don’t apply when plants are flowering or when bees are foraging.

Animal Antibiotics: Should We Be Concerned?

cows-at-trough-post-image

Last week was U.S. Antibiotic Awareness Week, which was sponsored by the Center for Disease Control and Prevention. Additionally, the World Health Organization has stated that global antibiotic resistance is one of the biggest issues facing human health today. Our team decided to dive into a common consumer concern – the belief that most antibiotic-resistant infections stem from animal production.

Resistance occurs naturally as bacteria mutate, but the overuse of antibiotics has accelerated this process. For instance, overuse or misuse comes when people take antibiotics for a cold or don’t finish their full prescription. Overuse toward animals is when too many antibiotics are given in their feed or water for their growth. Today, when large amounts of antibiotics are present in an environment – whether it is a hospital or in the feedlot – the mutated strain can reproduce faster than the antibiotic.

No one wants to unknowingly eat foods with antibiotic residues or that contain resistant strains of bacteria. To better understand this, we set out to answer four major questions:

  1. Why do farmers use antibiotics in animals in the first place?
  2. If I eat animals treated with antibiotics, will the bacteria in my body become antibiotic resistant?
  3. If the chicken breast I regularly buy at the store doesn’t say “antibiotic free”, does that mean I am unknowingly consuming antibiotics?
  4. How are regulators and companies in the food industry monitoring antibiotics used for both animals and humans?

Why do farmers give animals antibiotics?

Farmers give animals antibiotics when they are sick. It is inhumane not to! Just like with humans, if an animal contracts a bacterial infection, it would be torture to not treat them with antibiotics. Not to mention, this also keeps the sick animal from passing an infection through the herd.

Antibiotics are also given to support animal growth rates. Farmers administer them routinely in feed or water to help grow animals, poultry, and fish more quickly. The premise behind this application is that if an animal’s immune system is not fighting off a disease, then their bodies will spend their energy growing instead of trying to stay healthy. This application for antibiotics is being heavily scrutinized.

If I eat animals treated with antibiotics, will the bacteria in my body become antibiotic resistant?

No. When meat is properly cooked, there is no chance of becoming resistant to antibiotics in your kitchen. A minimum heat of 160 degrees kills all bacteria – resistant or not. The U.S. Food Safety and Inspection Service recommends that you clean, separate, cook, and chill your meat properly to prevent getting a foodborne illness.

image source: Foodal

What if the chicken breast I regularly buy at the store doesn’t say “antibiotic free”? Does that mean I am unknowingly eating antibiotics?

No. Even though a farmer will use antibiotics to treat a sick animal, the FDA has strict withdrawal guidelines that require all animals, poultry, and fish be clear of any antibiotic residue before it is harvested. They also specifically state the maximum dosage based on type and weight. All chicken, beef, turkey, pork, eggs, milk, and fish are antibiotic-free by the time they get to the grocery store.

The U.S. National Residue Program, an interagency program between the FSIS, FDA, EPA, and the USDA tests for any chemical or drug residues as well as foodborne illnesses in all types of animal products. Testing is consistent, the rules are clear, and the consequences are harsh. In 2017, less than 1% of the samples contained an antibiotic residue.

A Dirt-to-Dinner chicken

What is being done to combat antibiotic resistance in farm animal production?

The FDA has enacted a five-year plan to curtail antibiotic use in animals. This plan includes the following guidelines:

  1. No medically important antibiotics (that means antibiotics that are also used to treat human bacterial infections) can be used to treat animals for growth. Medically important drugs, such as tetracyclines and penicillin, will no longer be used to treat animals.
  2. Veterinarians must supervise the use of any medically important antibiotics given to food production animals for the sole purpose of treating illnesses.

As of July 2018, Iowa State University is leading a national institute to address this public health issue. They have partnered with the USDA, University of Nebraska-Lincoln and Medical Center, Mayo Clinic and other organizations to form the Institute for Antimicrobial Resistance Research and Education.

Major food companies, restaurants, grocery stores, and food producers have vowed to reduce antibiotic use, mostly for growth purposes. Many are doing intense research on animal gut health to reduce the need for antibiotics. Animal welfare also plays a role to make sure the animals, poultry, and fish are growing in a healthy environment. Antibiotics will no longer be used as a crutch for poor animal care.

Putting antibiotics into perspective

Those fearful of antibiotics used in food production often misinterpret the statistic that 80% of all antibiotics are used for animal production. This number is misleading, and simply put, is a matter of volume…

Each year, about 8 billion chickens, 200 million turkeys, 100 million hogs and 30 million cattle are processed in the U.S. alone. Compare that number to the U.S. human population of 325 million. That’s only 40% of the animal volume!

According to the Centers for Disease Control, most of the biggest threats can be avoided if one stays healthy and doesn’t overdo it on the antibiotics. When it comes to concerns about our food supply, the three most prevalent antibiotic-resistant strains are not the result of animal antibiotics. They are found either in hospitals or are spread from person to person: Carbapenem-resistant Enterobacteriaceae, and Neisseria gonorrhea. One example is C. Difficile due to the overuse of antibiotics.

The CDC states that overuse is the single most important factor leading to antibiotic resistance around the world. They state that up to 50% of all antibiotics prescribed to humans are either not needed or not used properly. The two that are related to food are Campylobacter and Salmonella. But those can be prevented by handling your meat carefully and cooking it properly!

Keep Salmonella Away From Your Thanksgiving Table!

two turkeys in conversation

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention is in the midst of investigating a multistate outbreak of multidrug-resistant Salmonella infections linked to raw turkey pet food, raw turkey products, and live turkeys. The outbreak strain has infected 164 people across 35 states.

According to the CDC website, the outbreak is not attributable to one supplier or one location in the country. However, Jennie-O Turkey Store Sales in Wisconsin last week recalled 91,388 pounds of raw turkey products due to possible salmonella contamination.

The most susceptible victims of salmonella poisoning are those with weak or compromised immune systems, the elderly and the very young.

The salmonella outbreak involving turkey is spread across 35 states. Source: Centers for Disease Control

What is salmonella?

Salmonella is a bacteria that live in the intestines of animals and is excreted in their poop. It gets transmitted among animals if it gets in their food or water. Contamination to humans can occur where food is being made or processed if the facility lapses in washing the birds perfectly or lapses in employee, building or machinery sanitation.

The most common symptoms of salmonella illness include diarrhea, abdominal cramps, and fever. Symptoms usually appear 6 to 72 hours after eating contaminated food and may last for 3 to 7 days without treatment.

Are foodborne illness outbreaks increasing in frequency?

No. We are more aware of food recalls because of improved reporting systems, testing programs, and genetic coding of pathogens. The food industry and government agencies apply the most current science and up-to-date technologies to keep you healthy and trust the food you buy.

But here’s the thing: salmonella is preventable.It doesn’t have to interfere with your Thanksgiving meals with family and friends!  This outbreak should serve as a reminder to our readers on how to safely prepare and cook a turkey— and for that matter, all meat!

 

6 Simple Steps to keep salmonella away from your Thanksgiving table:

Wash your hands, not the bird!

Salmonella can spread quickly and easily from one dirty hand to another. Additionally, as the USDA states, “washing raw meat or poultry can cause bacteria to spread up to three feet away.”

Don’t Cross-Contaminate!

When preparing your bird, be sure to designate one non-porous cutting board or surface specifically for the raw meat- not allowing any other greens, or sides to come in contact with that prep space.

Thoroughly clean all surfaces!

Once the bird is prepped, thoroughly rewash hands, surfaces, counters, cutting boards- anything the meat has come into contact with- in hot soapy water!

Cook the Bird completely!

Cook your turkey until it reaches an internal temperature of 165 degrees as measured with a food thermometer. This will ensure that all harmful bacteria have been killed. Additionally, be sure to check the bird in at least three separate places to confirm internal temperature is accurate.

Cook stuffing separately from the bird!

While stuffing the turkey has been a tradition for many years, it is widely advised today to keep the stuffing separate. This is because bacteria can survive in the stuffing unless it is cooked to 165 degrees. Getting the stuffing to this temperature usually means overcooking the bird.

Re-heat  leftovers!

When reheating leftovers, heat them to 165 degrees, as measured with a food thermometer.

Thawing a frozen turkey? It takes approximately 24 hours to thaw 5 pounds. So, if you are cooking a 15-pound turkey, you should you should allow 3 days for your bird to completely thaw in the refrigerator. Once the turkey is thawed, it is recommended that you cook it within two days. 

Safety is the most important tradition!

Now that we are all masters of safety in the kitchen and know the steps to safe cleaning and preparation, D2D would like to wish you and your family and guests a wonderful Thanksgiving. Whether you enjoy a deep-fried turkey tradition, hunting in the Pennsylvania mountains, cooking for thirty, or playing golf in the Florida sunshine, stay safe and have a HAPPY THANKSGIVING! 

You Are What You Eat!

soda, chips, candy, junk food

Being a consumer is confusing! We are inundated with mixed messages from various food companies and even the US government. How can we tell fiction from fact?

When you eat, consider this: everything you put in your body acts as fuel for your cells. Just like putting dirty gasoline in your car, if you eat donuts, candy, and other overly-processed snacks and beverages your body will sputter and eventually break down. These poor choices can ultimately manifest into inflammation which can morph into heart disease, cancer, diabetes, and other autoimmune diseases.

Conversely, if you put clean gasoline in your car, it will accelerate properly and react quickly. The same with food for your body. With fruits, vegetables, whole grains, protein, and the right fats, your body will maintain strong performance.  

Stay away from sugar.

This is hard because sugar is everywhere. 60% of the products found in your grocery store have added sugars. It is hidden in ketchup, mustard, salad dressings, and tomato sauces. It is in plain sight in sodas, fruit juices, candy, donuts, and even yogurt. And perhaps not-so-obvious in refined carbs, such as white pasta and bread.

There is more sugar than you think in some of your favorite products.

Whether it is cane sugar, high fructose corn syrup, honey, brown sugar, or maple syrup, almost all sugars are approximately 50% fructose and 50% glucose. Each individual source has the same effect on your body, regardless of what form it is disguised as.

The American Heart Association recommends no more than 24 grams of sugar per day for women and 36 grams for men each day. Yet most people consumer over 90 grams a day!

What happens when you eat sugar?

When you eat a high sugar snack, insulin is secreted and it opens the cell wall for the glucose to enter.  That is a good thing because each cell in your body needs glucose for energy. But when we eat too much sugar, the insulin spikes and the cells cannot process the glucose fast enough. It’s like trying to drink from a firehose instead of a glass. Two things happen from the excess insulin and the lack of glucose in the cells:

  • Excess insulin that is left hanging around can damage the cells. Your healthy cells then think they are under attack and release inflammatory compounds. In the meantime, the extra glucose gets stored in the liver for future use but, like insulin, too much-underutilized glucose swimming around in the bloodstream also turns into fat.
  • Since the body cannot process this firehose effect, your body now thinks it needs more food to give it energy. And you crave for more. The snacking continues – the calories build – and visceral fat accumulation begins.

In case you forgot about the fructose, it is only modestly absorbed in the liver, and the excess also turns to fat.

Sugar is the biggest culprit of fat and inflammation.

Visceral Fat

As we mentioned, excess sugar in the body turns into fat. Visceral fat is primarily stored around the abdominal area. This type of fat is what is now suspected to be the culprit for many diseases. It has been proven that it is the visceral fat that sends out pro-inflammatory markers – thus causing chronic inflammation that can lead to numerous diseases.

The more sugar you eat… the more you crave it… the more glucose insulin and fructose in the body turn to fat… the more visceral fat accumulations occur… this causes more inflammatory markers to be sent out, and ultimately the more chronic inflammation to internally transpire.

What if I eat a diet low in fat?

Many people think that a diet low in fat is a good thing— but, in most cases (unbeknownst to the consumer due to clever marketing) “low-fat” options are high in refined carbohydrates and sugar. It is important to maintain a diet that incorporates the right type of fat.

Fat is our friend.

But not all fats look alike. Many foods contain a combination of saturated and unsaturated fats. For instance, a healthy avocado has both types, but more unsaturated fats.

Fats to avoid:

Trans-fatty acids. Once these fats get into your bloodstream, they cause plaque, which is hard to remove and causes inflammation. Most food companies have removed them from products, but still fat to be aware of.

Fats to eat in moderation:

Saturated fats – limit these to less than 10% of your daily diet. Eating butter, bacon, red meats with fat, and sausage isn’t the end of the world, but think of these as occasional options and not everyday choices.

Fats that are considered part of a healthy diet:

Unsaturated fats. More easily digested foods from the Mediterranean diet fit this category. Eat plenty of vegetables, fruits, nuts, seeds, legumes, potatoes, whole grains, herbs, spices, fish, seafood and extra virgin olive oil.

omega-3 is a healthier fatty acid than omega-6.  Omega-3 will aid in reducing inflammation as well as protect against cancers, cardiovascular diseases, and rheumatoid arthritis. Omega-6 is an anti-inflammatory which can protect against atherosclerosis and other diseases. However, too much omega-6 can also stimulate pro-inflammatory processes.

Inflammatory pain can lead to stress.

There are psychological effects associated with acute and chronic inflammation, including stress and depression. Stress can influence food choices. The Dirt-to-Dinner team loves chocolate when we are stressed! And we are certainly not alone — most people choose sweets or fries when stressed and skip the blueberries and kale.

Stress creates cortisol – an inflammatory hormone. Some studies have shown that eating a diet high in healthy fats from fish, walnuts, wheat germ, or flaxseed can actually lower the prevalence of clinical depression.

Supplements and diet-hacks are not a cure-all.

Supplements (like CBD and turmeric) may help some individuals with their inflammation— many of our friends take one or the other. But there is not enough research, most notably no human trials, to confirm that supplements are the cure-alls for inflammation. In addition, supplements are not regulated by the FDA so you do not know exactly where it is coming from or the recommended dosage.

Similarly, “gluten-free” dieting has been touted as a possible cure for inflammation. But unless you have celiac disease or have been tested by a doctor for gluten intolerance, going gluten-free is not going to reduce inflammation. Some people may lose weight but that is probably because they eliminated a whole food group of carbohydrates, not because they eliminated the gluten protein. “Gluten-free” marketing further confuses the consumer. Ice cream and yogurt, for instance, are always gluten-free. Last time we checked there was no gluten in dairy!

The gut-brain connection.

Good gut health is important, and research tells us that strong gut health is the key to our immune system. There are millions of microbes in your gut. They are what keep you healthy. Are you familiar with pre and probiotics?

Prebiotics in your stomach feed the probiotics in your intestines. While we know healthy microbiota is good because it reduces inflammation; what we don’t know is exactly what types of microbiota, the combination of gut bacteria, and exactly how it works with your genetic code. My bacteria is different from yours, which is different from the person sitting next to you. But, while we don’t know the exact bacteria combination, we do know the foods that can promote it: fermented foods such as sauerkraut, coleslaw, yogurt, cheese, and olives. Gut microbiota is an exciting area of human health research.

In the News: Glyphosate (again)

glyphosate-spray-early-crop

For most of us, weeds are a backyard annoyance. Whether they are in a flower or vegetable garden or sprouting up in the lawn, manual eviction is possible. For farmers around the world, however, weeds are a lot more than an annoyance. Weeds in a farm field mean that crop producers must spend valuable time and money getting rid of them before they steal the water and nutrients that crops rely on to grow.

Weeds make a difference in how big the crop is at harvest time, and how much money is left over after all the expenses of production, harvesting, storage, transportation, and marketing are paid.

For close to four decades, the safest and most effective herbicide has been Roundup, made by Monsanto. Its active ingredient is glyphosate – which in geek-speak is “an organophosphorus compound, specifically a phosphonate, which acts by inhibiting the plant enzyme 5-enolpyruvylshikimate-3-phosphate synthase.” In perhaps overly simplistic but understandable terms, it’s a salt that dries up and ultimately kills plants.

Why do farmers use glyphosate? Read our post: Is Glyphosate Safe?

Back in 2015, the use of glyphosate took on a strong international political flavor. The International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC), a World Health Organization (WHO) agency devoted to cancer research, concluded that glyphosate is a “probable carcinogen.” IARC’s methodology evaluated hazard and not risk (coffee is a hazard too if you drink too much of it), and has been widely disputed by many other scientific organizations, including the European Food Safety Authority and the Joint Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO)/World Health Organization (WHO) Meeting on Pesticide Residues (JMPR). In addition, the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services National Toxicology Programdoes not list glyphosate as either “known to be a human carcinogen” or “reasonably anticipated to be a human carcinogen.”

The difference of opinion on glyphosate has prompted intense battles and lobbying – in academic circles, in the media, in the courtroom and regulatory arena, and beyond.  Despite the fact that its use reduces the amount of herbicide needed, decreases use of more toxic herbicides, and enables farmers to till their fields less thereby improving soil health, environmental groups have made glyphosate almost an evil incarnate, to be either completely banned or at least extremely tightly controlled.  A new claim or new study seems to emerge regularly, alleging some new danger or additional “proof” of real and serious danger to the public health, the environment or some other vulnerable group. Notably, the EU debated further restrictions on the use of glyphosate or an outright ban on its sale or use but ultimately kicked the can down the road until at least 2022.

Closer to home, the Environmental Working Group (EWG), an environmental advocacy group, recently released a report claiming to have found minute levels of glyphosate in 26 of 28 breakfast cereals and snack bars tested.  Such presence should worry consumers, EWG suggested, especially where the health of children is concerned.

Hold on a minute, said others across the scientific, public health and business communities. The levels detected in the study are far, far below the threshold set by even the most stringent regulatory standards. People would need to consume vast quantities of these products over their lifetime before reaching the Allowable Daily Intake.  This is nothing more than a clear effort to cry wolf, using children as a tool to advance an environmental or ideological agenda.

A child weighing 11 pounds would have to eat 29 servings of Quaker® Old Fashioned Oats and 101 servings of Cheerios™ every day over a lifetime.

An older child weighing about 44 pounds would have to eat 115 servings of Quaker® Old Fashioned Oats and 404 servings of Cheerios™ every day over a lifetime.

The FDA began testing for glyphosate levels in harvested crops for the first time in 2016 and released that data in October 2018. According to the agency’s report, no glyphosate was detected in milk and eggs. In corn and soybean samples that did test positive (many tested negative), the amounts were below minimum levels established by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA).

As these EWG headlines renewed the controversy, a judge in California substantially reduced to $78 million the initial $289 million awarded last summer by a San Francisco jury to the groundskeeper who claimed his cancer resulted from exposure to Roundup. The ruling came despite hundreds of reviews and studies, most by government regulatory oversight agencies and independent scientists, that has found the popular weed killer to be safe as used.

The size of the initial award had attracted global media attention and raised eyebrows across the business community and around the world.  The recent reduction enabled Monsanto to claim some sort of victory – if only in the chance to repeat the defense of its product.

“There is an extensive body of research on glyphosate and glyphosate-based herbicides, including more than 800 rigorous registration studies required by the EPA and European and other regulators that confirm that these products are safe when used as directed.” (Monsanto)

The EPA, as part of a normal chemical review process, is currently engaged in its latest routine review of glyphosate and will publish its decision in 2019.  However, in December 2017, the EPA published the following:

“The draft human health risk assessment concludes that glyphosate is not likely to be carcinogenic to humans. The Agency’s assessment found no other meaningful risks to human health when the product is used according to the pesticide label. The Agency’s scientific findings are consistent with the conclusions of science reviews by a number of other countries as well as the 2017 National Institute of Health’s Agricultural Health Survey.”

The release of the EPA’s registration review report is certain to trigger the next animated round of debate.  Meanwhile, expect still more of the steady drip of claims and counterarguments from a broad spectrum of interest groups – public health, environmental, scientific and business, just to name a few.  The headlines aren’t going away any time soon.

Should I Go Gluten Free?

wheat stalk on slice of wheat bread

You probably have a lot of friends that have kicked gluten to the curb. In fact, up to a third of Americans are cutting back on it in the hope that it will improve their health.

Doing so requires a lot of discipline because gluten is in so many common (and favorite) foods. Say sayonara to whole wheat bread, fresh pasta, couscous, pretzels, granola, flour tortillas, beer, and generally anything else that is made from grain flour. Many other foods could include gluten, even foods that are not obvious, such as salad dressings and soy sauce. Of course, there are choices available for gluten-free wheat…but it is cumbersome to manage.

What is gluten?

Gluten is a combination of two proteins – gliadin and glutenin. That’s it. Two simple proteins found in almost all grains. They give the dough its elastic and rising properties and provide texture to the finished product. Without gluten, your bread would not be airy and light and your cookies would be flat and dense.

Why are people going gluten-free?

For the most part, consumers are going gluten-free to stay healthy and shed a few extra pounds. However, this is not a recommended way to maintain a balanced diet. Gluten-free does not necessarily equal weight loss. Additionally, people who follow a gluten-free diet (and don’t need to) often lack needed nutrients by eliminating an entire food group.

The only reasons to eliminate gluten from your diet are:

If you have celiac disease. This is a very serious issue for roughly 1% of the population. In some cases, people afflicted with celiac can be hospitalized from eating gluten. If you have celiac disease, your body is unable to process the gluten protein and you can develop painful inflammation and damage in your intestinal tract and other areas of your body.
You have been tested and confirmed with a ‘gluten sensitivity’. Those that test positive have a different immune response to grain proteins. The terms non-celiac gluten sensitivity and non-celiac wheat sensitivity are generally used to refer to this condition, and when removing gluten from the diet resolves symptoms. According to the Celiac Disease Foundation, “At this point, research has not confirmed that gluten is the culprit triggering the immune reaction as is the case with celiac disease.”

Do we need gluten as part of a balanced diet?

Not all foods that contain gluten are healthy. For instance, eating pizza every day will cause you to gain weight – but this weight gain is not in response to eating gluten! But nutritionists and medical professionals will advise against going gluten-free (unless you have a medical reason) because whole grains are essential for a healthy diet.

Wheat, barley, and rye, for example, are good sources of B vitamins, fiber, iron, and some essential trace minerals, such as manganese and selenium. A diet containing whole grains helps reduce your risk of heart disease, and dietary fiber found in whole grains can reduce cholesterol levels. Whole grains also help you maintain healthy blood pressure.

According to the Mayo Clinic, “in the U.S., gluten-free foods tend to be lower in folate, thiamin, riboflavin, and niacin. This may be because in this country most wheat products are enriched with folic acid, thiamin, riboflavin, niacin, and iron, while gluten-free flours, cereals, and bread products typically are not.”

According to the Dietary Guidelines for Americans, children should consume between 6-11 servings of whole grain a day, and adults should consume between 3 and 5 servings of whole grain every day.

 

Whole grains provide essential vitamins and minerals. source: Whole Grains Council

The gluten labeling craze.

Because so many consumers have jumped on the gluten-free bandwagon, food companies (and grocery stores) are going crazy with the gluten-free label. It seems like every product in the grocery store indicates whether the product has gluten— even when it’s not a grain-based food!

 

 

Gluten-free labeling is even on products that would never contain gluten in the first place. Ice cream does not contain grain! 

Despite what marketing efforts will have you believe, gluten-free products are not inherently healthier. Gluten-free substitutes may contain other additives, and, unlike whole wheat options, they are not typically enriched with additional nutrients. In fact, many gluten-free products are higher in saturated fat and sugar. Look closely at the nutrition and ingredient labels next time you are considering a gluten-free purchase!

If you do not experience any symptoms when consuming gluten, that means your body is comfortable digesting it. But, if you choose to join the crowd and go gluten-free anyway, it is important to know how you will be replacing the nutrients you are inevitably eliminating.

Feeding the World: One Byte at a Time

landscape of farmland against blue sky

Cornell has started the Cornell Initiative for Digital Agriculture (CIDA) to solve some of the world’s most pressing questions by connecting disciplines within and outside of Cornell.

  • How can Cornell impact the agri-food system to help feed close to 10 billion people by 2050?
  • How does changing consumer demand and demographics affect the global food system?
  • What will the impact of climate change have on agriculture?
  • How can our crops be more resilient to weather and pests?
  • How can we improve water and fertilizer usage?
  • How can we reduce foodborne illnesses around the world?
  • How do we solve food waste?

“Great things in business are never done by one person; they’re done by a team of people.” – Steve Jobs

What makes Cornell unique?

As a university, Cornell’s approach to Digital Agriculture represents a unique collaboration between five of their own colleges on campus with businesses and government off campus. The purpose is to develop, change and improve the way we grow our crops and supply our food.

The Cornell Workshop on Digital Agriculture (CIDA): “Transforming Agriculture and Food Systems” is led by Susan McCouch, the Director of the new Cornell Initiative for Digital Agriculture (CIDA) and the Barbara McClintock Professor of Plant Breeding and Genetics, along with Associate Directors Abe Stroock, Professor of Chemical and Biomolecular Engineering and Hakim Weatherspoon, Associate Professor of Computer Science.  Kathryn Boor (Dean of the College of Agriculture and Life Sciences), Lance Collins (Dean of the College of Engineering), and Greg Morrisett (Dean of Computing and Information Science) have been champions of the evolving Initiative and faculty efforts.

Importantly, CIDA represents a cross-university collaboration with faculty members from CALS as well as the Colleges of Engineering, Computing and Information Science, Business, and Veterinary Medicine where students and faculty will work together to use digital agriculture to answer these challenging questions facing agriculture today.

CIDA is combining agriculture with data solutions partners such as Microsoft and IBM. The USDA has committed to hiring 12 new researchers at Cornell as part of this collaborative effort. Additionally, Cornell is a Land Grant College – which means they work with farmers around the world helping to research and develop solutions for their specific crop and country. The result of this broad approach is to develop direct solutions to manage water delivery to plants, improve animal health, and enhance plant breeding and soil science.

What is Digital Agriculture?

Digital Agriculture is all about using data and information to maximize the food and agricultural supply chain. That would be from dirt to dinner! It means digitally collecting all the information on the farm and within the food supply chain. Solutions for animal and crop health, farm profitability, yield management, food production, and social welfare will be found with big data management and artificial intelligence.

The success of agriculture can be seen through the improvements that have been made in the Dairy industry. Today, each cow can produce 2,429 gallons of milk per year. That is a tall order compared to the 548 gallons per cow produced in 1944. Digital Agriculture will enable these kinds of efficiencies.

Cornell is well suited for CIDA. Some of the types of programs that are underway are using robots and sensors. LoveBeets, a U.K. company which focuses on just beets, and Cornell are collaborating to improving beet production and weed reduction with new yield algorithms and drones. Recently, a research project has been developed so a robot can touch a vine ripe with grapes and determine the leaf to fruit ratio as well as estimate the yield before harvest time.  Another group has developed their own sensor which helps apple orchards deliver water only where it is needed.  Research on indoor farming is underway to reduce the labor and lighting costs as well as to understand the effects of CO2 on plant yield.

FarmBeats is a collaborative program with Microsoft. Utilizing the Microsoft Cloud and artificial intelligence, farmers are able to improve yields on their crops while lowering overall costs and their environmental impact.

Digital technology and the grocery store – what this means to you

Does anyone else dislike dragging themselves to the grocery store after a long day to pick up items for dinner? Well, next time you are there, think about how lucky you are to have all these amazing food choices right at your fingertips.

And it all starts on the farm. Every single food item at the grocery store begins in the soil on a farm.Now, take a macro look at this. The Earth is not getting any bigger and we can’t keep cutting down forests and encroaching on open space to grow more food. Digital technology can help us make the most of the farmland we have today. It can help farmers become more profitable and efficient. What happens on the farm affects the water we drink, the national parks we visit, the biodiversity of life surrounding the farms, and the price and quality of the food we eat.

The (Potential) Power of CBD

hemp flower and jar of CBD oil

Multiple hours on the keyboard and pulling weeds in the garden have given me arthritis trouble in my fingers. When I was discussing this with a friend, she recommended CBD oil to help ease the pain and inflammation. That got my attention. Is there any research to back this up?

CBD has jumped into the consumer spotlight because of the shifting regulatory landscape of marijuana and hemp, and the recent FDA  approval of a cannabis-derived CBD medicine for rare types of types of epilepsy.

Producers of CBD are taking advantage of the growing library of science supporting a wide range of health benefits, and most particularly, consumer demand. You can drop CBD on your tongue as a tincture, rub it on your skin as a cream, inhale it as a vapor, eat it as a gummy bear, or drink it infused in water.

But here is the problem: There is much consumer and corporate confusion about the legality of CBD products. Here is why:

  • The FDA has not approved CBD as a food supplement. There are two reasons.
    • Marijuana is not legal in all 50 states. States have their own laws regulating marijuana, medical marijuana, and hemp cultivation.  According to the FDA, “it is a prohibited act to introduce or deliver for introduction into interstate commerce any food (including animal food or feed) to which THC or CBD has been added.”
    • And the second reason is that CBD has been approved as a drug product (the epilepsy drugs) and is precluded from the food supplement category.  While the FDA will continue to support “rigorous scientific research on potential medical treatments using marijuana and its components that seek to be developed through the appropriate scientific channels,” they remain concerned about the proliferation and illegal marketing of unapproved CBD-containing products with unproven medical claims.”
  • The Drug Enforcement Agency has moved CBD drugs (prescription, as the epilepsy drugs), with a THC content of below 0.01% to a schedule 5 drug, provided the drug has been approved by the FDA. Any other CBD product is still wrapped up in the federal marijuana ban.
  • While it is easy to buy CBD online, (THC must be below 0.3%), there is a lack of testing standards. A recent study indicated that 70% of online CBD extracts are mislabeled.

So, what is CBD?

 CBD, or cannabidiol, is one of many naturally occurring compounds called cannabinoids in marijuana and hemp plants. CBD and THC (which is what gets you high), are the most studied for their effects on the brain and immune system.

Marijuana and hemp are from the same cannabis plant family and share many of the same characteristics. However, they differ in the amount of THC and CBD each plant produces.

Marijuana contains higher amounts of THC and less CBD; hemp contains more CBD and less THC.

What are some of the health claims of CBD?

There are thousands of studies on CBD in the U.S. National Library of Medicine database. Over 2,500 of these have been conducted with grants from the National Institutes of Health.

The premise is that CBD and other cannabinoids derived from marijuana or hemp provide numerous health benefits without the complications of the psychoactive THC.

CBD has therapeutic promise in the treatment of inflammation, pain, seizures, substance abuse, mental health, HIV/Aids, Alzheimer’s, Parkinson’s multiple sclerosis and even cancer. Most of these studies are conducted in the lab, as it is difficult to run human experiments and get research funding using a Schedule 1 drug. But currently, there are over 300 registered clinical trials underway. And most compelling, your friends, your brother, your mother, your cousin – are providing stories that it works for them.

Despite these studies, regulators, health care providers, and consumers are still unclear about the short and long-term effects of the cannabis plant. Further clinical studies (on humans, not animals) will help clarify the potential (or not) of this cannabis compound.

How does CBD work?

Cannabinoids (CBD, THC, and many others) activate receptors in the endocannabinoid system.  These receptors are a bridge between our body and our mind. Not only do they regulate inflammation, but they also a major role in pleasure, memory, thinking, concentration, coordination, awareness of time, appetite, pain and taste, touch, smell, hearing, and sight.  The major cannabinoid receptors are CB1 and CB2, and they are located on cells throughout the body: in the brain, organs, connective tissues, glands, and immune cells.

To illustrate how the endocannabinoid system works, think of times you are under stress. You might lace up your running shoes, take a walk in the fresh air, or hit the gym to relax. Exercise often induces a change in mental attitude –a feeling of happiness, inner harmony or boundless energy. This is like the feeling of rejuvenation you get after exercise.  The underlying reason for this de-stressing relief is that exercise activates the endocannabinoid system. Your body, after exercise, feels more balanced. The same is said to apply after taking CBD.

How big is the market for CBD?

Betting on the continued evolvement of the industry, particularly the support for the legalization of cannabis in the U.S., investment in marijuana and hemp has skyrocketed. Constellation Brands has invested $4 billion in Canopy Growth Corporation, Molson Coors has teamed up with The Hydropothecary Corporation to produce non-alcoholic, infused beverages, Heineken’s Lagunitas craft-brewing has launched Hi-Fi Hops, a sparkling water infused with THC and/or CBD, and even Coca-Colais closely watching the market.

And according to Marijuana Business Daily, Marijuana companies across the globe are going public and scaling up to meet demand. The industry is on track to raise a record $8 billion by the end of 2018, up from 3.5 billion in 2017.

According to industry estimates, the market for CBD will show continued growth through 2022, surpassing $1.8 in sales.

So, should you buy CBD?

The science is promising, but there are no standardized production practices. For example, when you drink a bottle of beer you know how much alcohol you are ingesting. There are no standards for CBD either in the product or set standards for how it is made. Also, no company that sells CBD products can make any health claims. You need to do your research to find a reputable supplier and the best quality before purchasing CBD products. I am going to give it a try for my arthritis.

The National Academy of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicines, in their report The Health Effects of Cannabis and Cannabinoids concludes:

This is a pivotal time in the world of cannabis policy and research. Shifting public sentiment, conflicting and impeded scientific research, and legislative battles have fueled the debate about what, if any, harms or benefits can be attributed to the use of cannabis or its derivatives. This report … puts forth recommendations to help advance the research field and better inform public health decisions.

CO2: The Greatest Fertilizer of All

wildflower meadow in front of farm

The more CO2 that is available to a plant, the more CO2 it ‘inhales!’ The more CO2 it inhales, the faster the rate of photosynthesis and the greater rate of growth. Additionally, more carbon dioxide provides plants a stronger immune system to protect against disease and drought.

CO2 helps plants increase yield.

“We realize that increases in CO2 concentrations and adaptive management can provide significant mitigation of the negative effects of climate change.” -Massachusetts Institute of Technology

Dr. Craig D. Idso, author of Climate Change: The Facts 2017 and Founder of CO2 Science has closely reviewed the COfertilization effect on agriculture. He has examined a database of over 5,500 studies that include 950 plants that demonstrate how COenrichment increases photosynthesis and yield. The COin greenhouses was amplified from 300 to 600, and in some cases to 900ppm. He found that the large-scale staple food and animal crops  (soybeans, wheat, and corn)also react well to more COin the atmosphere.

Large-scale agricultural crops respond well to CO2 enrichment. In the studies led by Craig Idso, the yield of corn increased by 27%, wheat by 37%, and soybeans by 50%.

 

However, it is one thing to enrich the air in a greenhouse, but how does this work with crops in practical field applications?

Dr. Rob Norton, formerly Director of the International Plant Nutrition Institute, now retired as a consultant, Norton Agronomic P/L from Australia and New Zealand, has completed several studies to understand the CO2 effect on wheat. He used FACE (Free Air Carbon Dioxide) which is the ability to determine the effect of elevated CO2 on a specific crop. For example, on the same field with the same water, sunlight and fertilizer, he had two sets of crops: one had enriched air of a higher CO2 level of 550 ppm, pumped through sprinkler-like devices every few seconds, and the other wheat crop relied just on the CO2 found in the air at the time of 385 ppm. He found that the wheat grain yield increased by 50%. His research also showed that the nutrients within a plant decreased as the yield increased. (Check out our post on how minerals get diluted as the plants grow bigger with CO2 fertilization.)

CO2 helps plants cope with drought stress.

Plants have leaf stomatal pores that allow them to “inhale” carbon dioxide and release water vapor – the process of transpiration. The more CO2 they have, the fewer pores they create, the less water vapor they release. The plants are essentially storing water and energy in their leaves. Just like humans, when plants are hydrated they grow stronger and stay healthier. This is particularly true for C4 plants such as sugarcane, sorghum, and corn.

Nature Magazine published a report by Daniel Taub, Chair of Biology at Southwestern University, which examined the Photosynthetic assimilation of CO2 to the metabolism of plants. He also completed FACE experiments and compared photosynthesis between CO2 of 385 ppm to an elevated CO2 of 475 ppm – 600 ppm. He found that in the higher CO2 environment plants required less water. This has an added benefit of less run-off which keeps the soil moist over a longer period of time.

Across a variety of FACE experiments, growth under elevated CO2 decreases stomatal conductance of water by an average of 22%…. Under elevated CO2 most plant species show higher rates of photosynthesis, increased growth, decreased water use and lowered tissue concentrations of nitrogen and protein.” (Daniel Taub, Southwestern University)

The more CO2 plants absorb, the greater the rate of photosynthesis.
Image: view from a Super Cub in the Pennsylvania countryside.

Is the Earth turning greener?

Australian scientist, Randall Donohue and a group of researchers from the Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Organization looked at the relationship between annual rainfall, rising CO2 and the greening of the earth. Through satellite measurements between 1982 – 2010, they calculated, that yes, indeed, there was a global foliage increase of 11%.

While we are frequently inundated with the consequences of excess CO2 and its relationship to climate change— what isn’t making headlines is how increased levels of CO2 can actually grow more food!

Can research utilize CO2 to increase yield even more?

As a Dirt-to-Dinner reader, by now you know that a higher crop yield on existing land is the holy grail of farming. As the world population grows and our need for sustainability increases, using innovation and technology to get the most of our existing farmland will continue to be critical. Rice is a good start as it provides at least 20% of the energy for over 50 percent of the world population.

Paul Quick, from the International Rice Research Institute in the Philippines, is working with scientists in eight different countries from 12 universities to supercharge the photosynthesis process in rice to increase its yield by 50%. According to the IRRI, each hectare of rice (2.5 acres) in Asia produces enough food for 27 people, as 2050 approaches, that same hectare will need to feed 43 people. They are working to convert rice, which is a C3 plant, to the efficient user of CO2 and water of a C4 plant. This would produce the desired 60% increase in yield.

Is CO2 Putting Your Nutrition at Risk?

tops of wheat plant against brilliant blue sky

“Deficiencies in iron and other nutrients could make millions of people more vulnerable to diseases including malaria and pneumonia, leading to many premature deaths.” New York Times

Climate scientists are predicting that CO2 will increase to at least 550 parts per million (ppm) well beyond the current 410 ppm today. This will have both a positive and negative effect on the major agricultural crops such as wheat, rice, and soybeans that we use to feed both people and animals.

Depending on the crop, plant yield per acre will increase by 40-60%. But scientists are also discovering that the nutrition will decrease by approximately 10% (depending on the mineral or micronutrient) as the yield increases.

“With a significant portion of consumers noting that rice is a good source of vitamins and minerals, the impact of climate change on its nutritional makeup could have severely negative impacts on the category as a whole.”  (Mintel Research)

How is the effect of CO2 on crops determined?

FACE (Free Air Carbon Dioxide) experiments are the methodology used to compare crops with today’s CO2 of approximately 400ppm with an increase to 550 or 600 ppm. One crop will have enriched air, otherwise known as eCO2, pumped through sprinkler-like devices every few seconds and the other crop will rely on the CO2 currently available in the air.

Free-air carbon dioxide enrichment (FACE) experiments use controlled atmospheric concentrations of carbon dioxide in the field — a more realistic representation of increased levels of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere. Photo: David F. Karnosky

Nature published a meta-analysis of wheat, soybeans, maize, sorghum, rice, and field peas from Australia, China, Japan, and the United States. There was an overall 50% increase in yield and an approximate 10% decrease in nutrients, specifically zinc, iron, and protein.

Rob Norton, Director, IPNI Australia and New Zealand, has done several FACE studies to understand the effect of changes in water, temperature, and with eCO2 on wheat. He and his team found that the wheat grain yield increased by 50%. They also confirmed that higher yields dilute the nitrogen. Nitrogen produces protein in the plant. So when nitrogen is diluted, protein is diluted. Normally, wheat is 15.5% protein and under the enriched CO2 environment the protein percentage dropped to 13.5%.

Faster growth does not necessarily mean more zinc, iron, or protein. When grain yield is increased a ‘dilution problem’ occurs. Think of dropping a cube of sugar into a glass of water. Then add more water, the sugar becomes diluted. This is similar to what happens when plants grow due to an increase in CO2. Interestingly enough, the chart below shows that this phenomenon occurred even during the Green Revolution when farmers adopted fertilizer and high-yielding plants.The opposite effect can also occur. If you evaporate the sugar water, you have a sugar concentrate. The same is true with a reduction in yield. While there would not be the quantity of grains, oilseeds, or rice, the nutritional quality would increase.

It is not just CO2 which affects the nutrient concentration, it can be the plant breed, or even the amount of fertilizer used, which can also increase the yield.

Some fruits and vegetables are also slightly at risk from CO2 increases.

A group of scientists from Germany, Australia, and China also looked at a meta-analysis consisting of 57 observations – primarily focusing on lettuce, tomatoes, and potatoes.  They discovered that enriched CO2 increased concentrations of fructose, glucose, antioxidant capacity, total phenols, total flavonoids, ascorbic acid, and calcium but decreased protein, nitrate, magnesium, iron, and zinc.

Will this decline in nutrients affect your diet?

If you are reading this, you probably have enough of a varied diet that you are able to get your nutrients through the 2000 or so daily calories you consume. In addition, while there could be a drop in crop nutrition, it is not significant enough to make you run to the vitamin store.  However, if rice is 1/4th of your diet, then this is an issue because this means a diversified diet is not available to you. As you can see below, one cup of rice or one slice of bread is not a significant source of protein, iron, or zinc.

Percentage of RDA 1 cup of Rice 1 slice of Bread
Protein 8% 7%
Zinc 5% 3%
Iron 11% 4%

How can we adapt food nutrients to an increase in CO2?

Now that it is becoming better understood how CO2 affects plants, researchers are studying how plant genetics can help them adapt. Plant biotechnology can enhance photosynthesis with a range of temperature, water, and CO2 so we can adapt to a higher carbon world. Biofortified crops will continue to be important for those who heavily depend on wheat and rice as a large portion of their diet.

“A fresh approach will be needed using the rapidly advancing capabilities in functional genomics, genetic transformation, and synthetic biology targeting traits that will provide cultivars able to exploit what was – in evolutionary terms – scarce atmospheric carbon.”  S. Seneweera, University of Southern Queensland, Australia and R.M. Norton, Director, IPNI Australia, and New Zealand.

FAO Reports an Increase in Hungry People Around the World

women mixing grains in large bowl - Africa

In its 2018 report, the State of Food Security and Nutrition in the World, the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) reports an increase in the number of hungry people around the world. After years of steady improvement in reducing hunger, the number of people facing chronic food deprivation in 2017 is nearly 821 million, up from 804 million the year before.

What is the definition of hunger? According to author Robert Paarlberg, in his book Food Politics, What Everyone Needs to Know, hunger is defined as “those that are living on less than $1 a day, with a daily energy intake below 2,200 calories or a diet lacking in essential diversity. ” A bowl of rice or corn, for example, may be heavy on calories but lacks essential nutrients.

Hunger results in malnutrition which is a deficiency in macro and/or micro ingredients needed to maintain healthy tissues and organ function. Malnutrition results in a weak immune system more susceptible to disease.


Hunger in Sudan. WorldVision.org /Stephanie Glinski

Malnutrition can also be synonymous with obesity, which is the consumption of overeating foods without nutrients. For many people around the world, foods that are high in sugar, salt and fat can be cheaper and more readily available than fresh fruits and vegetables, milk, and other nutrient-dense foods. According to the FAO report, childhood overweight and obesity rates are rising in most regions and adult obesity is increasing in all regions.

Chronic malnourishment is widespread, but there are regions of vulnerability. Sub-Saharan, Eastern, and Middle Africa have more than 20% of undernourished people.  While not as severe, Southern and Central Asia hover around 15%. Even the sunny Caribbean doesn’t escape with 16.5% undernourishment.

What is the cause of hunger?

FAO pointed out that there are three major forces that contribute to chronic hunger:

Weather and climate. Climate-related events have consequences of food safety and availability. In fact, the FAO reports that from 1990-2016, the number of droughts, floods and storms has averaged to 213 per year. Those countries with high exposure to climate extremes have a higher malnourished population. Africa, Central America, and Southeast Asia, for example, not only have been experiencing lower rainfall but also fewer days of rain.

In some cases, hunger can be a direct result of a specific event, like a tsunami or hurricane. As a result, international food aid comes from a collaboration of the FAO, U.S. Agency for International Development, and other NGOs until the crisis is over.

Of the extreme climate-related disasters, drought is the most destructive for crops and livestock.

Global Conflict. Wars and civil upheavals are a double whammy for food security. Political uncertainty and terrorism force mass immigration toward the developed world. The endless stream of images on television from Syria, North Africa, and other global trouble spots tell the story vividly.

Conflict events in Africa, 1997–2015. The final boundary between the Republic of Sudan and the Republic of South Sudan has not yet been determined. SOURCE: Armed Conflict Location and Event Data Project (ACLED) and FAO 2017 Report of Food Security and Nutrition in the World.

Economics. People go hungry when fundamental economic principles are abandoned.  For example, the people of Venezuela have suffered from poor government choices. Socialism-gone-awry has triggered rampant food insecurity, refugees, and a collapsed country.

Venezuelan migrants fleeing economic meltdown at home. Source: The Times, UK

There are more mouths to feed today than yesterday…

As the population increases, so will the number of hungry people. Let’s look at 2035—just 17 years away. We will have 1.1 billion more people to feed. It is no surprise that 51% of the population growth will be in India, China, Europe, Indonesia, and Pakistan. In India alone, 339 million people currently live below the poverty line. That is more than all the population in the United States! If the percentage stays the same at 10.9%, in 2035 there will be 100 million more people facing starvation.

“Access to safe, nutritious and sufficient food must be framed as a human right, with priority given to the most vulnerable. Policies must pay special attention to the food security and nutrition of children under five, school-age children, adolescent girls, and women in order to halt the intergenerational cycle of malnutrition. A shift is needed towards nutrition-sensitive agriculture and food systems that provide safe and high-quality food, promoting healthy diets for all.” (FAO)

What is the Difference between GMOs and CRISPR?

gmo-crispr concept using scalpel and scissors shown with vegetables

What is a GMO?

GMOs (genetically modified organisms) involve transferring a gene from one species to another to provide an organism with a new trait – like pest resistance or drought tolerance. GMOs are also referred to as “transgenic,” for transfer of genes.

Bt corn is an example of a GMO crop that helps reduce pesticide use against the European Corn Borer, a pesky caterpillar that eats the crop. Genes from a naturally occurring soil bacterium, Bacillus thuringiensis, are inserted into corn leaves. Bacillus thuringiensis produces proteins with insecticidal properties that specifically target the European Corn Borer. When the worm starts munching on the corn leaves, it ingests the soil bacterium and dies. The plants produce the toxins in their tissues and there is no need to spray synthetic pesticides or apply Bt mixtures topically.

GMOs involve transferring a gene from one species to another to endow an organism with a new trait – like pest resistance or drought tolerance.

What is CRISPR?

CRISPR is a very precise way of altering or deleting DNA from the same species to obtain the desired outcome. CRISPR allows scientists to shorten the natural evolution of plants by years.

Drought resistant corn, for example, is CRISPR engineered and will enable corn to grow and thrive with limited water. As the climate changes and water becomes scarcer, this will be very important to this major world crop. Another example is the non-browning mushroom, where the gene responsible for browning is silenced. The mushroom enjoys a longer shelf life and there is less food waste.


CRISPR involves editing a gene within the same species to achieve the desired outcome.

Gene-edited crops have the potential to make plants that are higher yielding, drought tolerant, disease resistant, more nutritious, or just better tasting.

CRISPR technology can also be applied to human and animal health and welfare. Scientists are working on cures for Type I DiabetesAlzheimer’s and other human diseases using CRISPR technology. With regard to animals, dairy cows can be saved the pain of manual horn extraction (disbudding) by introducing genetics from Angus cows, which are born without horns.

Both GMO and CRISPR technologies have the potential to provide healthier, more nutritious food, and allow farmers to grow crops with fewer agricultural chemicals and less water.  Additionally, CRISPR is emerging as a promising tool not only for plants and animals but also for human health.

In the News: European Court Hinders CRISPR Technology

crispr technology concept

The Court of Justice of the European Union (ECJ), which represents all 28 countries in the European Union, has set back progress by regulating the genetic engineering technique, CRISPR, to such an extent that it will stifle growth in agricultural innovation.

As a surprise to almost everyone, the court ruled that crops produced from CRISPR-Cas9 must face the same rigorous, time-consuming and hugely expensive evaluative process as genetically modified crops.

In contrast to the European Court, the USDA recently issued a statement that the agency does not plan to regulate plants edited with CRISPR technology. The USDA deemed a distinct difference between edited genomes and genetic modification. This decision only applies to crops with genes removed by the technology or added if the genes are commonplace in the species. GMOs and other transgenic crops, with DNA modified from another organism to make the crop pest-resistant, for example, will still be closely monitored by the USDA.

“Genome editing…can introduce new plant traits more quickly and precisely, potentially saving years or even decades in bringing needed new varieties to farmers.” (USDA Press)

Why are we concerned about what the European Union does with gene editing?

Imagine for a moment that we still used a horse and plow to grow and harvest the food we eat. We would all be hungry. Food production has kept pace with population growth due to ongoing seed, planting and harvesting technology. Seeds resistant to pests and diseases, GPS-driven tractors, and precision irrigation are some of the technologies that have helped to increase crop yields, preserve and improve soils, and produce healthier foods.

Since the 1940s, corn yield has increased to roughly 170 bushels an acre from 30. This has saved over 2.7 billion acres of land, globally. In 1990, the average farmer fed 100 people. Today, the average farmer produces food and fiber for 165 people annually, both in the U.S and abroad!

Food would not be as plentiful today if we kept to horse and plow methods of cultivation.

Modern tractors are efficient and use precise GPS technology to manage fields and crops.

The EU Ruling Causes Frustration.

The Court’s ruling, which the French government requested, has not received much public praise. This decision shocked many in the business and academic communities regarding its questionable logic.  Even European editorial pages sympathetic to the anti-GMO position expressed incredulity with the decision.

Until now, Europe’s regulatory approach to genetic engineering was simple: Anything that could occur naturally should not be as heavily regulated, but “unnatural” processes, like GMOs, require strict regulation. GMOs are considered “unnatural” as they use a transgenic process of inserting genes from one organism into another organism.

CRISPR, on the other hand, uses the organism’s own genetic material, therefore the change could occur naturally. There are no transgenic properties in CRISPR. It is just a faster and more precise way to breed better crops compared to what farmers have been practicing for centuries. CRISPR can help plants resist pests and disease, and survive in higher temperatures and drier soil conditions.

So, by stating that CRISPR must now undergo heavy regulation, the ECJ has contradicted itself on the topic of genetic engineering. In fact, they’re creating even more confusion. For instance, did you know the EU considers radiation as a “natural” process and therefore is not as regulated? This “natural” process is called conventional mutagenesis and includes the use of chemicals or radiation to cause mutations within the plant for future breeding purposes. How is radiation, an imprecise method of breeding, any more “natural” than CRISPR?

“By any sensible standard, this judgment is illogical and absurd.  For a start, it argues that crops should be judged not on the safety of their traits but only by the technology that was used to create them.  It also maintains that the highly precise technology of gene editing is somehow more risky than past, imprecise techniques. This is simply untrue.” (The Sunday Observer, July 29, 2018)

The Court’s decision ignores this critical scientific point of difference. Additionally, this ruling further mystifies the already complex issue of GMOs. As we saw with GMOs, some countries may follow Europe’s lead on this ruling. This will be especially detrimental to the developing world, with concerns about food security with a growing population. Basing those policies on poor science and an over-abundance of caution could forestall the very improvements in farm productivity needed around the world.

“To classify gene-edited crops as GMOs and equivalent to transgenic crops is completely incorrect by any scientific definition.  Precise modern gene-editing technologies allow accurate, predictable changes to be made in a genome.” (Nick Talbot, molecular geneticist. University of Exeter, United Kingdom)

A Loss for Europe’s Ag Sector

Immediate effects from the ECJ ruling.

The ruling will have immediate and long-term effects on Europe’s farmers and ranchers. As of now, all ongoing trials of gene-edited crops and animals in the EU must cease, halting valuable research findings and turning ag R&D spend into sunk costs for many. To get a field study up and running, the EU now requires that they first receive authorization.

As for crop and animal sales, the European Food Safety Authority must review any plants or animals affected by these gene-editing techniques before for approval. The approval process must demonstrate that the organisms are safe for consumption as well as the environment; the EU then grants final authorization for commercial use.

Once approved for commercial distribution, genetically edited plants and animals will require special labeling indicating its GE status, and all products must be traced back to its source.


Europe to fall behind in global competition.
Another consideration of this ruling is that it will now be prohibitively expensive and out of reach for smaller companies and institutions to enter this globally-competitive market. Taking just one gene-edited plant through the European regulatory process costs about $35 million, which is only accessible to the largest of companies. This will force many to either give up or move out the E.U.

“[This ruling is] the death blow for plant biotech in Europe.’ (Sarah Schmidt, Heinrich Heine University of Dusseldorf)

This will also have a broader effect on the European agricultural market.  Their crops will become increasingly more expensive to produce while other global producers offer better, less expensive crops for customers worldwide. Use of bio-engineered crops is expanding steadily around the world, especially in the United States and throughout South America, where they’re competing for lucrative foreign markets. In addition, trading with Europe will be increasingly difficult since the labeling laws will be different.

Effects on global food supply. The FAO reports that we need to grow as much food in the next 50 years as we have in the past 10,000 years combined.  This means the world’s farmers will have to grow about 70% more food than what is now produced. How are we going to do this without continuing to advance technology?

Is Salt Worth its Salt?

pink salts in a dish

On a recent trip to Whole Foods, I was perplexed by the numerous options for salt. The Himalayan salt was “clean, pure, and untouched, drawn from deep in the mountains.” The labels of red, black and white coarse salts were claiming “unrefined” and “containing essential trace minerals. “

Is one type of salt better than the other? I asked my team at Dirt-to-Dinner and, while we had our salt preferences for cooking or baking, we were unsure about the nutritional differences.

Salt is salt is salt

What we learned is whether salt comes from mines deep within the earth’s surface or in a sheet pan from the Atlantic Ocean, all salt is 98% sodium chloride, otherwise known as, SALT!

“Sea salt and table salt have the same basic nutritional value, despite the fact that sea salt is often promoted as being healthier. Sea salt and table salt contain comparable amounts of sodium by weight.” –Mayo Clinic

What distinguishes one salt from another in color and flavor is how it is processed. Table salt is refined and purified to remove trace minerals, clays, and other natural deposits or contaminants. It is uniform in shape, often sold with added iodine, and pours smoothly.

On the other hand, a product such as Hawaiian red salt is created by evaporating white sea salt in large saltpans set into Hawaii’s red, iron-rich volcanic clay. Through the process of mixing and evaporation, this salt will assume a red hue and will also contain naturally occurring elements from the clay. (Want to know more about processing and the history of salt? Read Where does salt come from?)

Let’s look at the “trace minerals”…

Specialty salts are usually marketed as containing essential minerals, special antioxidants or some other health claim. But the reality is that there have been no replicated clinical trials to prove these salts are more nutritional than regular table salt. And, although salt is necessary to a healthy diet, you wouldn’t be reaching for the salt to get to your recommended daily allowance of minerals.

In a spectral analysis of Himalayan salt, harvested from deep within the Himalayan mountains, there are 88 trace minerals, including important minerals such as potassium, magnesium, and calcium. But also on the list is radium, uranium, and polonium, which are radioactive substances. And there is thallium, a tasteless and odorless, difficult to detect poison!

Bromide has been detected as a trace mineral in Hawaiian black lava salt. Bromide compounds were used as sedatives in the 19th and early 20th centuries, eventually withdrawn due to chronic toxicity!

Black Lava sea salt.

The amounts of trace minerals are very, very small, measured in parts per million, and there is no risk of poisoning if you eat Himalayan or Hawaiian sea salt! But claims that these salts are “healthier” for you just aren’t substantiated.

Self-proclaimed “Salt Guru”, Molecular Biologist Mort Satin, responded to our questions about the nutritional differences between salts:

“As much as I would like to say that there is a great nutritional difference between the salts, I cannot do so. The only way that we can verify any differences between the various salts is through clinical trials, and such trials have not been carried out. … What we can say is that these various salts do add color, different tastes and overall interest to the table. And they do have slightly different mineral compositions, but considering the amount normally consumed, I have never come across a peer-reviewed clinical study showing any reproducible benefit or harm from any of them.”  (“Salt Guru”, Mort Satin)

Marketers capitalize on consumer trends

According to Mintel Market Research, specialty salts are finding shelf space because “unique ingredients and exotic locations” create consumer interest, and marketers are capitalizing on the latest “free from” health trends such as “free from environmental contaminants”, and “naturally free of…”

Provenance is also important to consumers, as they can visualize the ocean, location or a local business. Regionally produced salts will advertise “locally harvested and processed”, which appeals to consumers who shun commercially produced food products.

The difference in flavor, “local” origins, and “uniqueness” are the reason why the niche salt market will continue to grow.

After thousands of years of struggle to make salt white and of even grain…people will now pay more for salts that are odd shapes and colors. (Salt, A World History)

 

 

Amagansett Sea Salt from the Atlantic Ocean off Long Island. Amagansett Sea Salt

Is there a difference in taste?

To get some clarification on this difference in flavor, we conducted a simple test of 6 different types of salt available in grocery stores.

The D2D salt taste test. From left to right: the saltiness of the crystals was more intense.

We were very surprised at the differences in texture and taste! The pink Himalayan salt was the mildest in salt flavor and its chunks took the longest to dissolve in our mouths. The grey Celtic Sea Salt was also on the mild side with crunchy texture. La Baleine fine crystals were balanced in flavor and quickly dissolved. The Diamond Crystal Kosher was on the saltier side with larger crystals. Morton iodized was saltier and quick dissolving, and the pink-hued fine crystals of “Real Salt” were strongly salty.

Is Glyphosate Safe?

glyphosate - roundUp

At my home, we struggle with an ongoing battle against goutweed— a Hydra Lernaia of the invasive weed world. If you pull or cut this weed, it will only sprout more roots underground as a survival response. We researched and spoke with weed experts and ended up turning to Roundup, a glyphosate product, to get rid of it. And after three applications this past spring, the weed was finally gone.

At Dirt-to-Dinner, we have researched and written about glyphosate before and concluded it safe for use as directed. But with the enormous judgment against Monsanto, in California last month, have things changed?

What is glyphosate?

Glyphosate is a broad-spectrum herbicide – meaning it kills anything green and growing that it is sprayed on. It is the active ingredient in Roundup®, among other herbicides, and is marketed to homeowners and farmers to kill weeds in lawns, crop fields, vineyards, and orchards. Other major users are golf course owners who use glyphosate to keep the greens and fairways pristine and the U.S. Forest Services – for forest management.

Glyphosate is also used in conjunction with herbicide-tolerant seeds for corn, soy, and cotton. So, for example, a farmer can plant Roundup-ready soybeans in the early spring, then spray the field with glyphosate for weed control and not kill the soybean seedlings.

Why do farmers use glyphosate?

Weeds compete with crops for nutrients, water, and sunlight and some even release toxic chemicals through their roots that directly harm crops. Controlling weeds with herbicides like glyphosate is a critical part of field management for farmers to achieve profitable yields. This also affects consumers in that higher yields translate into more plentiful and affordable food.

Additionally, farmers practicing no-till farming may use glyphosate to clear their fields for planting. In this case, farmers use herbicides to suppress weeds instead of tilling their field to rip them out. Reduced tillage means lower fuel costs and greenhouse gas emissions from not firing up the tractor a countless number of times. It also means more decomposing matter in the soil which creates a healthy soil. Healthy soil creates strong plants, retains water, and reduces runoff and erosion.

Here is a great video produced by Know Ideas Media explaining why farmers use glyphosate.

How does glyphosate work?

Glyphosate inhibits the activity of an enzyme, called EPSP synthase, which is essential to plant growth. EPSP synthase is not found in humans or animals, and when applied to growing weeds,  just stops them in their tracks.

Once absorbed by a plant, glyphosate travels to the roots, where it is broken down naturally by bacteria and other organisms living in the soil.

How much glyphosate does the average farmer use?

Brian Scott is a soybean, corn and wheat farmer who manages 2,300 acres of land in northwest Indiana. In this YouTube video, he demonstrates that the amount of glyphosate applied to his crops is less than 2 soda cans for every acre of land. Canadian farmer Jake Leguee puts in it another way:

“Here’s the thing about spraying a chemical like glyphosate. An acre of land is 43,560 square feet, which is a little smaller than an American football field. On that acre, 360 grams of glyphosate active ingredient is sprayed. Put another way: 2 cans of beer of glyphosate sprayed over an area almost the size of a football field. That’s 0.015 mL of beer on each square foot – and that includes the solution the glyphosate active ingredient is suspended in. That is an incredibly low concentration. A standard “drop” of water is 0.05 mL. That’s less than a third of a drop of water!”

Is glyphosate safe to use?

The science says yes. Pesticides used on conventional and organic crops are highly regulated and undergo rigorous scientific evaluation by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. It is through this process that pesticides are safe when used according to the product label. In the case of glyphosate, The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), the National Institutes of Health (NIH), the Joint FAO/WHO Meeting on Pesticide Residues (JMPR) and regulatory authorities throughout the world have reaffirmed that glyphosate is safe to use as directed and does not cause cancer.

As farmer Jake Leguee says, “…it has absolutely been the single greatest invention in agricultural history. And it is unequivocally, fantastically safe. It is one of the lowest toxicity herbicides we use on our farm. It is less toxic than alcohol. Less toxic than caffeine. “

What about the findings of glyphosate residues in our food?

Whether farmed conventionally or organically, trace amounts of pesticide residues can find their way into our food system. The question is: how much residue is too much? The answer is: to consume the amount that is too much requires you to eat many, many portions, every day, for the rest of your life!

To understand how much is too much, we need to understand the Acceptable Daily Intake (ADI).  ADI is a measure of the amount of a specific substance in food or drinking water that can be ingested on a daily basis over a lifetime without an appreciable health risk. The ADI is set with a large margin of safety, usually 100 times the maximum effect seen in the laboratory. The European Union has set an ADI for glyphosate at 0.3 milligrams per kilogram of body weight per day. The U.S. EPA figures are 1.75 milligrams per kilogram of body weight per day.

Cheerios™ by General Mills and Old Fashioned Oats by Quaker® Oats were among the favorite consumer products recently tested for glyphosate residue by the Environmental Working Group (EWG). The group has a history of presenting (or misrepresenting) data in a manner that causes unnecessary fear.

In this household, Cheerios™ was a staple breakfast item in this household during my children’s younger years. I wondered about EWG’s claim that I poisoned my kids.

In the examples below, we use the more conservative European Union Acceptable Daily Intake for glyphosate (0.3 milligrams per kilogram of body weight per day).

The science says… The highest level of glyphosate found in the EWG report for Cheerios (serving of 28 grams), was 0.53mg/kg. The highest level of glyphosate found in Quaker Old-Fashioned Oats (serving of 40 grams) was 1.3 mg/kg.

A child weighing 11 pounds would have to eat 29 servings of Quaker® Old Fashioned Oats and 101 servings of Cheerios™ every day over a lifetime.

An older child weighing about 44 pounds would have to eat 115 servings of Quaker® Old Fashioned Oats and 404 servings of Cheerios™ every day over a lifetime.

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration, which is testing for glyphosate levels in harvested crops for the first time, released data in October 2018. In milk and eggs, none was detected, according to the agency. In corn and soybean samples that did test positive (many tested negative), the amounts were below minimum levels established by the EPA.

What about the lawsuit against Monsanto?

The California jury ruled based on their assertion that Monsanto intentionally kept Roundup’s potential risks hidden from the public – it did not link glyphosate with cancer. Monsanto maintains that glyphosate does not cause cancer. Decades of scientific studies have shown the chemical to be safe for human use. (If you would like to read more about this case, read here.)

What are the herbicide alternatives?

First introduced in the mid-1970s, glyphosate has low toxicity to humans and animals and decomposes in the soil. While there are certainly other chemicals that farmers use, glyphosate replaced a class of much more dangerous herbicides and is considered the safest and most environmentally friendly herbicide on the market today.

Frozen Fruits & Veggies: Is Fresh Always Best?

fresh-frozen-peas

A couple of us at Dirt-to-Dinner grow veggie gardens and have been reaping its bounty this summer with deliciously fresh produce. And if you frequently visit farmers’ markets, perhaps you’ve taken advantage of all the beautiful fruits and veggies the summer offers. But now that the season is coming to an end, what are we going to do with our harvest? If we freeze our produce, do we lose important nutrients? And can we just stick them in the freezer straight from our garden? What we found may surprise you…


Fresh vs. Frozen: The Nutritional Showdown

Consumers unanimously prefer fresh, whether in our gardens or at the supermarket. When we see the fresh produce section in our grocery store, we imagine our fruits and veggies plucked from a farm and quickly delivered to the produce aisles.  This imagery, in turn, leads us to believe that the produce not only tastes better but is also more nutritious. But this is not necessarily true.

When it comes to nutrition, eating fruits and veggies is most important, regardless if they are fresh or frozen. More often than not, the nutrients will be the same either way. For example, minerals and fiber don’t vary much between fresh and frozen produce. And for other nutrients, like vitamins, the difference is quite minimal.

“Minerals like iron are almost bulletproof, and the fiber doesn’t care at all
whether it’s heated or frozen.”
– Dr. Ali Bouzari, Culinary Scientist and Co-founder, Pilot R+D

Which varieties of produce are better fresh or frozen?

Though nutritional differences are slim between fresh or frozen, we’ll need to take a closer look at different types of fruits and veggies to see a variance. Fat-soluble nutrients, like vitamins A & E and beta-carotenelose some of their potency during a long distribution process from farm to distributor to grocery store. This is especially true in the winter, when most produce travels internationally to our grocer, taking several weeks to transport.

This includes produce like carrots, sweet potatoes, and collard greens. These can be more nutritious in their frozen forms as they travel straight from the farm to the processing facility where they are frozen within hours due to a very efficient logistical process.

Water-soluble nutrients, like vitamins B & C and polyphenols, are in produce like spinach, apple, and citrus. These foods are not as efficient at retaining their compounds when frozen. So, if it’s important for you to get the most nutritional bang for your buck, then stick with fresh for these.

 It is recommended that you don’t keep frozen produce in your freezer for longer than a year. After that time, quality and texture will diminish.

 

How to Freeze Homegrown Produce

If you have a garden of your own, it’s time to start planning for the cooler months so you can continue enjoying your produce in the most nutrient-dense way possible. For most of your bounty, that will mean freezing them for preparation and cooking later in the year. Here are the general guidelines for freezing fresh produce:

  • Fruits and veggies should be chopped into bite-sized pieces before being frozen
  • Veggies should be blanched, or quickly boiled, for a couple minutes, and then placed in an ice-water bath to stop nutrient and color degradation
  • Fruits should be thoroughly washed and dried
  • Freeze produce on a cookie sheet in a single layer
  • Once frozen, move the produce to freezer bags for longer-term storage. See our handy table below for more details on specific produce items:

Another Reason to Freeze: Frozen Produce Reduces Food Waste

Here’s some food for thought: slightly more than half of our fruits and veggies go uneaten, thus ending up in landfills. Although some loss happens during the distribution process at grocery stores and restaurants, a whopping 43% of all food waste happens in our own homes, making us the largest single contributor to food waste. YIKES!

This is where frozen produce steps in. How often do you throw out produce that’s gone bad in your fridge or fruit bowl? Probably far more frequently than you throw out your frozen food. Thankfully, younger generations are more concerned about food waste than their older counterparts (Source: Mintel, “Frozen Produce Should Focus on Waste-Saving Benefits”, Oct 2017). This makes them a good example to follow when purchasing frozen produce.

The 3 Triggers of Chronic Inflammation

inflamed Joints in human body

As the summer is winding down, the Dirt-to-Dinner team has been flooded with questions regarding inflammation. Our readers complain that they feel bloated, tired, and lethargic. Are they inflamed? Quite possibly. The Dirt to Dinner team spoke with Dr. Peter Bongiorno from Inner Source Health and he identified the top three triggers for chronic inflammation.

Digestion: A healthy gut keeps inflammation at bay.

The majority of your immune system is located in your digestive tract. Researchers have even dubbed your gut a second brain! (You can read more about that in a previous D2D post.) So, it is very important to keep your gut healthy. Eating nutrient-dense, whole foods will encourage good digestive enzymes and healthy bacteria to grow. This enables your digestive system to process your food and effectively eliminate waste.

A diet high in sugar and processed foods causes your immune system to initiate an inflammatory response to protect its healthy cells. If you have been tested by your doctor and suffer from specific food allergens, like gluten, for example, these foods can also trigger inflammation as your body tries to protect itself from the harmful stimuli.


Researchers today are working hard to understand how much of the immune system is located inside your digestive tract. It is believed that it is a significant source of inflammation triggers.  infographic: Huffington Post

Obesity triggers an inflammatory response.

Having excess body fat, especially visceral fat around the hips and abdomen, contributes to chronic, low-grade inflammation.  This can cause DNA damage and an increase in risk factors for at least 13 different types of cancers.

Fat tissue will create inflammation that uses up nutrients and makes it more challenging for your body to clear toxic substances. It also switches how cells grow and use energy.
(Dr. Peter Bongiorno, Inner Source Health)

Obesity is a leading cause of chronic illness and is attributed to many types of cancer.

Too many toxins in your life?

As we discussed in “Nix the Toxins,”  if you are inhaling or ingesting large amounts of toxic substances, they can be stored in fatty tissue and then eventually your healthy cells. While our bodies can metabolize a certain amount of toxins, too many can cause cell inflammation and damage. Unfortunately, this includes overconsuming our favorite summer drinks, like rosé, tequila, and all those gin & tonics! Overly processed foods and an unhealthy gut can also have the same negative effect. If you expose yourself to more toxins than your body eliminates, this may create inflammation.

If you are exposing yourself to more toxicants than your body is eliminating, this may create inflammation.

How can you stay healthy?

You may not always be able to see the effects of inflammation, but keep an eye out for the signs. These include fatigue, weight gain, skin outbreaks, gastrointestinal issues, and even depression or anxiety. The best way to fight inflammation is with a healthy diet, regular exercise, and sleep. To read more about inflammatory responses, read our previous post, What is Inflammation?

Carbon Dioxide – The Dance of Life

infographic of carbon cycle

Not to get too groovy, but carbon originally rode the waves of stardust traveling through space after the Big Bang to eventually make its way to Earth. Carbon takes all forms and can be as soft as the graphite lead in a pencil and as hard as a diamond.

Carbon is also part of carbon dioxide (CO2), a chemical compound made of one carbon and two oxygen atoms. This compound, along with other gases, such as water vapor, methane, nitrous oxide, and ozone, are greenhouse gases. They absorb the sun’s heat and either radiate it to space, back to Earth or to another greenhouse gas molecule. This can actually be a good thing if we want to continue to enjoy grilling outside in July, as the Earth’s average temperature would be about -0.4°F without the greenhouse effect, compared to today at roughly 57.2°F.

CO2  is .04% of the Earth’s atmosphere.

C02 is 3.62% of greenhouse gasses.  Out of 3.62 %, 3.4% is a result of human activity.

Where does Carbon and Carbon Dioxide come from?

We can live our lives and enjoy our favorite activities thanks to carbon, which is 18% of a human’s body mass. Carbon is a building block of muscles, carbohydrates, and fats. And we also eat carbon in the form of glucose (carbon, hydrogen, and oxygen atoms). When the human body ‘burns’ glucose for energy, it produces carbon dioxide as a byproduct, which is eliminated through your breath. This process is called cellular respiration. Every day you breathe out about 2 pounds of CO2 into the atmosphere.

CO2 also comes from the carbon in the Earth. Oceans, decomposing plant material and rock layers within the Earth’s surface all have carbon as their building blocks. As plants, animals, and reptiles die and decay, they become buried under layers and layers of mud, rock, sand and even ancient seas. The biggest carbon dioxide sources are deep-sea vents and volcanoes. Forest and grass fires are also natural CO2 emitters. As we mentioned, humans, along with all mammals, are CO2 providers.

Anthropogenic (man-made) CO2 comes from the burning of the Earth’s carbon. All that vegetation and those dead animals and reptiles, hundreds of feet below the surface for millions of years, are now oil, gas, and coal. Burned as fossil fuels, the carbon goes back into the air. It may not seem obvious, but every time you start your car, heat your home, or turn on your lights you connect with old dinosaur bones or vegetation buried from millions of years ago.

The Carbon Cycle – the Breath of Life

Plants emit the oxygen that all mammals breathe, and in turn, mammals exhale COfor the plants. Of course, plants don’t only provide us with oxygen— they also give us the nutritious food we eat!

This brings us to The Carbon Cycle. The Earth’s atmosphere consists of one big inhale and exhale of CO2.  Picture the Earth as one gargantuan convective movement of air and water. Vegetation, landmasses, and oceans inhale CO2. Mammals, oceans, and volcanoes exhale CO2.  This process creates a balance of carbon in the atmosphere.

Global carbon cycle. Numbers represent the flux of carbon dioxide in gigatons

But the Earth is not always balanced— through the Carbon Cycle, there is leftover carbon dioxide that is not inhaled by the Earth. Today, the atmosphere has 409 parts per million (ppm) of CO2. Over the past 400,000 years, it has fluctuated between 200 to 300 ppm. It was only recently (within the past 115 years) that it began to rise to today’s level. It is because of this increase that many scientists associate CO2 with the Earth’s changing climate.

Juice is Not Worth the Squeeze

glass of purple juice with limes, strawberries and kiwi

Most consumers think 100% fruit juices are healthy, but the lunchbox staple is not a good beverage choice. Juice has little nutritional value and, like most cold-pressed juices, will spike blood sugar levels and create a craving for more sugar.

The American Academy of Pediatrics has determined that children and adolescents receive 10-15% of their total calories from sugar-sweetened beverages and 100% fruit juice – and that is way too high!

Pediatricians recommend parents monitor their child’s sugar intake closely, even urging them to not give any sugar to children under 2 years old. Excess sugar not only affects growth and development but has an impact on cognitive behavior as well.

The Yale School of Public Health studied the effects of sugar-sweetened beverages on over 1,600 middle school children and concluded that for every sugar-sweetened drink consumed, hyperactivity and inattention increased by 14%. Excess sugar consumption has also been linked to the growing number of children affected by ADHD, however, the science is still inconclusive.

Nutritionless Juice

We may assume our kids get added nutrients when drinking 100% fruit juice, but we’d be mistaken. When producers make fruit juices, the juice gets pasteurized so it can last longer on grocery store shelves. Pasteurization is required by law to kill any harmful bacteria and/or microorganisms that may be present, however, it can a negative effect on some of the vitamins, enzymes, and antioxidants. Vitamin C and B1, for example, are sensitive to heat damage.

Childhood Obesity is a BIG PROBLEM

Want to know another consideration for not drinking juice? Sugary beverages are one of the leading contributors to America’s obesity epidemic. Nutritionists believe that most children who drink their servings of fruit will be more likely to snack on other sugary treats, whereas those who eat their fruit will feel satisfied.

 “Children’s excessive consumption of juice has been linked to an increased risk of weight gainshorter stature, and cavities. Even in the absence of weight gain, sugar consumption worsens blood pressure and increases cholesterol.” (New York Times)

According to the Center for Disease Control and Prevention, the number of children affected by obesity has more than tripled since 1970. The average child consumes 19 teaspoons of sugar a day – that’s the equivalent of two 12 oz. cans of Coca-Cola! The American Heart Association recommends that children ages 2-18 should limit their sugar intake to only 6 teaspoons a day. They further recommend that children should not drink more than one 8-ounce sugar-sweetened beverage per week.

100% Real? Look closely at the label!

Juice companies market to both children and parents. For instance, while Honest Kids Organic Apple Juice may advertise that it contains ½ the sugar than other labels, each 6oz pouch has 8 grams of sugar. That alone is a significant contributor to a child’s daily recommended sugar allowance!

Is Honey Healthier than Sugar?

honey dripping off of honey stick into jar

The Dirt-to-Dinner team loves honey— a few of us even keep hives in our backyard. We put honey in tea, on yogurt, and even use it to sweeten some homemade desserts. So we got to thinking, should we all be replacing sugar with honey? Yes!for two reasons:

  1. Honey is more easily digested than sugar. The way our bodies digest honey is different because the bee enzymes in the nectar divide the sucrose into two simple sugars, fructose, and glucose, so the bees have already done the hard work for us!
  2. Honey contains trace amounts of nutrients, whereas sugar contains none.

Honey contains vitamins, minerals and amino acids that sugar does not.

Fresh honey is comprised of about 200 different compounds, including water, glucose, fructose; other sugars such as sucrose, maltose and galactose; vitamins, minerals, amino acids and proteins, and even bio-active compounds and antioxidants, which are known to promote good health. These compounds include phenolic acid, flavonoids, α-tocopherol, proteins, carotenoids, and certain enzymes, such as glucose oxidase and catalase.

While honey does contain these beneficial elements, the values are quite low and should not be considered a source of nutrients. You wouldn’t want to just eat honey to meet your daily calcium requirement as you would need about 49 cups a day to do that!

Bees are the only insects in the world that make food humans can eat!

How do bees make honey?

All honey begins as nectar, which is produced in plants to attract pollinators like bees and butterflies. Nectar is basically a sugar solution of sucrose (glucose and fructose)and is naturally about 80% water. Nectar also contains amino acids and proteins, and other nutritional compounds.

Honey bee gathering nectar from a blackberry blossom. The honey bee is not only extremely adept at pollination, but they also are the most prolific producers of honey. Image: Rusty Burlew, Honeybee Suite

A small amount of glucose is converted into gluconic acid and hydrogen peroxide. Gluconic acid makes honey acidic, and hydrogen peroxide has germ-killing properties, both of which contribute to honey’s unique therapeutic qualities.

Bees use their proboscis (straw-like tongues) to draw in the nectar and begin the process of digestion.  Through the use of enzymes and dehydration, the water content of nectar gets reduced and two enzymes, invertase, and glucose oxidase break down the complex sugar (sucrose) into more simple sugars (glucose and fructose). Because of the enzymes, honey sugars are more easily digested than other sugars such as cane sugar.

It is believed that honey’s beneficial properties are due to both its nutrient composition, as well as it’s high sugar content, low acidity, the presence of hydrogen peroxide, and low moisture content.

Bees at work! Image: Dirt-to-Dinner

Capped honey – ready to be eaten! Image: Dirt-to-Dinner

Is homegrown honey safe?

You may have received a gift of honey from a friend or purchased local honey from a farmer’s market and are questioning the safety of honey that comes directly from the hive.

Honey is a safe, pure and nearly sterile product from the hive. Keeping it that way is the first consideration of honey producers. Sterile equipment, humidity levels, moisture content, and properly-sealed containers are all top considerations. If honey maintains the same water content as in the hive (18%) and is continuously stored in a sealed container, it is perfectly safe to eat for all but those under 1 year old. Infants do not have the immune system to handle the very trace botulism spores that may be present in honey.

 “Honey in its natural form is very low moisture. Very few bacteria or microorganisms can survive in an environment like that, they just die. They’re smothered by it, essentially.”

… As long as the lid stays on it and no water is added to it, honey will not go bad…. If you leave a jar opened, it may get more water in it and it may go bad.”  (Amina Harris, Executive director, Honey and Pollination Center, Robert Mondavi Institute at University of California. Excerpted from Smithsonian Magazine)

When in doubt, ask your gift-giver or farmer about how they extract and bottle their honey. They are stalwart friends of the environment and protectors of the food supply, and will love to talk to you about their honey and bees!

What is “supermarket” honey?

American’s appetite for honey far exceeds what we can produce, so the majority of honey sold today is imported from Vietnam, Argentina, India, Brazil, and Ukraine.

This imported product is quite different from what is produced by your local apiary. Studies have shown that heating honey at high temperatures has a negative effect on enzymes, color, flavor, and aroma. Supermarket honey is heated to remove and filter the comb and hive residue, which appeals to consumer demands for a clean, clear liquid, but bears no resemblance to the quality of fresh honey. To maximize the health benefits available in honey, it should be consumed raw or very minimally processed, without the use of heat.

Raw, filtered or organic? Honey labeling regulations

While there are guidelines in place for honey labeling, many producers will over-label to attract customers.

  • Labeling of honey is guided by the FDA, and only pure honey can be labeled “Honey.” If it is not pure honey, then the label must indicate so. For instance, “honey with raspberry flavoring.”
  • There is no regulatory definition of raw honey. The National Honey Board defines raw honey as “honey as it exists in the beehive or as obtained by extraction, settling or straining without adding heat.”
  • There is a voluntary grading system for honey, but don’t be fooled. “Grade A Fancy” must be “free of defects that affect the appearance and may not contain particles that affect clarity.” But this could pertain to clear honey that has been heated and filtered which would have removed all the beneficial components of honey.
  • There is no such thing as non-GMO honey. Contrary to what food marketers may lead you to believe, there’s no GMO counterpart for honey so don’t fall for the misinformation.
  • Organic honey is beyond the ability of most US beekeepers.

Our chat with a beekeeper…

Charles Mraz, a producer of raw and liquid honey from Champlain Valley Apiaries, discussed the complexities of labeling with the Dirt-to-Dinner team.

“Differentiating our pure honey products is a challenge in the face of those who take advantage of consumers with false labeling. For example, pure honey is by definition, a non-GMO food, but some producers will add that label. Consumers don’t know the real facts about honey and may reach for the non-GMO product.”

Mraz continues, Consumers should beware of honey labeled organic. Producers who make over $5,000 a year on honey sales are held to strict USDA organic label requirementswhich cover every piece of equipment and product used in beekeeping. This makes the production of organic honey nearly impossible for most American beekeepers. For example, bees will forage an average of 2 miles – but sometimes up to 5 miles – from their hives in search of pollen and nectar. A hive would have to be located in the center of at least 16 square miles of organic plants to qualify for organic status. And that land cannot be near a golf course, power line, or any land where herbicides are used, including residential neighborhoods.”

FUN FACTS ABOUT HONEY BEES

There are 3 types of honeybees: the worker, the drone and the queen. Each has a very specific role to play in the hive, and they depend on each other for survival.
In order to produce 1 pound of honey, 2 million flowers must be visited.
A hive of bees must fly 55,000 miles to produce a pound of honey. An average worker bee makes only about 1/12 teaspoon of honey in its lifetime.

Source:  https://www.honey.com/newsroom/presskit/honey-trivia

In most cases, honey bearing the USDA organic seal is produced in Brazil, Canada, Mexico or other nations that have organic standards, and the USDA honors the foreign organic programs and organic certification companies, even if their program is not close to USDA organic standardsThis creates a dilemma for honey producers in the U.S. who want to sell their products, and creates confusion in the grocery store!

So how do you know what you are getting? Buy local or know your apiary. Champlain Valley, for instance, has an online store for their raw honey and other honey products – and their honey is delicious! You can also find local honey by searching on the National Honey Board.

Is Cold-Pressed Juice Healthier than a Smoothie?

jars of colorful pressed juices

Are you a smoothie or pressed juice fan? Recently, cold-press juicing has become a very popular trend among consumers and in the prepared foods industrySeveral companies have made a name for themselves creating tasty and presumably healthy juices. BluePrint Juice, Juice Press, Green and Tonic, Organic Avenue, and Pressed Juicery are just a few of the popular brands with storefronts across America.

What is cold-pressed juice?

Cold-press juicing is the process of extracting the juice from fruits and vegetables without causing heat damage to the nutrients that are being extracted. Exposing fruit to heat and light actually causes many vitamins and minerals to break down. Vitamin C, for example, is particularly reactive when it is heated.

Cold-Press Juicer

Cold-pressing is a slightly longer process and produces less waste than centrifugal juicers, which can cause oxidation to your juice. The argument for cold-press juices is that they are easier to digest than eating a full fibrous piece of produce because your body doesn’t have to work as hard to break it down. The nutrients are readily available for your body to absorb thus putting less strain on your digestive system and giving your system a quick boost of vitamins and minerals.

The issue with a traditional juicer, also known as a centrifugal juicer, is that it heats the produce that you are trying to juice. Heat treatments are usually the most cost effective for companies, however, research indicates that thermal processing can have negative effects on the available nutrients. When nutrients are subjected to heat they oxidize, which inevitably makes the final product less nutritious.

Vege to fruit ratio should be 3:1 to avoid too much sugar

Cold-press juicing is all well and good; however, juicing becomes unhealthy when large amounts of fruit are added to a juice. For example, most juices contain apple (at the very least) as the primary fruit ingredient. The average apple contains 19 grams of sugar. If you are eating an apple, the sugar does not affect you as much because the fiber in the fruit’s skin slows down your digestion of sugar.

Fiber is extremely important for our digestion and research has determined that eating your fruit will keep you satiated for longer. For this reason, you will feel fuller after eating one apple than you would after drinking the juice and nutrients from one. Because of this, you could easily end up drinking 2-3 apples in a juice without realizing it. Not to mention the lack of fiber will cause your blood sugar levels to spike, and will most likely leave you experiencing sugar cravings for the rest of the day. (You may want to revisit our previous post on sugar to understand more about how your body processes it!) Conversely, no one is going to suffer adverse sugar and health effects by eating whole fruits.

It can be very difficult for your body to handle all of that sugar at once, especially when many of these “healthy” juices exceed 40g of sugar per bottle…that’s more than a can of Coke! And while sugar from fruit is easier for your body to digest than the refined sugar from a can of soda, it still spikes your blood sugar levels.  You’ve then left craving more and more sugar— and when you go back for more, you probably won’t be grabbing an apple.

If you’re buying a prepared juice, you want to make sure the veggie-to-fruit ratio is at least 3:1, preferably with the primary fruit as a lemon. And more often than not, it’s better to skip any juice that contains more than one fruit.

Finally, you should be wary of how much waste juicing creates. Although cold-press juicing wastes less than centrifugal juicers, a 16oz juice wastes approximately 4.5 pounds of perfectly edible produce! Think of all the fruits and veggies you are throwing away that would keep you fuller for longer while also reducing waste.

Dirt-to-Dinner pick: Smoothies

Unlike juices, smoothies typically utilize the whole fruit and/or vegetable so the fiber is incorporated. Because of this, you can include a little more fruit than you would with juices, but be sure to make smart choices and not overload yourself with sugar. As with the juicing process, when blending your smoothies, you’ll want to use a mixer, like a Vitamix, that doesn’t subject the produce to too much heat, thus oxidizing, or breaking down, the nutrients and making them less abundant.

Smoothies can also be a great vehicle for incorporating protein in your diet. Using hemp seeds, chia seeds, almond butter, plain yogurt or your favorite protein powder, you can make a quick, nutrient-dense, protein-packed breakfast or snack on the go.

Microbiomes at Work

cell in a microbiome

All living creatures live in microbial communities of bacteria, archaea, protists, fungi, and viruses. Microbes are everywhere, keeping humans, plants, and animals healthy and thriving. They are critical to life on earth!

It is generally understood that a healthy gut microbiome is essential for good health. So, we take our vitamin supplements, drink kombucha, and make sure we feed our probiotics with prebiotics. And while we understand the importance of good bacteria and a healthy gut, microbial research is still in its infancy. In fact, its potential applications are just beginning to impact human, animal, and soil health.

Companies in this space are developing revolutionary products that will change the way we incorporate good bacteria into our daily lives. Scientists are turning sugar into a prebiotic, applying animal feed technology to human health, and using strains of bacteria to help crops resist pests and diseases. At the agriculture conference, Davos on the Delta, the Dirt-to-Dinner team was introduced to some of the companies on the forefront of these microbial technologies.

Animal Microbiome: Keeping our livestock healthy

Farmers are under pressure to reduce or completely eliminate the use of antibiotics and hormones in animals. (Want to learn more about this? Read our posts on animal antibiotics and hormones). While vitamins made specifically for animals have been used for years to keep livestock and poultry healthy, the development of pre- and probiotics take animal welfare to a whole new level. By giving livestock these types of supplements, farmers are able to help their animals’ immune systems fight off diseases. A healthy animal will cost a farmer less time to manage and will create a better animal product.

Bactana Corporation focuses on the infinite ways an animal’s microbiome, immune system, and metabolism interact. They are producing safe, effective and inexpensive alternatives to antibiotics and hormones for animals using anaerobic bacteria strains. Clinical studies have demonstrated a decrease in intestinal inflammation, an increase in milk production, and improved feed efficiency and weight gain.

Diamond V is an animal feed company that uses proprietary fermented yeast technology as a feed supplement for dairy, poultry, swine, aquaculture, beef, and equine. They specifically utilize the bacteria strains Saccharomyces cerevisiae and Lactobacillus acidophilus to support an animal’s unique blend of bioactive metabolic compounds for optimum digestive and immune health effects.

The employees at the Diamond V animal feed facilities were beneficiaries of these fermented products as well. None of them were getting sick! Turns out, the employees’ exposure to these products were keeping their immune systems strong as well. Researchers and science continued to explore this connection, and a product for human consumption, called Epicor, was created. Epicor helps strengthen the immune system. (The Dirt-to-Dinner team can also attest that it works. We found that taking Epicor helped us avoid the colds and flu that were so rampant this past winter.)

Human Microbiome: Your Gut is your Second Brain

The microbiota in our gut weighs about 2.2 pounds and consists of 1,000 different species with 3 million genes. As humans, a third of our microbiota is the same as one another, but the remaining two-thirds is specific to our unique body. These bacteria help to digest our food, keep our immune systems strong, and help our bodies make and absorb vitamins. There are multiple connections between diseases and poor gut microbiota. (Want to learn more about this? Read our posts on Your Second Brain – Gut Microbiota).

Sugar has been demonized for a myriad of issues taking place in the human gut. But while conventional sugars, such as table sugar and fructose, are associated with unhealthy eating habits and disease, there are many other complex sugars in nature that act as healthy prebiotics. Prebiotics are the food for probiotics and a healthy gut microbiome is dependent on both for optimal health.

Two companies currently finding an application for natural sugars as prebiotics are Sugarlogix and Bonumose.  Sugarlogix has developed the technology to ferment “good” sugars into foods that can be sweet and healthy. Human breast milk, for instance, contains many healthy components, including good sugars. Could it be possible to duplicate these sugars in a lab and create a milk chocolate bar that tastes wonderful and feeds your healthy bacteria?

Bonumose is developing good-for-you sugars, such as tagatose and allulose, which are 92% as sweet as sucrose but have 38% fewer calories and an extremely low glycemic index. They also work with mannose, a prebiotic that can be used to treat various infections.

Grow Company, Inc. manufactures food flavors, natural coloring agents and animal and human health supplements. One of their primary products, Biogrown® vitamins and minerals, use probiotics as a sophisticated nutrient delivery system. For example, vitamin B can be hard for your body to completely absorb. By combining Saccharomyces cerevisiae, otherwise known as Baker’s Yeast, with Lactobacillus bulgaricus, a cultured yogurt, Grow Company has developed a way to help you properly digest vitamins and minerals, which may prevent gut maladies.

Soil Microbiome: Microbes for increased crop yield and health

There are large agri-science companies, such as BASFBayerBioWorksCertisDowDuPont, and Syngenta, involved with biological seed treatments or soil enhancements, but there continue to be new innovations in this space. (Want to learn more? Read our post on Soil Microbes in the Spotlight).

NewLeaf Symbiotics is one of the companies that has set out to answer the questions, “What if we could make plants healthier and help them overcome threats like pests, disease, and drought?” and “What if we could position growers to meet the needs of the growing population by strengthening crops – naturally?

Rather than looking at the whole array of soil microbes, NewLeaf Symbiotics focuses on the m-trophs, which are native-to-plant microbes. Sequencing this bacteria has enabled them to provide a potent force for plant immunity and nutrient uptake.

Holganix has created a complete ecosystem in a bottle, containing over 800 species of beneficial soil microbes among other ingredients. This mixture of microbes is applied to soil to help farmers use fewer inputs and increase yields.

Biome Makers has examined 22,000 microbial species in the soil relevant to vineyards. They make recommendations and provide analytical tools to optimize microbial activity for both grape growth and fermentation.

Agbiome isolates microbes from environmental samples across the globe to create biological pesticides that kill insects, fungal pathogens and weeds.


Indigo Agriculture develops microbial seed treatments to support crops grown under stress, which will naturally help them defend against pests and diseases. Indigo coated seeds have helped farmers increase their crop yields by up to 15% without added use of chemicals or water. In addition, Indigo will partner with farmers and offer a robust marketplace for their crops. For instance, farmers who grow Indigo wheat sell for a premium to breweries and flour mills that demand GMO-free and insecticide-free products.

How will CRISPR impact our food?

non-browning crispr mushrooms - Penn State
The CRISPR-Cas9 gene editing system is revolutionizing food and will be used in the near future to address global hunger, create more nutritious food, and grow more sustainable crops. It has the potential to positively impact all aspects of our global food system.

What is CRISPR?

CRISPR is a gene-editing technology that actually mutates a gene within the plant itself.  Jennifer Doudna, University of California, Berkeley, the co-inventor of CRISPR, likens gene editing to editing a word document using the “find and replace” function. This means that CRISPR locates a specific gene within the plant genome and changes it in order to alter the traditional outcome. (Want more information on CRISPR technology? Read our post here).

You are probably wondering what the difference between GMO and CRISPR technology is? To put it simply, GMOs enhance a crop by taking a gene out of another organism altogether and inserting it in the crop, while CRISPR edits the existing gene within a crop.

This ingenious technology has the ability to expedite our traditional plant crossbreeding process. Remember: the food we eat today is not how it was found in the wild; plants have been cross-bred for millions of years to become the edible fruits and veggies we now know and love. CRISPR allows us to breed these plants sooner by at least three or four years.

From turning gene expression on and off to fluorescently tagging particular sequences, this animation explores some of the exciting possibilities of CRISPR.

“CRISPR is as profound a shift in thinking as genetics was in the 1970s.  Looking back from the future it will seem obvious.  We are just now comprehending the possibilities.” -Carter Williams, CEO, iSelectFund


From turning gene expression on and off to fluorescently tagging particular sequences, this animation explores some of the exciting possibilities of CRISPR

“CRISPR is as profound a shift in thinking as genetics was in the 1970s.  Looking back from the future it will seem obvious.  We are just now comprehending the possibilities.” -Carter Williams, CEO, iSelectFund

CRISPR is just one of the technologies shaping the future of the food supply chain.

The Dirt-to-Dinner team speaks with Craig Herron from iSelectFund at the Davos on the Delta Conference.

The Dirt-to-Dinner team recently attended an iSelectFund sponsored agricultural technology conference, called Davos on the Delta. We learned about what our food and agriculture system might look like in the future as technology advances. We met and heard from a number of innovative companies that are already revolutionizing the way we farm and the food we eat. At the helm of the conference was Carter Williams, CEO of iSelectFund, who hopes to encourage consumers to accept these revolutionary technologies all along the food supply chain.

As we listened to the speakers during the conference, it became clear that three critical innovations: CRISPR, microbiota and big data on the farm will affect the way we grow, process and eat our food. Stay tuned for more on microbes and big data.

What are some of the applications of CRISPR technology?

Scientists from AgroParisTech reviewed 52 peer-reviewed agricultural applications of CRISPR in order to better understand how CRISPR technology has been applied to various crops from 2014 to 2017.

 

It is very interesting that rice is the largest CRISPR application in a crop to date and is primarily being studied in China. The United States comes in second with CRISPR crops from the mustard plant, presumably because these crops can easily be tested and understood as a precursor for other crops.

How CRISPR will affect crop production

CRISPR will enable farmers to grow more dynamic crops, as opposed to the traditional corn, soybeans, cotton, and canola. They can mature faster, require less water, contain more nutrients…or even all three! Today, there are 30,000 different types of crops available, but our overall food system only relies on about 30 and, interestingly enough, 66% of our calories come from only eight crops.

Benson Hill Biosystems is a biotech company that helps farmers differentiate their crops with unique traits as well as predict crop trait outcomes by combining artificial intelligence and big data. They work closely with consumer products companies to make specialty foods; for instance, heat resistant chocolate from the cacao plant. Benson Hill has also patented a way for corn to enhance the photosynthesis process so that it can take more carbon out of the air while growing more quickly.

Using CRISPR to expand the geographical range of important food crops – Dec 2016

Scientists at Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory in New York are changing the way we appreciate tomatoes. Using CRISPR, the tomatoes flower and mature two weeks earlier than traditional tomatoes. This means that farmers can grow two crops per season, inevitably becoming more profitable. This also gives consumers more tomatoes and allows farmers to grow the crop in more northerly latitudes. The best part? No more mealy tomatoes in the wintertime!

Corteva Agriscience (a merger of Dow AgroSciences and DuPont Pioneer) is growing the next generation of waxy corn. What is waxy corn, you ask? It has a high amylopectin starch that is used for consumer and industrial use. For instance, when you next enjoy a printed picture on high glossy paper, you can thank waxy corn for that!

Crops grown for industrial use will expand beyond starch, ethanol, and biodiesels. For example, your tires may soon be made from dandelions. Another small biotech company, Kultevat, has identified a Russian Dandelion that can make rubber exactly like the rubber from a tree. It is easier to grow, more sustainable, less expensive, and its byproduct can be used for fuel.

A more familiar name in this space, Monsanto, invested in Pairwise in order to address global food challenges via gene editing technology. They will initially focus on the major crops of corn, soybeans, wheat, cotton, and canola. They licensed editing technology from Harvard University, but Pairwise will also work with other agriculture and food processing companies.

How CRISPR can solve global hunger

We need about 40 known nutrients to live healthy lives and right now there are 2 billion people globally who don’t have enough nutrition in their bodies when they go to bed, millions of those are children. Nutrient deficiencies prevent brain development, increases the chance of infections, and have serious social and economic repercussions. This doesn’t just apply to those in the developing world. For instance, many of us are literally starving ourselves of essential vitamins and minerals when we choose to eat an abundance of unhealthy foods over healthier options. Now with advancements in CRISPR, farmers will be able to grow crops that are biofortified – making crops more nutritious and shelf-stable.

Biofortification is when scientists breed crops to have more micronutrients and vitamins. You may already be familiar with the GMO-developed golden rice, rice made with Vitamin A to prevent night blindness and even death among those severely deficient in the vitamin. Rather than using transgenic technology, CRISPR is helping the larger agriculture science companies develop staple crops such as sweet potatoes, legumes and maize with iron, zinc, amino acids and proteins by tweaking the genetic code of the plant itself to make it more nutritionally diverse for those who have a monotonous diet.

Additionally, because of the long lead time to develop a crop, the larger agricultural science companies are better suited using CRISPR technology for biofortification.

Some of the companies leading the way with biofortified foods.

CRISPR in your grocery cart.

Some CRISPR edited crops are simply just to keep fruits and vegetables fresh and appealing. The non-browning mushroom from Yinong Yang and his team at Pennsylvania State University was the first to come to market. Harry J. Klee from the Plant Innovation Center at the University of Florida found the 13 important flavor components in a variety of different tomatoes. Editing the tomatoes to meet those components means an even better tasting tomato – especially in the wintertime.

Anti-browning mushroom developed by plant pathologist Yinong Yang using CRISPR-Cas9 gene-editing technology.

Nutraceuticals are also becoming a possibility. This means better health from the daily foods we eat. The Institute for Sustainable Agriculture in Spain has created gluten-free wheat for those with celiac disease that will soon be coming to our own grocery shelves. According to the WSJ, DowDuPont will soon be selling CRISPR corn for healthy salad dressings and Calyxt will sell healthier vegetable oil.

What are the regulations surrounding CRISPR?

Currently, the USDA has chosen not to regulate CRISPR crops because there are no transgenics involved and the CRISPR results could have been done through cross-breeding. They do not see a risk present with CRISPR, not to mention that there is no way to tell the difference between a CRISPR crop or one which has been cross-bred. We hope this leads to a swift adoption of this amazing technology to make our crops more efficient, healthier, and more sustainable.

While the possibilities are exciting, the patent process is also something to keep your eyes on. Jennifer Doudna from University California Berkeley vs. Feng Zhang from The Broad Institute (M.I.T. and Harvard) have gone to court over who receives the patent over CRISPR- Cas9. The disagreement will continue in agriculture as Corteva (DowDuPont) is using the patent from UC Berkeley and Pairwise (Monsanto) signed a deal for their CRISPR/Cpf1 technology with Harvard and M.I.T.

The FDA’s Role in Solving a Foodborne Illness Outbreak

baby mixed lettuces
The Mystery is Solved! The FDA announced on June 28th that the E.coli outbreak tied to romaine lettuce is over. New evidence shows bacteria taken from canal water samples, which link Yuma-based farmers and suppliers, matched the E. coli 0157:H7 strain that caused the outbreak. Federal agency work continues to determine how and why this strain entered into the canal.

Summer is officially underway! Now is the time to enjoy fresh salads loaded with fruits and veggies. And, despite the recent outbreak, we now know the romaine available today is safe so there’s no need to be deterred from enjoying your favorite summer salads.

Pinpointing the source of a foodborne illness outbreak

The FDA is charged with determining how, when and why an outbreak occurred. Collaborating with the CDC, state and local regulatory agents, public health officials, and agriculture departments, the investigative process examines documentation from growers, harvesters, processors and distributors.

The collected data is then shared with the FDA’s Coordinated Outbreak Response and Evaluation (CORE) Network. A CORE response team is assigned to find out the exact cause, control the spread, and ultimately stop the outbreak. The CORE team tracks down the source of the contaminated food and its movement through the supply chain. The data is then compared to what is known about the illnesses to ensure the investigation is on the right track.

Electronic labeling helps the process

About a decade ago, produce industry members started the Produce Traceability Initiative (PTI) and invested heavily in PTI technologies so they could trace harvested products back to the field. Currently, about 60% of the produce industry uses labeling through the initiative.

When fruits and vegetables are harvested in the field, cartons holding the fresh produce are typically labeled with an electronic-coded sticker containing detailed information about the harvest date and time, the grower, farm and location, as well as information about the harvesting company and crew members who performed the harvesting.

While PTI is extremely helpful to trace a product back to its farm source, every other entity along the supply chain to the consumer must also maintain the integrity of product tracing information. One example of this is Supplier X that sells food to restaurants: it may buy lettuce from Companies A, B, and C, and then repackage it into different cartons. These newly repackaged cartons, now containing a variety of lettuces, have new labels that only include data about the product as it was handled at Supplier X and not information from Companies A, B, and C.

Another example is the grocery stores. Have you ever walked behind a restaurant or grocery store and seen a pile of empty boxes that once held food? After the produce is removed, the box with the label telling the restaurant or grocery store where the product came from, when it was picked, who picked it, etc. needs to be properly scanned into the store or restaurant’s system.

The FDA detective work begins….

So, what does the FDA do when they come to a dead-end, like a break in the electronic chain of information? They must sift through the company’s paper records and interview company personnel to piece together as much supply chain information as possible. This elusive detective work takes days – sometimes weeks.

As we know, it is so easy to purchase a bag of pre-mixed vegetables or salad straight from the grocery store. Well, as we saw with romaine, many of these items are mixed together from different suppliers. So you can see how the supply chain gets complicated! Here’s an example of a supply chain that the FDA may encounter during an investigation:

Investigating the supply chain gets complicated! There can be many companies and farms involved.

As you can see, the investigation quickly broadens to include multiple potential paths. Because Company B mixes lettuce from three sources, the FDA must assume that the contaminated lettuce came from any one of Companies C, D, and E. In reality, the contaminated product may only have come from Company C, but the FDA has no way of knowing this since the lettuce from all three companies is mixed together.

To further add to the complexity, Companies C, D, and E each have four farms and each farm has 1,500 acres of lettuce which are divided into multiple lots. If Company B retains the information from the lettuces from their three suppliers, then the FDA may be able to narrow the potential farm sources from 12 to 4, but too often this information is lost when the carton is thrown away.

Environmental Assessments

After tracing the contaminated product as close to its origin as possible, the FDA’s CORE team visits the location where contamination is thought to have occurred. If the location is a farm(s), they conduct what is referred to as an “environmental assessment”, noting potential hazards and taking samples of water, soil, and other agricultural inputs. They also assess the surrounding areas and collect samples related to wildlife and domestic animals (e.g., feces, water troughs, bedding) known to carry the pathogen.

If the contamination is believed to have happened at a facility, they visit the facilities involved and swab equipment, walls, floors, drains, etc. In addition to sampling, CORE members interview personnel who work at the farm or facility, asking questions about their practices and observations, as well as anything out of the ordinary that may have happened before the outbreak.

Race against the clock

When investigating foodborne illness outbreaks, the CORE teams are working against the clock, as weather and other environmental conditions may become unfavorable to pathogen survival and the bug may begin to die off. Even in facilities, conditions change (i.e., equipment is cleaned and sanitized), and the responsible pathogen may no longer be found. Because of this, there is a real possibility we may never know what caused the E. coli outbreak in romaine. However, that does not mean the work will not continue. Industry members join forces with government investigators – meeting with FDA officials and CORE members to discuss their practices, growing conditions, and potential risk factors.

You begin to see how much ground investigators need to cover in order to determine where and how the lettuce became contaminated.  But the FDA CORE teams work tirelessly to ensure that Americans are eating safe produce. While it is a tough job with many challenges, the CORE teams have many tools in their toolbox to help them solve outbreak causes

Farmers and growers continually work on food safety protocols

Farmers and growers need to know how the contamination happened so they can do everything possible to keep it from happening again. In the case of the romaine outbreak, the leafy greens industry has formed a task force and members are actively researching and gathering information as well as re-evaluating their food safety practices. In addition, the produce industry trade associations are working on solutions that will enable the industry to address gaps in traceability to more efficiently find the source of problems when they occur.

Special thanks to Dirt-to-Dinner contributors Susan Leaman and Diane Wetherington of iFoods Decision Sciences.

How Does the CDC Detect Foodborne Illnesses, like E. coli in Romaine lettuce?

vast field of romaine lettuce

 

As of June 1, 2018, the E. coli O157: H7-contaminated romaine lettuce outbreak has caused 5 deaths, 89 hospitalizations, and 197 known illnesses in 35 states. Even though the contaminated romaine is no longer in our food supply, the impact will undoubtedly be felt for some time as consumers continue to be concerned about eating the lettuce.

If you haven’t seen the headlines, you probably noticed the momentary disappearance of Caesar salads from restaurant menus and romaine lettuce from grocery store shelves when retail and food service companies around the country pulled products containing romaine lettuce from shelves in response to the foodborne illness outbreak linked to the consumption of contaminated romaine lettuce.

How do we determine when foodborne illness outbreaks occur?

The Center for Disease Control (CDC) is the federal government agency responsible for determining when outbreaks occur, identifying the microorganism that caused the outbreak, and identifying the contaminated product. The CDC defines a foodborne illness outbreak as an illness where two or more people get sick from eating the same food in roughly the same timeframe.

Detecting an outbreak is not easy

The CDC collaborates with the FDA and USDA in foodborne illness outbreak investigations, helping to identify what caused the outbreak and alerting the public when a source is identified.

Diagnosing a foodborne illness outbreak is tricky business

Have you ever been sick and wondered if it was a virus or something you ate? Unless your symptoms are very severe and/or have lasted longer than a few days, a visit to your doctor might result in being told to go home, get rest, and stay hydrated. Most often with this circumstance, you will not undergo any tests to determine what is causing your symptoms.

What is not widely known is that the leading cause of foodborne illnesses recorded each year in the U.S. is norovirus. This virus causes more than 5.5 million illnesses and cost more than $2 billion in healthcare and lost productivity costs annually. It accounts for more than 58% of all foodborne illnesses where the agent is known. Norovirus can be transmitted person-to-person or indirectly from contaminated surfaces, food, and water. 

Most foodborne illnesses are detected when many people are eating their meals at the same place and around the same time. Prime examples are school and workplace cafeterias, social gatherings, and foodservice providers on cruise ships or at a resort.

Most foodborne illnesses are detected when many people are eating their meals at the same place and around the same time. Prime examples are school and workplace cafeterias, social gatherings, and foodservice providers on cruise ships or at a resort.

The CDC identified a foodborne illness outbreak — what’s next?

Based on the pathogen detected, state health officials develop a questionnaire for the patients to gather very specific details of what, where, and when they ate the likely contaminated food. Of significant importance is the pathogen’s incubation period — the time from when someone consumes contaminated food until symptoms start. For example, an E. coli O157: H7-caused illness typically takes 3-4 days for symptoms to appear and commonly lasts 5-10 days in healthy adults. An incubation period like this one can be a challenge when patients are asked what they ate up to 10 days before arriving at their doctors’ offices.

After the dietary data is gathered from reporting patients, the information is analyzed to find common foods that were eaten more often than expected based on the typical American diet. This can be a riddle. For example, those infected by the illness may have gotten sick after eating hamburgers at a picnic. But it may be unclear whether the burger, tomato, lettuce, onion, or the mayo was responsible.

Without a clear determination, the CDC lists all potentially responsible ingredients in its PulseNet database as part of the outbreak data collection and investigation process.

Of all the outbreaks studied in 2015, only 40% identified a specific food vehicle or cause. In about half of outbreaks where a food vehicle was identified, multiple food ingredients are typically involved and no particular ingredient has been pinpointed as the vehicle.

The curious case of romaine

In the romaine outbreak, public health officials determined that romaine was what made people sick after interviewing those who had become ill. More than 90% of interviewees reported eating romaine before getting sick. However, identifying exactly where that lettuce came from is a much more complicated process. Before lettuce reaches a restaurant or grocery store, it may pass through several other companies (e.g., distributors, brokers, etc.). When lettuce leaves the field, it is packed into cartons that contain detailed information about how, where, and when it was grown and harvested including the individual harvesting crew members who picked it. But restaurants and grocery stores buying lettuce from the produce industry typically throw the carton away and do not retain all that detailed information tracing product back to the farm and field.

Only in one instance in this outbreak was the FDA able to identify a company that grew some of the contaminated romaine, and that was the prison in Alaska where eight prisoners got sick. But the implicated produce company has several farms in the desert growing region and product information retained by the prison and the distributor from which the prison bought the lettuce was not adequate to identify the field in which the lettuce was grown. In order to solve the mystery of how the lettuce became contaminated, investigators need to know which farm and fields the lettuce came from.

Is it safe to eat romaine lettuce again?

Yes. In the current E. coli O157: H7 outbreak, the CDC stated that the identified food vehicle is romaine lettuce. As of early May, 112 people had been interviewed and of those people, 91% stated they ate romaine lettuce a week before becoming ill. Because romaine lettuce has a shelf-life of approximately 21 days and the last shipment of romaine from the desert-growing region was in mid-April, the CDC, state and local health departments and the industry have all confidently assured the public that romaine lettuce is safe to eat again.

How can we be sure?

The answer lies in the seasonal production in lettuce-growing locations in the west. Arizona and California, the two largest lettuce-producing states in the U.S., grow lettuce in an annual production cycle: as northern California moves into winter around November, lettuce production shifts to the desert in Arizona. And when spring arrives in California, production moves back north in California as the desert becomes too warm to grow – usually in April. The CDC was thus able to isolate the general location of the affected romaine by following the annual production cycle. As we have discussed on Dirt-to-Dinner, seasonality shifts suppliers for U.S. produce. When the seasons change, your produce changes, too— and that also means when a growing season ends in one state it can begin in another.

Despite the tragic consequences of this outbreak, the U.S. has one of the safest food systems in the world. It may be difficult to fathom, but the amount of food circulating in the U.S. on a daily basis is staggering. Our produce is grown by over 200,000 growers, supplemented by millions of other growers around the world. We typically consume this food three or more times a day in our homes or in more than 600,000 restaurants. Public health experts estimate that in our nation of 330 million people, 47.8 million people or 15% get sick, and 3,000 people or 0.0009% die annually in the U.S. from contaminated foods. The goal, of course, is to prevent any illnesses from occurring in the first place.

Special thanks to Dirt-to-Dinner contributors Susan Leaman and Diane Wetherington of iFoods Decision Sciences.

What is the Farm Bill — and why should you care?

red barn in autumn

There’s something that we all come into contact with every day and rarely consider – our food system.

Did you know Americans spend the least amount of our hard-earned income on food when compared to all other countries in the world? Only 10% of our income is spent purchasing food for us to consume at home and elsewhere, like restaurants and take-out…and it comes from one of the safest food systems in the world.

Our Canadian neighbors and many in Western Europe also spend very little of their income on food, less than 10%. On the opposite end of the spectrum, citizens in some countries in Asia and Africa spend almost half of their income on food, making these particular countries susceptible to widespread malnutrition due to food scarcity.

So, what exactly is the Farm Bill?

Simply put, the Farm Bill is a seriously complex blueprint of our national food system. It helps all farmers, from those growing Christmas trees to those harvesting corn, wheat, and chickpeas to dairy farmers. It’s created by farmers, policy makers, economists and academics to further improve all the intricately-moving parts, policies and sectors that come together to provide a system that works for all.

However, its start was a bit more humble as a means to keep farmers in business so we can be assured to have a steady food supply. Back in 1933, the Farm Bill was initiated to stabilize farm income during the great Dust Bowl, which devastated America’s farmland in the Midwest and thus, greatly affected our agriculture sector. Over time, the Bill has been expanded to include market regulation, nutrition assistance programs, trade, research, food safety and conservation.

Today, the Farm Bill affects us all. As you can imagine given all these moving pieces, this is not a simple little bill. In fact, the current Bill is upwards of 600 pages! But within all those pages, we can expect innovations to our agriculture and food programs that will continue providing safe and affordable food to everyone.

Why is the Farm Bill so important?

Every successful food system needs a solid foundation in sound public policy. Those of us in developed countries benefit from having guidelines in place that enable every component in our complex food system to have the incentives, safeguards and consistent regulations to do their jobs more efficiently to provide our food…every day. The relentless drive to improve across the entire food and agricultural chain— to do better, to innovate, to solve any challenge or problem that remains— is the engine driving the system forward.

Every part of our modern food system – from the farmer and rancher at one end of the food chain, to the food manufacturer and preparer at the other, works hard every day to make our food system deliver more and better food at every meal – food that is safe, wholesome, convenient, and above all, readily available and eminently affordable.

The purpose of the Bill is to maintain the policies that will need to be upheld for the following five years to ensure every farmer, manufacturer, preparer and consumer can do their job more efficiently and with the resources they need.

The Farm Bill’s reach extends beyond the food supply system to include improvements in infrastructure and education, too. Since 2009, former Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack recently noted that farm bill programs have helped 1.2 million Americans obtain home loans and made broadband services more available to 6 million rural residents.  Water systems have improved, and other infrastructure enhanced. Universities have been strengthened, and access to education improved. Hundreds of thousands of jobs have been created through farm legislation.

What are some of the contentious issues in this Bill?

There is a lot of bipartisan discussions fueled by the concern over crop prices and how to address the amount given to farmers and those in the industry. Currently, much of the funding goes to ‘reference prices’. These prices guarantee payments to the farmers regardless of market price. Free market advocates think the formula for setting the price does not cover deep price declines, as it was originally designed, but just guarantees payments to farmers.

Also, if you have been privy to the developments in the Farm Bill this year, you’re definitely aware that 80% of the funding is allocated to nutritional programs, like the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (“SNAP”, or what was known as “food stamps”). There is a lot of discussion as to why these programs are included in a bill that is really geared toward the production, not consumption, of food. However, nutritional assistance programs were incorporated into the Bill in the 1970s to pass legislation so all U.S. citizens were involved in its policies.

So, how much is this Farm Bill going to cost you?

The farm bill covers not just all sorts of farm and food related provisions but also the host of nutrition assistance programs designed to attract votes from urban legislators. The price tag for the complete farm bill comes to about $90 billion per year— or approximately $275 per American— for arguably the most efficient food system in the world.

Of that $275, about $75 goes for commodity supports, conservation, research, farm credit, food safety, and other ‘traditional’ farm programs. The other $200 goes for nutrition assistance programs, mostly the widely used SNAP program.

When will the Farm Bill be passed?

As in all important matters that affect many people, these things take time. The Bill has already gone back and forth several times. On June 13th, it passed the Senate Agriculture Committee and will now proceed to the Senate floor in the next two weeks. Given such contentious topics as SNAP and other matters of debate, the political outlook surrounding the legislation is still murky. Furthermore, should U.S. trade and NAFTA not have a resolution soon, implications surrounding these issues may end up in the Farm Bill itself, adding further complexity to an already complicated deal. However, there is hope that the Bill will be passed by September-end of this year.

Juice Press’s Misleading Marketing on Conventional Farming

Juice Press products and labels

Recently, in an effort to get an extra serving of veggies with a green juice, a D2D team member came across your new marketing campaign:

Juice Press, in the attempt to distinguish your products and tell your customers that your juice is organic, you decided to use some pretty awful images and language. The hazmat-suited, gas-mask wearing people are completely inaccurate and meant to spark fear in the hearts of consumers. Do you really want to stigmatize the produce industry this way?

Did you know 9 out of 10 Americans do not eat enough fruits & veggies? Fear of pesticides, insecticides, and “dirty produce” is preventing people from enjoying these important foods. Juice Press, your fear mongering feeds the consumer deception that surrounds conventional farming and genetically modified technology.

Juice Press is a juice company that takes fresh produce and makes it into juices, smoothies, and light lunches. They have a vision of “bringing a healthier, more transparent lifestyle platform to the market.” They were founded in 2010 and located in the Northeast, mostly in New York, but expanding to Connecticut, Massachusetts, and other states across the U.S.

Organic produce is not safer than conventional. Organic marketing campaigns often lead you believing that organic crops contain more nutrients and fewer chemicals than conventional—this is not necessarily true. The varying levels of nutritious compounds, like minerals and antioxidants, will depend on where and how it is grown due to the naturally occurring levels present in the respective soil.

There are no credible studies showing that people who eat organically grown food are more healthy than those eating only conventionally grown foods, but there is unquestionable evidence that those who include lots of fruits and vegetables in their diet have better health outcomes than those who do not.

Organic farmers use organic pesticides, some of which are even synthetically produced. In addition to soil type and climatic conditions, other factors such as insect burden and disease exposure also greatly influence the nutrient content of produce. A balanced diet rich in fruits and veggies is one of the most important things we can do for our health; whether the produce is organic or conventional should not matter!

Trust your farmers

D2D has written extensively about the use of GM technology. It is the most heavily tested food technology in history. There is no denying its safety, environmental sustainability, and how helpful it is to our farmers. As we learned when visiting Green Cay Farm, pesticide use can actually be reduced if genetically modified seeds were used as opposed to traditional seeds.

Juice Press, not only are you misleading the consumer on food safety, but also on the type of food they can find that is genetically modified. At the moment, there are only 10 genetically modified crops that have been approved in the United States. Of these ten crops, the only one you could possibly find on the menu at Juice Press is the non-browning apple. So to say we’d be drinking “genetically modified, rank s#*t-tasting, dead juice that smelled like fu#%ing poison” is, quite frankly, absolute bulls#*t!

And what’s even more disconcerting is the disservice this type of marketing does for safe, conventional farmers that use best practices to create healthy produce. When the D2D team visited Salinas Valley, CA, we were shown both conventional and organic practices and found very few differences between the two. In fact, many small scale farmers adopt both organic and conventional techniques in order to create a “best practices” approach that produces healthy crops without requiring the expensive organic certification. For example, Steve and Ingrid McMenamin of Versailles Farm use a hybrid of conventional and organic tools and techniques in order to produce a more flavorful crop. After visiting their farm and learning about the different technologies that are being used, we were excited to try their produce, not afraid of the small applications of pesticide.

As we saw with Stonyfield’s organic marketing blunder and Hunt’s misrepresentation of GM technology, fear-based marketing tactics only serve to spread misinformation. Juice Press, we ask you to stop creating fear about our food system—which is one of the safest in the world— and visit with some conventional farmers and learn about their farming practices before you misrepresent them as poison spraying, dead-food loving growers.

How Much Protein Should You Eat a Day?

protein shake with almonds

Before buying protein products, ask yourself:

How much protein does my body need? What protein sources are best for my body? Do I even need additional protein supplements?

Protein is the building block of all muscle. It is part of our DNA, supports our digestive enzymes and hemoglobin levels, enhances muscle fibers, keeps our bones strong, and helps support our immune system. And while it is important to eat protein every day, you probably do not need to add protein supplements to your diet.

Most consumers, however, are not aware of this. According to Statista, 2017 protein and meal replacement supplement sales were projected to reach approximately $3.37 billion in the U.S. But, before buying into the supplement craze, it is important to determine how much protein your body needs. Not to mention, the essential proteins our bodies require are actually readily available in everyday foods!

How much protein does your body need?

A protein recommendation is very individualistic and depends on several key factors. Your weight, height, activity level, nutritional needs, and possible nutritional deficiencies will all influence the amount of protein your body requires. While we can provide an outline of what might be the correct recommendation based on body weight and activity level, it is important to consult a nutritionist or physician before determining how much protein your body uses and whether a supplement is needed to support your body health. 

Your level of activity includes your workout routine as well as your occupation. Those with sedentary occupations, like a desk job, naturally use less energy throughout the day, while those with active occupations will expend more energy day to day and often require more protein.

The American College of Sports Medicine indicates that anywhere from 10-35% of the average American’s diet should contain proteins. In terms of bodyweight, this means that a sedentary person should consume at least 0.36 grams of protein per pound, per day. This is the absolute minimum you need without negatively affecting your health. For example, this translates to 54 grams of protein per day for a 150 lb. person. The USDA will help you calculate your daily nutrient recommendations based on your inputs. 

Of course, if you exercise more, you can increase your protein consumption— but you don’t need to overdo it! If you are eating protein with the hopes of building muscle, the quality, quantity, and timing of consumption is actually more important than the overall amount you eat. The Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics recommends eating 20-30 grams of complete protein within 2 hours of exercise. It is a common misconception that in order to “bulk up” or “stay lean” you need to eat a large quantity of protein every day.

Where should my protein come from?

When eating protein, you want to make sure it is a complete protein, meaning it contains all 9 essential amino acids. Eggs, milk, and beef are high-quality proteins that are easily digestibleAnd it is important to diversify your protein choices— you want to provide your body with a variety of protein throughout the day to keep your energy levels up and support your overall health.

Lean meats, like turkey, chicken, and fish are also a good source of protein. 3 oz. of chicken or fish contains anywhere from 19-24 grams of protein.

3 oz of cooked chicken is about the size of a deck of cards.

One large egg contains around 6 grams of protein.

Dairy is another great source of protein— a 5.3 oz container of plain Greek yogurt contains 15 grams of protein. A cup of milk has roughly 8 grams of protein and an ounce of cheese contains 7 grams of protein. Legumes have protein, too! A cup of lentils contains roughly 16 grams of protein.

If you fall into the category of a very highly active or professional athlete, it may be necessary for you to take in more protein throughout the day. And while protein supplements can be a good way to do this, it is important to find a high-quality protein powder that doesn’t have unnecessary additives, like artificial flavorings, artificial food dyes and coloring, and even metals! (D2D actually tested a few of the most popular protein powders to see what may have been hiding in them.) So, before purchasing a protein powder, consult with a nutritionist to see what might be best for your body. 

Can you have too much protein?

You might not need your morning protein shake as much as you think. Research has indicated that protein overconsumption can be linked to cardiovascular disease and may have harmful effects on your kidneys, bones, and liver. A 2013 study entitled Adverse Effects Associated with Protein Intake above the Recommended Dietary Allowance for Adults concluded that “too much of a good thing” can be useless and even harmful to your body. And while more long-term human studies are needed to better determine the effects of excess protein in our bodies, preliminary research indicates we should follow the recommended amount.

Overall, the human body really does not need a ton of protein to stay healthy. Though protein supplements can help if you are in a bind, is not necessary as there often is sufficient protein supply in your everyday meals. 

A Stop Sign for Obesity?

donuts fat obesity

We know it is important to eat well— but that doesn’t mean we don’t crave foods that aren’t good for us. When you’re hungry, bored, or feeling indulgent it is easy to wolf down the nearest food or treat available, despite the knowledge that it may not be very nutritious.

Obesity is a global health challenge that requires action.

25% of the world’s population is either overweight or obese— and eating too many empty calories has been a key contributor to this rising epidemic. In fact, the evidence is clear that if we exercised more, ate and drank less, and didn’t smoke, 40% of cancers and 75% of diabetes and cardiovascular diseases would be mitigated.

Is Labeling a Solution?

Over the past 10 years, studies have been performed to better understand the effectiveness of labeling for consumers. The results, thus far, have been mixed. Generally speaking, women are more likely than men to read labels. Additionally, consumers who did not exercise but read the labels on their food lost more weight than those who exercised but did not read the labels. Of course, the best health results occur if you check the labels on your food and exercise.

In 2016, the Journal of Public Health published a study that evaluated consumers’ knowledge and perception about food labels.  The study concluded what consumers care most about when purchasing food products is: “the global quality level rather than the nutritional values.” So, while nutritional labeling can be effective, overall it seems that a more aggressive approach is needed.

Traffic Alert! A Black Stop Sign?

In 2015, alarmed that 67% of their population was either overweight or obese, Chile began to take action. The Chilean government placed a mandate that all food companies put a black stop sign on the labels for food that were in excess of 275 calories, 400 milligrams of sodium, 10 grams of sugar, and/or 4 grams of saturated fats, per a 100-gram serving size. To put this into perspective, 1 serving of peanut M&M’s has 240 calories, 13g of fat, and 23g of sugar. This qualifies for two black stop signs!! The law also prevents companies from advertising to children those products that exceed the labeling requirements.

Stop signs on these cream-filled pastries warn consumers of high saturated fat, high sugar and high calories. A triple warning!

Is the labeling program effective?

The desired outcome is that these labels cause consumers to stop and think before purchasing and overeating, and ultimately help change eating patterns. Even though the label was just recently implemented, it has been reported that nearly 40% of Chilean citizens use the labels as a purchasing guide. Additionally, children are also said to be responding well to the logos.

“We have shown that a simple message and a symbol is enough to communicate that you should be consuming less of certain foods. There’s nothing misleading about a warning logo, and clearly, this is what worries the industry.” (Dr. Camila Corvalán, a nutritionist at the University of Chile who helped develop the food labels)

Some food companies are reformulating rather than labeling

Certainly, these labels are getting attention, but what is even more impactful is that, according to The Food and Beverage Association of Chile, this new labeling has caused food processing companies to take note of their products and reformulate them to meet healthier standards.

More than 1,500 products have been reformulated to avoid carrying the black stop sign. For example, Nestlé has taken the lead and reformulated 6,500 products, globally, for better health and nutrition. For instance, Acticol, their alternative milk product, has been reformulated to help control cholesterol and support heart health. According to the company, “two glasses a day can help reduce cholesterol levels by as much as 10% in 30 days.”

If Chile can continue to successfully decrease their obesity problem, this program would be deemed a success and serve as an example for other countries in need. In fact, other Central and South American countries are already taking notice. Mexico, Peru, Uruguay, Argentina, and Columbia are aiming to adopt the black stop sign labeling to help warn and educate their consumers about the risks associated with junk food.

Why aren’t more food companies labeling or reformulating their products?

Cost. Labeling costs are a steep proposition for food producers and have become a somewhat controversial topic. Food processing companies are not inclined to make costly labeling changes unless there are government mandates. In addition, many corporations will have to spend the R&D to make the same foods with the same taste…but with reduced ingredients. And from a government standpoint, officials are asking themselves if big brother needs to be in your lunchbox! It is clear that change is needed, but are labels the best solution?

Labeling can be misleading. For example, 100 grams of almonds contains more than 275 calories and would qualify for a black stop sign. But, almonds are a healthy snack that contains healthy fats and essential nutrients, such as Vitamin E and magnesium. So, D2D would argue that this should be exempt from such labeling!

What about youdo you read the labels on your food purchases? Would you pause and reconsider your food purchase if it had a black stop sign on it warning you of the high levels of sugar, salt, and fat? Or would you just buy it anyway and know it was a treat? Let the D2D team know on Facebook!

Genetic Engineering: The Future Insecticide?

farmer spraying strawberry fields

Last month, we invited our readers to take part in a survey conducted by Cornell University College of Agriculture and Life Science School students. The survey was part of a study on the perception of genetically modified insects used as a form of pest management in agriculture. These insects have the potential to combat crop insect pests without the use of pesticides and insecticides.

The survey had a total of 132 respondents. Most respondents completed the survey via social media or via the Dirt-to-Dinner email. The survey results show a wide acceptance of this type of genetic modification. Furthermore, the respondents support GE pest control over traditional pesticide methods. The results of the survey are below – thanks to our D2D readers who participated!

For more information on this study, please

visit https://shelton.entomology.cornell.edu/diamondbackmoth/diamondback-moth-project-atcornell-university-faq/

 

Milk and “Milk” Alternatives: Which one is right for you?

milk alternatives on a grocery store shelf

Since 2012, dairy milk sales have dropped 15% and non-dairy ‘milk’ sales have grown a whopping 61%. Yet, from a young age, we are told to drink our milk—that it will make our bones nice and strong! Milk is a nutrient-dense complete protein that is also rich in vitamins and minerals. So, why are people replacing milk in the first place? Lactose intolerance, dietary fads, and improved technologies all have spurred growth in the alternative milk market.

The alternative milk market now has more varieties than traditional milks. Packaged with colorful and enticing “fortified with” labels, it can be difficult to differentiate the nutritious value between all of the options. These alternative “milk” options include a variety of nut milks (almond, coconut, cashew, pistachio, hazelnut, etc.), legume-based milks (soy or pea), seed-based milks (hemp and flax) and cereal-based milks (rice or oat).

Because alternative milk options haven’t been around as long as milk, there are many mixed messages from both the media and food processing companies to shape our thoughts on these products one way or the other. And, as mindful consumers, we are constantly evaluating new options that may help to improve our health and eating habits.

The Market: Dairy and the Alternatives

According to Mintel Market Research, the dairy milk market was valued at $16.12 billion in 2017, a 15% decline since 2012. Comparatively, the non-dairy milk market is valued at $2.11 billion.  By 2023, the global dairy alternatives market is expected to reach $19.45 billion.

What our Dairy Farmers think…

The dairy industry is fighting against the misrepresentation of these new alternative ‘milk’ products.  Dairy farmers believe the labeling of these substitute products as “milk” is nutritionally misleading as they often have less protein, calcium, vitamins, and minerals than traditional milk and also contains added sugars. According to the FDA, the “milk” label means the product comes from a dairy producing animal. In fact, in a recent legal case, a California resident sued Blue Diamond for deceiving and confusing the customer with their labeling!

What does the FDA say?

The FDA has a Standard of identity for food, which protects the consumer by ensuring a label accurately reflects what is inside. For instance, ice cream must be called ice milk if it has less than 10 percent of butter fat. In the case of milk, the description is as follows: “Milk is the lacteal secretion, practically free from colostrum, obtained by the complete milking of one or more healthy cows. Milk shall contain not less than 8 1/4 percent milk solids not fat and not less than 3 1/4 percent milk fat.”  In other words, milk comes from a dairy producing animal containing milk fats and solids –  and not a tree or plant!

Almond, Coconut, Pea, and Hemp…Oh my!

As previously mentioned, the non-dairy market has grown by 61% since 2012. Occupying the majority of the growth is almond milk, with 64% of the market share. This is followed by coconut and soy milk, which assume 12% and 13%, respectively. The almond milk industry alone is worth $5.36 billion and has a huge growth projection of $7.2 billion by 2020.

As the demand for milk substitutes continues to climb, there are more and more companies getting into the market. The French company Danone, whose brands include Dannon, Evian, and Bonafont, now includes Whitewave, the largest plant-based milk provider in the United States. Whitewave’s alternative milk products include Silk, SoDelicious, along with other plant-based food brands (Alpro & Vega). Other key players in the industry include Blue Diamond Growers (Almond Breeze), Eden Foods Inc., and Hain Celestial Group Inc. (Rice Dream, Almond Dream, Dream Blends). But, lets put their profitability into perspective— a jug of almond milk contains roughly 39 cents worth of almonds, plus filtered water and additives and it retails for $3.99+. No wonder there are so many players entering the market!

But why are we looking far and wide for healthy substitutes when milk itself is so nutrient-dense?

Compared to the alternative milk products, cow’s milk is the most well-balanced source of key nutrients like proteins, fats, and carbohydrates. Milk is a rich source of calcium and contains high levels of B Vitamins. It is also a complete protein, meaning it contains all 9 essential amino acids. And while many milk alternatives have some of the beneficial aspects of traditional dairy, they also lack in areas where milk exceeds, while also having sugar added to the product.

Soil Microbes in the Spotlight

magnifying glass showing soil microbes in soil

Microbes sustain life on earth. In fact, we live in their world! Microbes (also called microorganisms) grow and reproduce in and on your body, in soil and on rocks, within plant roots and on their leaves, in wetlands, oceans and fresh waterways, and even in space! Microbes decompose and recycle the dead; keep us healthy, make the oxygen we breathe, fix nitrogen, control pollution, are a source of renewable fuel, and feed the world!

microbiome is a community of microbes living in the same habitat.  Your gut microbiome, for instance, is specific to you, and the right balance of prebiotics and probiotics plays an important role in the digestion of food, metabolism, inflammation and immune function. (read our post: Your Second Brain: Gut Microbiota).

Likewise, soil microbiomes play a vital role in the health of plants. When a soil microbiome is alive with interacting bacteria, fungi, nematodes, and earthworms, plants are able to better absorb and hold water, nutrients, and minerals.

Microbes perform critical functions in soil food webs, such as decomposing organic materials, cycling nutrients, and improving soil structure. (USDA NRCS).

Did you know? Penicillin, tetracycline, and streptomycin are just a few of the several hundred antibiotics originating from soil microbes.

Video: The Living Soil: How Unseen Microbes Affect the Food We Eat

Harnessing the Power of Microbes

“Agriculture is the original biological technology, and the more we can learn to work with the soil microbiome, the more we can discover new ways to add value to farmers and return to its biological, and more sustainable, roots,” Jason Kelly, co-founder of Joyn Bio and CEO of Ginkgo Bioworks.

Microbes help plants fix nitrogen from the air for growth and maturity, absorb phosphorus for health and vigor, preserve water to shield from drought, or can protect a plant from fungal disease.

Ever wonder why plants are able to grow in the desert? The microbiome in and around the roots of that plant help it survive amidst drought and heat. Scientists can isolate these microbes and apply them to crops which face drought conditions. For example, Indigo Ag has developed microbial treated seeds for wheat to increase plant health in the face of water stress.

Reducing the application of nitrogen fertilizers is a high priority for sustainable farming. Nitrogen is necessary for plant growth and maturity but can have environmental downsides. Some plants, like legumes (peas, beans, and lentils), naturally “fix” nitrogen with the help of nitrogen-fixing bacteria. Scientists at Joyn Bio are engineering the DNA of the naturally nitrogen-fixing bacteria found in legumes to provide meaningful levels of nitrogen to other crops, such as corn, wheat, and rice.

The startup Pivot Bio focuses on enabling microbes to fix and supply more nitrogen to corn. In the future, their ON Technology™ will be used to provide crops with better access to phosphorus, potassium and other nutrients.

BioAg Alliance, representing the combined forces of Monsanto and Novozymes, creates microbial-based fertilizers, fungicides, and insecticides that help plants take up nutrients and defend against pests, disease, and weeds.

BASFBayerBioWorksCertis, DowDuPont and SyngentaAgbiomeAgrinos ArystaLifeScience BioconsortiaMarrone Bio InnovationsPlant Impact and Valent BioSciences and Holganix are some of the other companies involved with agricultural microbial-based solutions for crop protection and enhancement.

The Agricultural Microbial Market is Booming

According to marketing research firm Research and Markets, this market is projected to reach $6.01 billion by 2022 from $3.09 billion in 2017. Additionally, since microbial crop protection poses fewer risks than conventional pesticides, the EPA generally requires less data and has shorter review times. This reduces the timeline to development by years and the cost of product development by millions of dollars.

“Nature’s toolbox of beneficial bacteria and fungi can help us produce healthier crops with higher yields while reducing the need for fertilizer and other chemicals.”Ejner Bech Jensen, Novozymes’ Vice President for BioAg Research.

Bringing Microbes Home — What does this mean to you?

If you maintain a lawn or a garden, you have hard-working soil microbes already as friendly neighbors! If any of these areas struggle with pests and diseases, there is most likely an imbalance in the soil microbiome. Look into soil micro biologicals to help you alleviate pest and disease pressure without the use of chemicals.

There Is No Such Thing As A Dirty Vegetable

growing cabbage in a field with mulch

Every year, the USDA does a pesticide ‘audit’ on U.S. produce, milk, and eggs. In response to USDA’s Pesticide Data Program report, the Environmental Working Group re-interprets the USDA data and maligns healthy produce. They identify the top fruits and vegetables that contained the highest amount of pesticide residue. This is otherwise known as their “dirty dozen.” On the list are some of the consumer’s favorite and healthiest foods: strawberries, spinach, nectarines, apples, grapes, peaches, cherries, pears, tomatoes, celery, potatoes, and bell peppers.

Pesticides are chemicals tactically applied to conventional and organic crops to protect from insects, rodents, weeds, and types of fungal growths. The use of pesticides must be documented by farmers and is regulated domestically by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and Food and Drug Administration and by government agencies worldwide.

The most recent Pesticide Data Program (PDP) report (2016 Annual Summary) was released on February 8th, 2018 and tested 10,365 samples from 600 distribution centers across 10 states over a two year period. The sampling consisted of 90% fresh and processed fruit and vegetable, 7% milk, and 3% egg samples. 81% of the samples came from the United States and 19% were imported. Following the testing, the USDA stated:

“The Summary shows more than 99.5 percent of the samples tested had pesticide residues well below benchmark levels established by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and 22 percent had no detectable residue. The 2016 report includes data from over 10,000 samples, giving consumers confidence that the products they buy for their families are safe and wholesome.” (USDA)

Who should we trust?

Why is the Environmental Working Group claiming that 70% of the conventional crops tested were contaminated with pesticide residue? And what are their credentials?

The EWG is a non-profit organization with a history of passing off shady “science” as fact. Well-funded by the organic industry marketing partners with strong ties to Washington, D.C., they are known for releasing “scientific” analyses designed to make the public worry about tiny amounts of “toxic chemicals” in everyday items, from lipstick and sunscreen to vaccines, GMOs and food pesticide residues. In fact, a nickname for the group is “The Environmental Worrying Group.”

And to be clear, there were no independent tests performed by the EWG in response to the USDA Summary. They simply analyzed the USDA data to present their own claims, which seriously mislead consumers.

The USDA’s Pesticide Data Program consistently shows that 98-99 percent of the fruits and vegetables monitored do not exceed safety limits set by the EPA and, in most cases, the residues levels found are only a fraction of the allowable levels, well within safety limits.

A matter of skewing the numbers

It is no secret that pesticides are used in both organic and conventional agriculture. So, when the EWG says that 70% of the crops tested positive for pesticide residue, they are right! But what they fail to mention is that the levels of residue are at or below the acceptable tolerance.

To be sure, the EPA’s approval and registration process for pesticides, herbicides, and fungicides are very comprehensive and stringent. As part of that process, the EPA evaluates whether a chemical affects human health (hazard) and the levels that humans consume on food products (exposure) to assess the risk to human health and the environment for requested uses. Once a chemical is approved for use, there are very strict handling, application, and crop harvesting requirements. Additionally, in order to be extra cautious, the pesticide tolerance levels are set to include a wide margin of safety. In setting the tolerance level, the EPA determines the pesticide dose where no health effects were observed and then lowers that value by adding safety factors to address situations like susceptible populations such as children, the elderly, and immune-compromised consumers and other issues.

“The EPA requires pesticide manufacturers to conduct a whole battery of tests for initial registration and for registration renewal. The extensive and costly testing is conducted to determine toxicity on human health from dermal exposure, inhalation, and ingestion, and assesses human health outcomes related to reproduction, cancer, and organ systems. On the other hand, “natural” organic pesticides are not required to be tested for toxicity and have never received this level of assessment.”  – Susan Leaman, Vice President, iDecisionSciences, LLC

A 2011 analysis by the University of California, Davis stated, “the potential consumer risks from exposure to the most frequently detected pesticides on the ‘Dirty Dozen’ list of foods are negligible and cast doubts as to how consumers avoiding conventional forms of such produce items are improving their health status.”

As the findings stated, 99.54% of all residues were well below tolerance levels and 23% of samples had no detectable residue at all. This means our food is safe.

In the USDA report, 99.54% of 10,365 samples had pesticide levels at or below the allowed tolerance. 0.46% of these samples had elevated levels of pesticides. Calculating the math, 0.46% represents 48 samples out of 10,365.

Let’s take a look at strawberries, for example. Conventionally grown strawberries are one of the most frequently cited crops with respect to pesticide use. They are a permanent fixture at the top of EWG’s dirty dozen and often discussed in the news as being one of the most pesticide-contaminated crops. Of these 48 exceeded residue samples, 3 were strawberry samples that exceeded the EPA’s 0.50 ppm tolerance level. The exceeded samples were 0.89 ppm, 0.55 ppm, and 0.52 ppm. That’s less than 0.0001% over the EPA’s legal limit. To put this into perspective, 1 part per million is 1 grain of salt in an 8 oz. cup of sugar. And as we previously mentioned, the EPA tolerance levels leave a large margin for what is actually toxic to humans at high levels of consumption.

A woman can consume 454 servings of strawberries in one day without having any effect even if the strawberries have the highest pesticide residue recorded by the USDA. The same goes for the trace levels of pesticide present on conventionally grown spinach, which has caused quite a stir following the most recent EWG claims. The average female consumer can eat up to 774 servings of spinach in one day without experiencing any effects from pesticide residue present. See for yourself! Check out the pesticide residue calculator from SafeFruitsandVeggies.com

So, while it is true that this produce list had slightly higher pesticide residue than the other fruits and vegetables included in the study, this does not mean that they are not safe for consumption. The USDA performs these studies and reports their results to ensure the safety of our food supply, both domestic and imported, for U.S. consumers.

EWG damages farmers and misleads consumers

The reports organized by the EWG present conventionally grown produce in a terrible light. It makes the produce seem dangerous and the farmers that grow these fruits and vegetables sound negligent in their use of pesticides and in their stewardship of the land. It also leads the consumer to believe that organically grown produce is much safer. When in reality, there is growing concern over what has been dubbed the “the dirty organic dozen” in response to organic product recalls due to various food safety issues.

Additionally, two peer-reviewed studies have been conducted to measure the consumer damage that is done by the reports generated by the EWG. Both studies reported that fear-based marketing of produce discouraged consumers from buying any produce at all. This was particularly true with low-income consumers. Currently, only one in ten Americans eat enough fruits and veggies daily and fear-based marketing of produce only serves to discourage this already low number.

“After two decades of promoting and advancing the concept that popular and safe produce items are “dirty,” EWG should reassess this tactic and evaluate their role and responsibility in fear becoming a potential barrier to consumption.” (Safe Fruits and Veggies)

D2D on the Farm: Support Local Farms

Dirt-to-Dinner working at Versailles Farm

More and more mindful consumers are getting to know the farms in their area, attending farmers’ markets, and supporting local growers. And while connecting with farmers and understanding how your food is grown is important, dictating how a farmer should best grow their crops resembles a patient telling a doctor which medicines to prescribe! As a result, organic practices have been overemphasized and the use of genetically modified technology is very limited. The question remains: Is it clear to the consumer how safe conventionally grown fruits and vegetables actually are?

Does local mean organic?

There seems to be an inextricable link between local and organic produce. Consumers often assume when they are buying local, they are also buying organic. According to a survey done by Statista, 96% of those surveyed believe “local” means the produce was grown within 100 miles, 57% think that it is produced by a small business, and 44% believe it means natural or organic. As shown in the chart below, despite the lack of clarity around what “local” means, more and more consumers are visiting farmers’ markets to buy just that.

In reality, local does not mean organic— and there is nothing wrong with that. Despite this fact, there is a push for farmers to produce only organic crops for their local farmers’ markets. However, what the consumer doesn’t always realize is that both organic and conventional farmers have bugs, weeds, and weather issues. In order to get a good yield, farmers must utilize a variety of different tactics. Sometimes this includes pesticides, sometimes herbicides, and sometimes both. Farmers are concerned with soil and their local environments’ health.  When it comes to growing practices, it isn’t black or white. Yes, farmers are often classified as conventional or organic— but there is a lot more to it than that.

In fact, conventionally grown crops are often misrepresented and pitted against organic produce as the greater evil. As we’ve discussed on D2D, conventional farmers create safe, healthy, and affordable produce. But many consumers still believe that organic is healthier and more nutritious because it doesn’t require pesticides or herbicides. This impression is misguided. For instance, conventional farming practices have traditionally been held to a higher sanitation standard than organic farming, which sometimes uses improperly composted manure as opposed to more sanitary synthetic fertilizer. Or organic farmers may use copper sulfate as a fungicide and pesticide, which can be more toxic to the environment, including bees, than the conventional treatment of glyphosate.

The U.S. organic market reported a record $43.3 billion in sales in 2015 and shows no signs of slowing down. The organic food and beverage market is supposed to grow to $320.5 billion by 2050.  (Source: Organic Trade Association

As we learned on Green Cay Farm in Florida, there are many challenges that farmers face when growing crops. These include, but are not limited to, pest pressure and maintaining healthy soil. Sometimes, to deal with these challenges, a conventional input is better for the land, the farmer, and the crop.

Because there is less technology used in organic farming, inputs are more expensive. This drives up the price of the produce. One organic farmer stated, “it takes $1,800 to weed an acre of organic spinach compared to $150 an acre for conventional.” (Source: Genetic Literacy Project)

D2D discusses conventional farming practices with Nancy Roe of Green Cay Farm.

In the case of Green Cay Farm, genetically modified technology could have a significant impact on the quality and availability of their corn and squash crop and would ultimately increase the profits of the farm. As Nancy Roe told us, she would like to use GM seeds but that could negatively affect her CSA subscribers. If she were able to use genetically modified crops she could yield more on less land and apply 1/3 less pesticide to her crops.

Versailles Farm, in Connecticut, takes another approach. Here, the “French-intensive method” is used to grow a variety of lettuce crops, tomatoes, squash, cucumbers, peppers, edible flowers, and mushrooms. This approach combines conventional and organic inputs to produce roughly 12 acres of food on 1.5 acres of land!

Versailles Farm. The tightly packed rows using the French intensive method produces on 1.5 acres what would normally require 12 acres.

For Versailles Farm, “best practices” means fully utilizing new technologies like soil moisture sensors, irrigation sensors, and (if necessary) synthetic inputs based on detailed soil analyses. The owners, Steve and Ingrid McMenamin combine this with more old-time techniques, like the broad fork, which is a hand tool used to crack the soil before planting to allow oxygen in without disturbing the all-important microbiome of the soil web. They also grow companion plantings, like marigold flowers, nasturtium, lavender, and dill in order to naturally fight off pests. For example, lavender repels cabbage worms.  They can then harvest these companion plants for additional revenue. The bees are able to pollinate the flowers and create the honey made on the farm.

Versailles Farms grows thousands of marigolds in between crops. Acting as a companion plant this little flower is repelling insects, preventing fungus and keeping everybody healthy. Their roots contain thiophene which is toxic to certain nematodes, aphids, and beetles.  Marigolds also attract beneficial insects.

 

“We grow for flavor rather than compliance. Versailles Farm takes a best-practices approach in everything we do.  If organic has a best practice we use it. Same goes for conventional techniques.  Some may question how synthetic fertilizers affect the soil.  We use both organic and synthetic inputs.  We plant a cover crop and amend our soil with compost every year.  We spoon-feed our tomatoes with synthetics because they’re heavy feeders and the flavor is better.  Our soil is healthy and the worms are happy.” (Steve McMenamin, Versailles Farms)

Owners and farmers Ingrid and Steve McMenamin are responsible stewards of the land. They hold Versailles farm to the highest standards of plant culture, hygiene and flavor — they don’t feel compelled to adopt a purely organic regime in order to get a “badge.”

The health and quality of a farm’s land are extremely important to both conventional and organic farmers. If farmers don’t manage their inputs properly they are wasting money, negatively affecting their crops, and hurting overall profitability. We must trust both conventional and organic farmers to do what is right for their land given their seasonal challenges, pest threats, and growing conditions. Get to know your farmers, and you will be pleasantly surprised at the care they take of their land—even if they aren’t solely organic.

Successful farms are those who can marry the best techniques that are applicable to the crop, the soil, and the environment. It is not just one or the other – it can be both!

A big thank you to Steve and Ingrid McMenamin from Versailles Farms and Nancy Roe of Green Cay Farm and Farming Systems Research. 

China, Soybeans, Pork and the American Farmer

pig on a fence in front of a soybean field

As the $375 billion trade gap between the U.S. and China continues to widen, the Trump administration is calling China to the table for unfair trade practices, currency manipulation, intellectual property theft and posing a threat to national security. Sticking to his “America First” message, the administration is engaged in a chess match of retaliatory measures with the Chinese government, with each government threatening tariffs on a wide range of goods. U.S. and global markets have been rattled, and U.S. farmers are stuck in the middle.

Source: Barron’s

Chinese officials announced proposed tariffs on imports of 128 U.S. agricultural products from pork and soybeans to apples, strawberries, and almonds. The total value of these diverse products equals $3 billion to the American farmer.

Most notably, the Chinese have threatened to put a 25% tariff on American pork and soybeans and thus these exports are receiving the most media attention. This has created tremendous unease and uncertainty with U.S. farmers, who are already operating on thin margins. This means that for every dollar sold of American pork or soybeans, it will cost the Chinese buyer $1.25. And as a result, we are worried that the Chinese could look to other countries to buy the same product.

But these proposed tariffs are not entirely surprising. When a country wants to retaliate with trade tariffs they will strategically aim for a vulnerable product. Not to mention, China knows how critical American farmers are to President Trump’s voter base and will do their best to ‘rattle their cages’ to create political uncertainty.

Tim Burrack, a soybean farmer from Iowa, wrote on the Global Farmer Network the effect of potential tariffs:

“This week the price of hogs dropped $12 for every pig I sell.  A few mornings ago, soybeans were down 40 cents a bushel – a $1.7 billion loss to the value of U.S. soybeans.  And if I want to make new capital purchases of machinery or grain bins—anything made with steel or aluminum—I’ll have to pay a higher amount.”

Trade is important to American farmers and America

U.S. agricultural exports totaled $140.5 billion in fiscal 2017, up nearly $11 billion from the previous year to the third-highest level on record. The question is not whether trade tensions and trade wars will adversely affect that track record.  The only question is, “how much?”  At D2D, we have previously explored the effects of beef trade around the world as well as the benefits of NAFTA, which we encourage you to read as well.

Why Pork?

China is both the largest pork producer and pork consumer in the world— they consume a LOT of pig products! Keep in mind, they have 1.4 billion mouths to feed! That is 1 billion more people than the U.S. And they must do this on roughly the same amount of land. 65% of the meat they consume is pork. Additionally, China has a rising middle class that is able to afford to eat more protein. As you can see, their pork consumption and GDP per capita is expected to continue.

Large Chinese producers and smaller hog farmers raise 97% of the pork to feed their population, but they look to the European Union, the United States, and Canada to round out the remaining 3%. Approximately 1% of their imports come from the U.S. – equaling roughly 496 thousand metric tons worth $1.1 billion. China is our second largest pork export destination, after Mexico. (The United States sold 801 thousand metric tons to Mexico, which speaks to the importance of NAFTA.) However, the higher price of U.S. pork could force China to turn to the European Union and Canada – at the detriment of American pork farmers.

“The United States is a reliable supplier of pork products to China, and this decision will have an immediate impact on U.S. producers and exporters, as well as our customers in China. We are hopeful that the additional duties can be rescinded quickly so that U.S. pork can again compete on a level playing field with pork from other exporting countries.” – Dan Halstrom, Meat Export Federation President and CEO.

Why Soybeans?

China’s proposed tariffs on U.S. soybeans is also significant, albeit a bit different. Soybeans are linked to pork production as they are integral to feeding and growing approximately 435 million pigs. There are more pigs in China than people in the U.S.! Pigs need soybean meal because it has the highest protein concentration of any oilseeds or grains. Soybeans are one of those perfect foods. It has a complete range of amino acids, more than other proteins, and more protein than pork, milk, or eggs. Protein is needed in order to grow to the pig farmer’s goal of almost two pounds a day.

Soybeans are made into soybean meal (80%) to feed to animals or make into soybean oil and biodiesel (20%) for cooking and fuel. China imports its soybeans from the United States, Brazil, and Argentina. The United States is the world’s largest soybean producer and the largest exporter just ahead of Brazil and Argentina. Over the years, U.S. farmers have shipped massive quantities of soybeans to China, Japan, Mexico, Taiwan, even the European Union. As the world eats more protein, more soybeans are expected as well.

Tariffs could make the U.S. less competitive

While the United States is the largest soybean producer, we are not always the lowest cost producer. Brazil and Argentina operate with 11-28% lower costs because of cheaper land and lower capital costs. Adding a 25% tariff on our soybeans makes the U.S. even less competitive. On top of all that, the past five years have been wonderful growing seasons, which has produced a surplus of soybean crops, and this inevitably lowers the selling price.

However, fortunately for the U.S., China needs a lot of soybeans and they can’t get them all from Brazil and Argentina because the volume is not enough as they are in the Southern Hemisphere – at the opposite time of harvest in the Northern Hemisphere.

In the long run, a tariff on soybeans would stand to hurt China more than the U.S., because China will always need soybean meal for their pigs. Despite market volatility, unless the Chinese stop eating pork, U.S. soybeans will be needed in China.

Many factors affect the price of soybeans. Break even for farmers varies but is generally from $8.50/bushel – $9.00/bushel.

In the News: Bill Gates gives GMOs a vote of confidence

Bill Gates

Leading scientists around the world have been saying it for some time: genetically modified technology is safe. But many consumers still have their doubts, and GMO critics are a powerful and very vocal group.

Recently, Bill Gates (yes, that Bill Gates) weighed in on the discussion on an “Ask Me Anything” thread on Reddit.

GMO foods are perfectly healthy and the technique has the possibility to reduce starvation and malnutrition when it is reviewed in the right way. I don’t stay from non-GMO foods but it is disappointing that people view them as better.”

Gates wasn’t simply throwing flame on the fire. The Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation takes on some of the toughest challenges facing developing countries: poverty and malnutrition. They allocate funds to innovative companies and organizations that can help provide solutions to these problems. This includes supporting new techniques and crops, such as Green Super Rice, to help farmers in developing countries successfully grow more food and earn more money.

Predictably, his comments prompted a fairly wide-spread reaction in the media. Scientists and global organizations— such as the American Association for the Advancement of Science, the European Commission, and the National Academy of Sciences— applauded Gates for calling attention to the important role GMOs play in helping provide affordable, safe food to feed a world that is projected to grow to almost 10 billion people by 2050. Without the productivity-enhancing advancements made possible by genetics, they point out, the task of providing food for another 2-3 billion mouths could prove extremely difficult, if not insurmountable.

Unsurprisingly, GMO critics weren’t won over, despite Bill Gates’ respected reputation for forward thinking and societal insight. In fact, some critics even chose to use his comments as a platform for continuing to argue against GMOs— despite the growing roster of studies, organizations, and individuals who echo Gates’ comments.

There are many opponents to GMOs, including the highly visible Non-GMO Project and GMO Awareness Organization. Anti-GMO propaganda has gone so far as to include Jennifer X, a Russian Bot, who has been responsible for spreading anti-GMO disinformation through social media. Since many consumers have GMO-related anxieties to begin with, these messengers have been extremely effective in perpetuating fear towards genetic engineering technology.

Non-GMO = Big Business

According to the Genetic Literacy Project, a site dedicated to promoting science literacy, there are more than 35,000 food products certified as “GMO-free,” representing sales of about $16 billion annually. We now have what can be termed as a “non-GMO food supply.” GMO-free food has now become big business— not just a passionate if sometimes ill-informed cause.

Meanwhile, the National Academy of Sciences, the American Association for the Advancement of Science, and the European Commission are among the blue-chip entities that have publicly concluded that GMO foods are safe to eat. Most notably, a large 2013 study on GMOs found no “significant hazards directly connected with the use of genetically engineered crops.”

Gates’ comments may not single-handedly change the opinion of the hardcore anti-GMO constituency— but, they add a respected global name to the pro-GMO community and stir up more public attention to the importance of genetics and genomics in the modern food system of today and tomorrow.

The more people know about the science behind GMOs, rather than just the emotions surrounding GMOs, the more effective our policies and decision-making will be with regards to our global food supply.

D2D on the Farm: America’s Salad Bowl

The Dirt-to-Dinner Team in Salinas Valley

The D2D team recently took a tour of Monterey County in Salinas Valley, California. Perfectly nestled between the Gabilan and Santa Lucia mountain ranges,  the valley spans 90 miles long and 15 miles wide. The soil is some of the most fertile in the world, created after thousands of years of nutrient dense mountain erosion and the ebb and flows of the Salinas River.

The north end of the Salinas Valley opens to the Pacific Ocean. This marine influence cools the valley and makes possible the wide range of crops found here. With a total value of over $1.9 billion, Monterey County is the fourth highest agricultural producing county in California. (UCDavis)

Two very deep underground aquifers and cool air from the Pacific Ocean contribute to the ideal growing conditions, which enables farmers to plant crops twice per year. Because of its prolific crop production, the area has been nicknamed the “Salad Bowl of the World.” Its top crops are Leaf Lettuces, Strawberries, Head Lettuce, Broccoli, Nursery stock, Wine Grapes, Cauliflower, Celery, and Spinach.

One of the most important takeaways we had from this trip was the care and stewardship of the land, with little differentiation between organic and conventional farming practices. The large and smaller scale farmers in this area— regardless of whether they are conventional or organic growers— are growing sustainably, efficiently, and safely. They take care of the land by employing successful crop rotation, appropriate pesticide use, and using an advanced recycled watering system to irrigate their crops. In fact, 72% of crops utilize water-conserving drip irrigation tape as their main delivery method for irrigation.

Our tour was guided by Evan Oakes, owner of Ag Venture Tours and a former agricultural scientist for the University of California Cooperative Extension office in Salinas. He first showed us one of the few edible species of thistle: the artichoke.

Salinas Valley is the primary U.S. home for artichokes because of the cool breeze coming off the ocean, rich fertile soil, and roughly 200 days of cloud cover, which closely mimics the weather in parts of Italy, the artichoke’s indigenous home.

Artichoke ready for picking from Pezzini Farms

We visited Pezzini Farms, a 4th generation artichoke farm and saw acres and acres of “Green Globe” artichoke plants. Each of these hearty plants can reproduce for as long as 15 years, as long as it is properly pruned!  When artichokes are in season early in the spring, Pezzini Farms sells about 200 pounds per week, and is best known for the delicious menu of cooked artichokes, including French fried chokes, from the “Choke Coach.” We can vouch that deep-fried artichoke hearts are delicious!

Pezzini Farms sorting their artichokes by size. The artichokes roll down a conveyer belt which drops the different sizes in their respective bins.  image: Pezzini Farms

Artichokes are harvested at several different sizes. The jumbos work great to hold a variety of stuffing; the extra smalls are best eaten whole! (image: Pezzini Farms)

The farm utilizes integrated pest management practices, such as turning under the spent plant to nourish the soil and reduce pesticide use. The farmed acreage also utilizes drip irrigation to reduce water consumption and fertilizer usage.

For all you chefs out there, we also learned the best way to identify a ripe artichoke at the grocery store or farmers market… it QUACKS!

After the tour of Pezzini Farms, we loaded up into Evan’s Ag Venture Tours van and began to absorb the vast amount of growing acreage in this area. Fields and fields of dark loamy soil stretching to the horizon.

Currently, the Salinas Valley is early in the growing season. Because of this, our team saw crops in different growing stages. Broccoli was being harvested, while cauliflower was just showing its bud. Some strawberries were being harvested, but other fields had a few weeks to go. Most of the lettuces were being planted or were still in the baby leaf stage. Raspberries were just about to break bud, and specialty crops, such as broccoli rabe, were getting ready to be harvested.







 


Most of the fruits and vegetables produced in the valley is grown for large U.S. growers, such as D’Arrigo BrothersDoleDriscoll and Taylor Farms.  In many cases, small independent growers contract out to these larger firms. The larger parent company (like Driscoll) will operate the research facility which provides information and farming strategy to their contracted growers. However, we also saw large grower operations that were not contracted. Andy Boy, operated by the D’Arrigo family, is a fourth generation family farm that handles all of their packaging and shipping on site as well. In fact, when visiting the grocery store in Connecticut the day following our trip we found fresh Andy Boy broccoli rabe — and it was delicious!

Andy Boy broccoli rabe at the grocery store back home

Many thanks to Evan Oakes from Ag Venture Tours for surviving 1,000 questions a minute from the D2D team!
For more on Monterey County visit the Monterey County Farming Bureau website.

For more on the growers and producers in the area, you might be interested in the following sites:

Andy Boy Produce

Taylor Farms

Driscoll’s

Dole

Coffee: Friend or Foe?

hot coffee mug with coffee beans

Does your morning routine include coffee?

At D2D, ours definitely does! Besides its delicious flavor, consumers rely on their daily coffee fix for its caffeine. When you have 3+ cups of coffee a day you probably think you’re becoming a caffeine-aholic. But that’s not necessarily true— and you are not alone! The average American drinks 3.1 cups of coffee a day. We were curious about how your body processes coffee and whether or not there are any associated health implications from our morning cup of joe.

Quite surprisingly, the United States ranks 26th in global annual coffee consumption. Finland leads the pack at #1, with their average consumer drinking 6+ cups a day! Since the world shares a love of coffee, it has been studied globally over the years. While there is still a lot we don’t know about how your body handles coffee, the majority of research that does exist actually demonstrates the health benefits associated with drinking it. However, there are few negative claims as well…

Acrylamide in Coffee

In February 2018, it was reported that California lawmakers are lobbying for new labeling of coffee with respect to Proposition 65. Prop 65 includes a list of all synthetic and natural chemicals that are claimed to cause cancer, birth defects, or reproductive issues. This new bill is calling for coffee companies and even coffee shops to include a cancer warning on their coffee packaging due to the presence of acrylamide in coffee. Acrylamide is a natural chemical that is created during the coffee roasting process. While it is true that acrylamide is currently on the Prop 65 list of potentially cancerous chemicals, there is more to the story.

Coffee? Cancer? What?

The research on acrylamide is extremely limited and only tested in rat subjects. A 2014 review of the existing scientific research on acrylamide, entitled Dietary Acrylamide and Human Cancer: A Systematic Review of Literature,  determined “a majority of the studies reported no statistically significant association between dietary acrylamide intake and various cancers.”  Furthermore, as we learned in our discussion of toxicants, our bodies are equipped to process and expel any compounds such as acrylamide that aren’t beneficial to our health.

Your genetics play a role in how the liver metabolizes caffeine

Your genetics, specifically a gene called CYP1A2, determines how quickly your liver metabolizes the caffeine in coffee. So, when you are enjoying a cup of coffee, your CYP1A2 gene will instruct your liver to either metabolize and get rid of the caffeine present in your bloodstream as quickly as possible— or not! If your CYP1A2 is slow, the caffeine present in the coffee will remain in your bloodstream for much longer.

Your genetics play a role in how caffeine is metabolized in your body. 

The speed at which your body metabolizes caffeine affects how your coffee consumption will influence your health. If you metabolize caffeine quickly, you may have a decreased risk of heart disease with moderate consumption of coffee. Alternatively, if you metabolize caffeine slowly, this may actually cause an increased risk of heart disease— hence all the confusion! But, don’t feel you need to test the metabolizing potential of your CYP1A2 gene. Researchers are only beginning to understand how our genes and coffee habits interact.

Coffee contains beneficial compounds

Although the nutrition label is rather lacking for a cup of coffee— 8oz contains 1 calorie and 95 mg of caffeine— there is more to a coffee bean than meets the eye! There are over 1,000 natural compounds in a coffee bean.

There are over 1,000 natural compounds in a coffee bean. Image: Pixabay

Additionally, according to the National Coffee Association, the roasting process creates another 300 beneficial natural compounds which can be beneficial to your health and assist in cell metabolism. They include vitamins B3, B5, and B12 as well as amino acids and citricacetic, and malic acids. The European Food Research and Technology Journal has also reported that the volatile organic compounds (VOC) created during the roasting process have shown a maximum concentration at a medium roast level.

The various healthy compounds present in coffee include diterpenes and antioxidants. Research has indicated that diterpene can demonstrate the qualities of a therapeutic agent for cardiovascular disease. Diterpenes contain anti-inflammatory, antimicrobial and antispasmodic properties. Antioxidants have been known for their anti-inflammatory properties and have demonstrated the ability to fight free radicals. (For the full rundown on antioxidants click here.)

How does coffee affect your brain?

While there is still a lot to learn about your brain and its relationship to caffeine, there is some preliminary research that shows your brain can work more efficiently with a caffeine jolt. To put it simply, your brain naturally produces a compound called adenosinewhich helps regulate blood flow to different organs. Caffeine can disrupt the relationship between adenosine and your brain, effectively blocking adenosine from your brain receptors. The effect of this is that your brain is not being “told” to relax. This is why you may feel wired after your cup of coffee.

One study also believes caffeine consumption may help with your memory consolidation.

Where does the science come out on coffee?

In 2015, the U.S. Dietary Guidelines decided to include coffee in its recommendations. The organization concluded that moderate consumption of coffee, 3-5 cups a day or up to 400 milligrams of caffeine, could be incorporated into a healthy lifestyle. The benefits of the abundant, naturally occurring compounds in coffee include a lower incidence of cardiovascular disease, diabetes, and muscle spasms.

In November 2017, the British Medical Journal published a comprehensive meta-analysis on coffee, which concluded that coffee appears safe within an intake of 3-4 cups a day, but that more research is needed.

“Coffee consumption seems generally safe within usual levels of intake, with summary estimates indicating largest risk reduction for various health outcomes at three to four cups a day, and more likely to benefit health than harm. Robust randomized controlled trials are needed to understand whether the observed associations are causal. Importantly, outside of pregnancy, existing evidence suggests that coffee could be tested as an intervention without a significant risk of causing harm. Women at increased risk of fracture should possibly be excluded.” – British Medical Journal

D2D on the Farm: GMOs

Green Cay farm talking with Dirt-to-Dinner

D2D recently visited Green Cay Farm, also known as Farming Systems Research, in Boynton Beach, FL. Green Cay is a Community Supported Agriculture, or CSA, that has operated between 10 and 15 acres of farmland for 17 years. CSA means they are a direct-to-consumer farm that delivers fresh veggies weekly or bi-monthly to their subscriber list. The farm grows over 30 different vegetable crops, including tomatoes, beans, broccoli, peppers, kale, squashes, watermelon, and lettuces, as well as different varieties within those crops.

Farm manager Nancy Roe gave us an expansive tour of the farm fields and we discussed the successes of the farm as well as the various challenges they face from season to season. One of the most interesting conversations we had was about a heavily debated topic in Ag. You guessed it…GMOs.

Nancy’s farm does not grow genetically modified crops, but that doesn’t mean she isn’t a fan of the technology!  Because of consumer misconception, Nancy cannot integrate GM seeds into her farm without the fear of losing customers. But, every year Nancy estimates they lose roughly 30% of the crops they plant. And last year they were required to spend more money on pesticides in order to keep up with the disease and pests that threatened their crops.


These leafy greens are still a viable crop but have been the snack of different insects. If you look closely you can see how they have damaged the leaves.

“We cannot grow genetically modified crops because our consumers won’t buy them, but it would help with crop loss. What consumers often don’t realize is that traditional crops farmers plant today have also been modified! The seeds they plant are not the seeds that were originally found in the wild. Using plant breeding technology, scientists have created better crops. Genetically Modified technology does the same thing— just a lot faster. ” Nancy Roe, Ph.D.

The hot, humid climate in South Florida offers its fair share of challenges. Ultimately, GMO technology would allow Nancy to experience less loss on the farm and require fewer pesticide treatments. Corn, for example, is a profitable crop for the farm, but because of pest threat, Nancy must treat the crop 2-3x a week in order to fight off insects and disease. This does not mean she is haphazardly spraying her crop in excess pesticide! She noted, “Farmers don’t put pesticides on their crops because they’re bad people! My grandchildren run through my fields and pick the salad we eat for dinner. Conventional farming is safe. And pesticides are so expensive— we wouldn’t spray our crops if we didn’t have to.”

If she were able to grow and sell genetically modified corn to consumers, she estimates she would not need to treat the crop with any pesticides or herbicides until the very end of the growing season, when the corn silk fly becomes an issue for the crop. In Florida, this pesky little bug will lay its eggs on the corn, which will then bury as maggots under the protection of the corn husk. This is a pest that is specific to the humid temperatures of Florida, so corn growers in a cooler climate might never need to spray any pesticides on their crop! In Florida, if she was able to grow genetically engineered sweet corn seeds she would be able to spray 1/3 less than she does now. Nancy also noted that many organic farmers in the climate are forced to spray more frequently in order to keep up with the pest and bacterial diseases of the south Florida climate. (Yes, organic farmers use sprays too.)

Additionally, this season, the farm’s broccoli and cauliflower crops were knocked out due to bacterial disease and damage inflicted by the Diamondback moth, which eats the leaves and flower buds of crucifer plants. On average their crops are threatened by 8-10 different types of disease and 12 different types of insects.

Diamondback moth leaf damage.

Three years ago, Nancy saw the benefit of growing GE crops first hand. After losing her entire squash and zucchini crop to an unforeseen virus, Nancy was visiting a neighboring farm to discuss the issues and successes the farm was experiencing. When walking those fields, she noticed gorgeous squash and zucchini plants. Because the seeds were genetically engineered to not get the bacterial virus, the neighboring farmer had a great growing season and successfully sold his crop. Since genetically modified crops have been proven safe by 275 organizations, including the FDA, USDA, WHO, EFSA, and NIH, and they help our farmers, shouldn’t we support it, as well?

Farmers are constantly trying to heed the needs of their consumers, but at the same time, they need the flexibility to create a more sustainable farm that not only benefits its customers but also the land and its workers. 

This beautiful purple Brussel sprout crop is actually a loss for Green Cay farm. Due to the hot, humid climate, the sprouts themselves never grew.

What is NAFTA?

what is Nafta with American, Mexican and Canadian flags

NAFTA at the grocery store

At D2D, we wanted to explore the role international trade plays in bringing food to your dinner table.

While you are selecting avocados or blueberries at the grocery store, the last thing you are thinking about is Mexico. Or when you eat a ham sandwich, does Canada come to mind? Probably not. But these are just a few of the products that depend on trade between North American countries to satisfy our food demands.

You can buy most fresh food all year round largely because other countries can either grow them cheaper than the U.S. or have growing seasons that are opposite of ours. Trade provides the best possible price for the products we want by moving food from where it is grown and produced to where it is eaten. It is an efficient, universal means of bringing balance to supply and demand, and taking the wild swings out of our daily food prices.

Those opposed to NAFTA, on the other hand, argue that the influx of produce from Mexico or Canada negatively affect their prices. For instance, the avocado farmer in California is able to sell the farms produce at a premium if avocados are not being imported from Mexico. However, NAFTA and trade with other countries have encouraged farmers to be more diverse and versatile in their farming practices. Today, some avocado farmers in California are adapting by diversifying into coffee plants.

NAFTA impacts the cost of groceries

How much your food costs or whether you can get your favorite produce out of season is very important. Agriculture is an intertwined network of farming, crops, transportation, water usage, labor, and processing. Since crops require different growing environments, food is not often grown in the same location as where it is consumed. We all know that blueberries don’t grow in North Dakota in December, and wheat is not grown in Florida…ever! Different climates with different growing conditions in Mexico, the United States, and Canada can give us the best prices for available produce and the most sustainable agricultural supply chain.

The North American Free Trade Agreement is one of the most important tools used by the United States, Mexico and Canada in maintaining exactly this sort of open trade. It was put into action in 1994 as a bipartisan effort originated by President Reagan and signed into law by President Clinton.  NAFTA created a trilateral trade block designed to help ease product movement across borders in North America. In simple terms, NAFTA was based in the belief that trade would help generate mutually beneficial economic growth by better enabling each country to use its natural advantages in various economic activities to find larger, more rewarding markets.  And in the process, consumers would reap substantial benefits, too.

Billions of dollars worth of agricultural products are traded between the US, Canada, and Mexico.

One can distill NAFTA into three basic categories as it relates to Canada, the United States, and Mexico:

1. It eliminates taxes (tariffs) on all imports and exports coming across the borders. To confirm this, exporters must get a certificate of origin that states the product was made or grown in the U.S., Canada, or Mexico.

2. All three countries have a ‘most favored nation’ status. This means that every business and product gets the same treatment from the governments regardless of which country it originated.

3. Government policies and environmental and labor laws are respected. That also includes all patents, trademarks, and copyrights and ensures that they are respected among the countries. There are also specific rules in place to prevent any trade disputes.

Since 2010, the U.S. export of agricultural goods has averaged $140 billion. We export the most to China with Canada and Mexico coming in a close second. Without the strong North American trade partnerships, our agricultural exports could decline up to $40 billion in revenue.

Since 2010, the U.S. export of agricultural goods has averaged $140 billion. We export the most to China with Canada and Mexico coming in a close second. Without the strong North American trade partnerships, our agricultural exports could decline up to $40 billion in revenue.

NAFTA helps keep groceries affordable

Let’s put NAFTA into perspective— here is how it affects your kitchen. You love breakfast and enjoy frying up some bacon and eggs every morning. But how did that pork end up at your local grocery store? Your bacon probably started its life as a piglet in Manitoba, Canada; was then trucked to southern Minnesota where it was fed corn from Iowa, processed into bacon in Iowa, and finally sent to a U.S. grocery store or back to Canada. Baby pigs, otherwise known as feeder pigs, are primarily born in Canada (most often in Manitoba) and then shipped to the United States when they are about 40 pounds.

In 2016, 4.8 million feeder pigs were trucked to those states that have cheap access to corn. After they grow to their production size of 280 pounds in the U.S., they are ready to be processed into sausage, bacon, ham, tenderloin or chops. These finished pork products are then trucked back to Canada, across the U.S., and down to Mexico. Because of NAFTA, the pigs and the processed meat can flow back and forth across the border without taxes. As a result, the U.S. has 27% of the global pork export market, which benefits our farmers, and your morning bacon is made much more affordable!

“The integrated nature of our trade relationship enables the three North American countries to remain competitive internationally. It allows us to create jobs and exports and enhances our potential to increase our respective contributions to the American Canadian, and Mexican economies.” (Canadian Pork Council)

Without NAFTA, there will be higher tariffs

What if there were no NAFTA? If NAFTA is removed, each country would revert to the import tariffs put in place by the World Trade Organization. The average cost to export to Mexico would be 7.1%, to the U.S. 3.5% and to Canada 4.2%. However, this varies product by product. For instance, Mexico would charge a 75% tariff on chicken coming from the U.S. This would reduce chicken exports and force chicken suppliers to send their chicken to other countries or produce less.

Free trade helps all economies grow

While some industries want to put a protectionist status on their products, having a competitive flow between borders creates more jobs. Economic growth allows more purchases and more products to be created. “Every $1.00 in ag exports generates an additional $1.27 in economic activity for the exporting country.” This is an increase of 127%! Free trade also provides a comparative advantage for the country that is producing a certain product. For instance, corn grows very well in the mid-west and is exported to Mexico for their animal feed. Or, if we’re looking again at growing blueberries in a North Dakota, an indoor environment just doesn’t make sense compared to importing blueberries grown in Mexico.

U.S. demand for produce has helped farmers in Mexico generate more income and create secure jobs because they are able to easily export fresh fruits and vegetables like avocados, tomatoes, watermelon, and blueberries. As a result, these farmers can also invest in more sustainable farming, education, and food safety. They are able to use phosphate fertilizer instead of night soil. They can drive tractors instead of using oxen. They will then buy cars, clothes, and send their children to school. This is mutually beneficial for the United States because of the higher the Mexican GDP per capita – the better the likelihood that they import more products from the U.S.

In speaking with 4th generation North Dakota farmer, Terry Wanzek, he emphasized the importance of NAFTA to American farmers as well as farmers in Canada and Mexico. Terry grows corn, wheat, and pinto beans. While discussing the beans, he said that about 70% a month goes to Mexico. He points out that if we didn’t have the agreement with Mexico then the demand for pinto beans would be far less, and the prices would not be enough to cover the production costs.

“If the United States quits NAFTA, then the United States quits on its farmers. It’s that simple: Withdrawal would devastate us. We wouldn’t just lose our jobs. Some of us could lose our homes and our farms.” Terry Wanzek

What are the issues with NAFTA?

NAFTA isn’t universally praised. The issue that President Trump has with NAFTA is that some of the trade with different products is not necessarily fair.  As with any trade agreement, NAFTA demands adjustment for some sectors in all three nations.  Some economic sectors that had enjoyed a safe national marketplace now have to deal with other competition and tougher economics.  But overall, trade experts argue, each economy benefits as citizens gain the benefits that come from open, freer trade.

There are still examples of where NAFTA can be modernized. For instance, while the food safety regulations are the same in both countries, meat crossing the border is subject to different standards. From the U.S. to Canada, meat can enter relatively easily. When meat comes from Canada to the U.S., there are inspection houses with set fees that slow down the transport – without an added benefit to food safety.

Trade between Mexico, U.S., and Canada means that consumers in North Dakota can enjoy blueberries whenever they like, even in December.  It means Mexican families can afford and enjoy more meals of beef, thanks to the feed grains imported from American farms.  It means farmers in both Mexico and the United States can count on fertilizers from Canada to achieve optimal crop yields and optimal profits every year.

Toxins and Toxicants – how much is too much?

beakers in a science lab

Fear of chemicals and ‘toxins’ in your food and our surrounding environment has fueled many misinformed opinions and left consumers confused. (The Dirt-to-Dinner team has discussed this misplaced fear in previous posts about GMOspesticide use, and rBST.) But, there is no need to panic. In reality, whether or not something is toxic depends on numerous factors, such as the substance’s form, the amount you are exposed to, how you are exposed, and your genetic make-up.

It is not as simple as “this is good, that is bad”

Answer the following…

  • Do you buy products that are labeled as “natural” or “no added chemicals”?
  • Do you think products labeled as “natural” are better for you than those not labeled “natural”?
  • If products had “made with chemicals” splashed across their labels in red letters would you avoid them?
Although the study of toxicology is a fairly modern scientific discipline, since ancient times humans have been aware of harmful chemicals. For more information about the history of toxicology, check out the Toxicology Education Foundation.

If you answered yes to all three, marketing tactics might be getting the best of you. Unfortunately, it’s just not that simple! Making choices that affect our health would certainly be easier if everything was as easy as “that is bad for you, and this is good for you.” Yes, some things, like habitually smoking cigarettes, are obviously not good for your health, but most things do not fit neatly into that “good” or “bad” category. Scientists were so intrigued by this fact that they created a discipline, toxicology, to study what effect chemicals have on our health.

There are two terms that people— even many non-toxicologist scientists and medical doctors— commonly get confused. Those two terms are toxicant and toxin. The term most frequently used incorrectly is toxin.

Toxins are naturally-occurring poisons produced by living organisms such as bacteriafungiplantsinsects, and algae. Toxin is frequently misused when people are really referring to “toxicants” or toxic substances resulting from human activities.

Toxicants are manufactured and extracted chemicals such as pesticides, cleaning agents, industrial emissions or by-products, mining by-products, etc. that are in our environment.

Our bodies are equipped to protect us

Our bodies are ready to protect us from toxic levels of chemical compounds. In order to best protect our health, our bodies respond either by  

1).  Metabolizing chemical compounds using specialized proteins called enzymes that catalyze chemical reactions to produce less harmful chemicals, called metabolites. Occasionally the metabolite is more harmful than the original chemical, but most often it is harmless or less harmful than the original compound.

2).  Attaching molecules to the harmful compound leading to either excretion or directing it to an enzyme for further processing.

Where we get in trouble, however, is when our bodies’ systems are overwhelmed. In these instances, there is too much for our systems to process and substances can become toxic. This all depends on the dose.

Too much of anything can be a bad thing

Dose is the amount of a chemical (i.e., in the form of food, beverage, nutritional supplement, medicine, etc.) administered at one time; the total dose is the amount times the frequency times the duration. If the dose is too high, your body’s ability to eliminate may be overpowered causing adverse effects. So, the dose makes the poison.

And too much of even a good thing can be damaging. Take, for example, water: on occasion, the news blasts a headline such as “Georgia teen dies from drinking too much water, Gatorade” or “Woman dies after water drinking contest”. Consuming large volumes of water faster than your body can eliminate the excess causes an imbalance of your body’s electrolytes, which damages your organ systems and can result in death.

Another example is polyphenols. Polyphenols are chemicals with antioxidant properties found in plant-based foods such as fruits, vegetables, and nuts that have been shown to protect DNA from damage at low doses but also damage DNA at high doses. We’ve discussed the properties of polyphenols in previous articles that discussed turmericred wine, and matcha, as polyphenols are naturally occurring in these foods. These days, there are many companies marketing polyphenol-containing products to boost your antioxidant levels, but rarely do those marketing campaigns ever mention what happens if you consume too much of their products. If you are taking over the counter supplements containing polyphenols and eating a diet rich in naturally occurring antioxidants you might actually be damaging your DNA. And this is where our genetics and other personal characteristics come into the picture…

What’s good for you may not be good for me…

Our genetic makeup (or genotype) has a major impact on how we respond to a chemical. For example, we all have varying levels of enzymes in our bodies and some of us do not produce certain enzymes at all. This is why some people will have an adverse reaction or get sick when they are exposed to particular chemicals while others do not, or one person may experience adverse health effects at a very small dose while others will not feel any effects until they are exposed to a much higher dose.

Alcohol metabolism is an example of a genetic variation that is very well studied. In some sectors of the human population, particular enzyme variants involved in alcohol metabolism are genetically modified so that aldehyde, a toxic alcohol metabolite, builds up in the person’s system making them feel sick after consuming only small amounts of alcohol.

In addition to our genetics, we also differ in our responses to chemicals because of our gender, age, life stage, race, and health. Children and adolescents are often more susceptible to chemicals because their systems are still developing and are more vulnerable to damage. And older people or people who are immune-compromised are more susceptible because their systems are weakened.

Advancements in genetic sequencing methodologies may soon help to determine an individual’s sensitivity to chemicals. Emerging technologies coupled with the sheer amount and availability of data is making it easier for scientists to study population and individual genomes to determine chemical susceptibility. (See our post about CRISPR for more information on emerging technologies related to our genomes.) With the decreasing cost of genetic sequencing methodologies and increasing computing capacity, it is quite conceivable that in the near future, there will be rapid tests to determine the chemicals, if any, to which you are more sensitive.

Since there are thousands of chemicals in our environment (remember, everything is made of chemicals), outside of a select, well-defined group of “bad apples”, very little is actually known about subpopulation or individual genetic susceptibility to specific chemicals.

Of course, chemicals often vary in how dangerous they are to humans, which is why you will see a warning on some products (e.g., a jug of household bleach) and not on others (e.g., a jug of spring water). Some chemicals are toxic to humans at such a small dose that it is best to avoid any exposure. An example of a particularly deadly chemical is methyl mercury, an organic mercury compound that can cause death in very small doses. In 1996, a scientist accidentally spilled a couple drops of organic mercury on her gloved hand during an experiment. Three months later she was feeling confused and off-balance and went to the hospital. Less than a year later, she was dead.

 

Pay attention to warning labels.

Routes of Exposure

If you ever had a big multicolored bruise on your arm or leg, you may have been asked, “How did you get that?”. But in toxicology, when toxicologists ask how someone gets a disease or is exposed to a toxic substance, they are really asking – “By which route is a person exposed?”

There are three “routes of exposure” or ways you may be exposed to a toxic substance:

  • Ingestion
  • Inhalation
  • Dermal (through our skin)

Route of exposure is an important factor in determining toxicity because, just like dose, it has bearing on what happens to the person who is exposed (the response). Mercury is a great example of different forms causing different health outcomes. Mercury is present in the environment in several forms – metallic or elemental mercury is the chemical found in thermometers. It’s not toxic if you touch or eat it, but beware if you inhale it as the vapors are toxic to your nervous system.

On the other hand, when mercury combines with carbon to form organic mercury it is extremely toxic in very small quantities, and exposure through your skin or ingestion can kill you as it happened to the scientist who accidentally dropped some on her gloved hand.

You may have heard warnings about mercury contamination in fish. Mercury in fish is in the form of inorganic mercury – that is, mercury combined with other elements such as oxygen and sulfur to form salts. Inorganic mercury occurs naturally in our environment or can be emitted through industrial processes and when consumed, has a tendency to concentrate in and cause damage to kidney tissues.

So as you can see by this mercury example, in addition to a chemical’s form, the way you are exposed to a chemical also influences how or if it will affect your health.

How long have you been exposed?

Also of interest to toxicologists is whether the exposure is acute or chronic. Acute exposures are of short duration and chronic exposures are repeated or occur over an extended period of time. If we think of alcohol consumption, acute exposure to a large dose may make us sick or leave us feeling ill the next morning, but chronic exposure to one 5 oz. glass of wine with dinner every night may actually be good for your health.

Are Insects the Future of Food?

Grasshopper, Fried insects

News about insects is buzzing and consumers in North America are starting to listen. As discussed in Insects: A New Protein Source, insects are a complete protein (meaning they contain all nine essential amino acids) and they are a strong source of vitamins and minerals. So, now it’s time to walk the talk. The D2D team decided to give some of the most popular products on the market a try.

Follow us as we put these products to the test and try cricket protein powder, chocolate covered insects and cricket protein bars…

Test 1: Cricket protein powder

We are not the biggest fans of traditional protein powders. We prefer getting protein from the source itself (i.e. chicken or beef) but this is not your typical protein powder. The only ingredient is dry roasted crickets have been ground up! So, this would count as a natural animal protein and is a great option for a smoothie when you’re on the run.

Our recipe:1 cup unsweetened almond milk
1 tablespoon chia seeds
2 tablespoons cricket powder
1 tablespoon almond butter
½ banana
½ cup frozen blueberries

The consistency of the protein powder was very fine, similar to that of traditional whey or vegan protein powders. But smell at your own risk!

 

While there were some mixed reviews amongst our team, the protein powder was relatively mild and easily incorporated into our smoothie. By adding the other yummy ingredients, the taste of the powder was masked nicely. Definitely worth a try.

Test 2: Chapul Protein Bars

Chapul – a Utah-based producer of cricket protein bars and flours – received $50,000 in funding from Mark Cuban after their appearance on Shark Tank.

And the review:

The protein bars were more to our liking. With less hassle and added flavor, they went down easier than the cricket smoothie. The Chapul flavors were good and the texture resembled that of an Rx Bar. These protein bars also contained 2x the B12 than salmon and 3x the iron found in spinach!

Test 3: Flavored Cricket Snacks

For our snacking taste test, we ordered toasted coffee and sriracha crickets and a chocolate cricket bar. While the visible crickets tasted better than we thought, there was an issue with the “ick” factor as we could see very clearly that they were bugs! The products were more difficult to stomach. We recommend them to the fearless!

 

And the review:

The chocolate masked all cricket flavor and the crunch reminded us of a Nestle Crunch Bar. Yum!

Who eats bugs, anyway?

You might be surprised to learn that we’re not the first to hop on this recent insect-crazed bandwagon. Although insects have been eaten around the globe for millennia, they have recently been becoming more acceptable in the West. Restaurants from Los Angeles to Brooklyn are turning their protein features into bugalicious treats with surprising success.

“There are more than 1,900 edible insect species on Earth, hundreds of which are already part of the diet in many countries. In fact, some two billion people eat a wide variety of insects regularly, both cooked and raw; only in Western countries does the practice retain an “ick” factor among the masses.” (National Geographic)
Infographic: littleherds.org

And that’s not all— they’re becoming even more mainstream than just specialty restaurants. Going to a game? How about swapping that hot dog for some cricket tacos? The Philips Arena, home of the Atlanta Hawks, recently added these alternative protein tacos to their stadium food options!

And on the business side of insects…

AgFunder News recently reported that Protix raised $50 million in the largest insect farming investment to date. Furthermore, alternative proteins have also been a big area of investment interest given the amount of land and resources livestock farming requires.

Insect farming is a sustainable protein source— they are fed unsold fruit and grain, and require less water and land than traditional livestock—  but it isn’t without its fair share of difficulties. In order for this farming potential to succeed, it needs proper support. Insect farming requires a lot of capital in order to build factories with proper food safety standards. And while consumer demand remains relatively low in the United States, we still have a lot of growing to do.

But how easy is it to incorporate this affordable and nutrient-dense protein into your daily routine? Will insects be the chosen protein source for the generations to come? The UN has estimated that our population will exceed 9 billion people by 2050. And we need to be asking ourselves— how can we feed everyone?

Stonyfield’s Marketing Misstep

stonyfield yogurt cups on a grocery shelf

In the competitive food marketplace, fear-based marketing continues to be a go-to strategy for some food companies trying to differentiate their products from one another. Grocery stores today stock so many varieties of the same product that consumers must make a decision based on different factors like the lowest price available, if it’s made in the USA, or any other criteria that’s particularly important to them.

How did Stonyfield find themselves in such hot water?

Dairy products are a commodity and it is difficult to distinguish one carton of milk from another – or one type of yogurt from another. Given their higher price point and the myriad of choices available to consumers, it’s no surprise that Stonyfield is trying to differentiate their products. So, the company turned to fear-based marketing tactics to help boost their sales. The following video from Stonyfield Farm illustrates just how far food producers will go to sway consumers.

In order to tap into the fear of conscious shoppers—mainly parents trying to make healthy food decisions for their families, Stonyfield brashly uses children to spread misinformation on GMOs.

Stonyfield has successfully pulled on our heartstrings by using a parent’s desire to protect their child by feeding them “safer” yogurt. And this is not the first time they have used children to deliver incorrect messages on food technology. Their “Kids Define” campaign also includes adorable children discussing rBST and pesticide use. The inference, then, is that other yogurt products are dangerous to your children because those “other” dairy farmers have used pesticides, hormones, and GMOs.

Of course, we know that they are misrepresenting the facts. Organic crops use pesticides, they are just not synthetic pesticides. Their criticism of GMOs was related to the use of glyphosate, which has been deemed safe and non-toxic by the ESFA, WHO, FDA, USDA, and NAS. And just last week, D2D discussed how fear-based marketing and the spread of misinformation regarding rBST has almost completely eliminated the use of this technology in farming.

It is known that marketing strategies that appeal to emotion are the most likely to alter consumer behavior than straight scientific facts. There have been studies that demonstrate when consumers are under an MRI and deciding between different products, they will make the decision based on their emotion rather than the facts about the brand. Therefore, a consumer who has an emotional connection to a brand will be increasingly loyal. (Source: Psychology Today)

Mis-leading marketing tactics to improve market share

The yogurt market is very competitive and the volume of yogurt purchased in the United States is on the decline. From 2016 to 2017, the volume of yogurt sales decreased by 1.7 billion pints (from 3.37 billion pints in 2016 to 1.67 billion pints in 2017). This decrease, coupled with the similarities between many yogurt products on the market, motivates companies to be more creative in their marketing strategy.


(Source: Statista)

Moreover, Stonyfield does not have a significant U.S. market share. They are among the least popular brands, having just marginally outsold Muller yogurt.

In response to the video, many mindful consumers began voicing their concerns and frustrations with the message that was being conveyed: “does believing in the science and technology behind GMOs make you a bad parent?”

In order to control their message, these carefully constructed, thought-provoking responses were subsequently deleted by the Stonyfield social media team.

You can visit AgDaily for more content from the “Banned by Stonyfield” social media group, but here is a snippet of their open letter to Stonyfield:

“This kind of marketing hurts us all. Fear-based food messages are negatively impacting the buying and eating habits of consumers, especially among the poorest demographics. It demonizes safe and beneficial technology — technology that allows farmers to grow more food on less land, using fewer resources and reduce the environmental impact of the agricultural sector. Marketing messages like yours work to take choices away from farmers and make consumers feel like they don’t have safe choices at the grocery stores.”

Not only did Stonyfield use children to misrepresent genetically modified technology by including harmful and inaccurate rhetoric like “monstrous” and “gene from a fish used in a tomato,” but they also refused to give the science a voice by deleting informative comments on their Facebook page. As the video received more and more visits from those on both sides of the issue, Stonyfield was provoked into responding with this message on their Facebook page, which has since been deleted.

“We do not believe that eating GMOs have been proven harmful to your health.”

Stonyfield’s response to the backlash they received from their anti-GMO video using children.

Dirt to Dinner collaborator Amanda Zaluckyj, The Farmer’s Daughter, tactfully addresses the many incorrect claims that were made about GMO technology by Stonyfield in this response. “Even though Stonyfield doesn’t believe eating GMOs is harmful, they are more than willing to keep manipulating children to scare people. They are willing to lie to their customers to move their product. They know full well being non-GMO does not make their product better in any way, yet they are more than happy to act like it does if it sells.”

Michelle Miller, The Farm Babe, also contributed to AgDaily, wrote this regarding the negative effect fear-based marketing has on science and developing helpful technology for farmers: “Ask any scientist or commercial farmer, everything we eat has had their genes modified by humans, and there are no commercially available GMO tomatoes, among many other crops. Scaring people about science is sad because our entire world revolves around scientific advancements to make it a better place. Sharing genes with something doesn’t make it weird or scary. In fact, humans share about 50 percent to 60 percent of the same DNA as a banana. Sound weird? That’s why STEM and science education are so important.”

And, to that end, as the D2D team has discussed in many posts, genetically modified foods are safe AND the most heavily tested and regulated in history.

Unfortunately, fear-based marketing exists because it works.

Of course, this is not the first time fear-based marketing tactics have been used to sway consumer perception, particularly with respect to GMOs. In a 2016 campaign by Hunt’s tomatoes, the company claimed, “No matter how far afield you look, you won’t find a single genetically modified tomato among our vines.” Well…of course you won’t, because genetically modified tomatoes, although previously available, are no longer being commercially produced! Hunt’s chose to try and differentiate their products despite the fact that the claim isn’t even applicable.

D2D has frequently discussed the spread of misinformation through various marketing tactics. In our articles on the natural labelclean eating, GMOs, hormones in milk, and pesticide use we clarify the overuse and often abuse of these labels in order to make a product look more desirable. Most recently, Are there Hormones in Milk? examined the negative effects consumer marketing had on the rBST technology. We do not want to see what happened with the misunderstanding of rBST repeated with GMO technology. It so important for consumers to stay informed and question the marketing tactics employed by food companies. D2D asks that you ignore the marketing labels and pay attention to the nutritional label— 3oz of Stonyfield YoKids contains 13 grams of sugar!


For more on this, we recommend visiting: 

AgDaily 
The Farmers Daughter 
Farm Babe

Are There Hormones in Milk?

holstein dairy cattle in field with blue sky

This day and age, you would be hard-pressed to find a multimillion-dollar industry free of controversy. Dairy farmers know this reality all too well. The consumer perception of hormones in milk products is an example of marketing claims gone awry. Because of consumer misunderstanding, the dairy industry changed without any regard for science. Despite many validated scientific studies and numerous regulatory approvals, the use of rBST (recombinant bovine somatotropin) has been reduced from dairy farming because of the fear generated by misinformed consumers and tactful marketing claims.

There is no such thing as hormone-free milk!

All milking cows are females that have recently given birth and have hormones. Just like humans! In fact, if female cows didn’t produce hormones, they would not be able to have babies and produce milk. Once a cow has given birth, she produces milk for approximately 10 months.

What is rBST or rBGH?

BST, or bovine somatotropin, is a naturally occurring protein hormone produced by a female cow’s pituitary gland. Somatotropin regulates the cow’s metabolism and determines how efficiently a cow converts her feed into milk. Bovine somatotropin (BST) is also referred to as Bovine Growth Hormone (BGH). rBST is the synthetic version of BST— it is an exact replica of the naturally-occurring BST hormone, recreated in a lab. After decades of scientific research, scientists recognized that cows supplemented with additional somatotropin produce on average 10-15% more milk every day. There is no discernible difference between milk from treated or untreated cows. When comparing treated versus untreated milk, it is impossible to detect the use of rBST.

In the 1970s, the biotechnology company, Genentech, discovered the BST gene and proceeded to synthesize the hormone to create rBST. Pharmaceutical companies were then able to commercialize the technology in order to sell the product to farmers. Monsanto, for example, licensed Genentech’s patent and was the first company to receive approval from the FDA. Monsanto then sold their product to dairy farmers and cows across the United States were given rBST to increase milk production.

Milk is a commodity and for this reason, it is very hard to distinguish the milk from one dairy cow to another. Farm profitability depends on both the available milk supply and consumer demand.

In 1997, Oakhurst Dairy in Maine was struggling to differentiate their company from larger competitors. The owner of Oakhurst decided to give financial incentives to their dairy farmers and in return asked them to sign a pledge rejecting the use of additional hormones. Thus began the marketing and enticing consumers to drink ‘rBST free’ milk.

Even Oakhurst Dairy, which prides itself on being “America’s first Farmers Pledge” against rBST must also include “FDA states no significant difference in milk treated with artificial growth hormone” on their label. (Source: WGME)

How do we know rBST is safe?

BST (and the synthetic rBST) is a hormone that is specific to bovines. The human body does not produce it or have a need for it. So, if you are an avid milk drinker, you can rest assured that your body does not recognize BST as usable in the human body. Because it is a protein, the human body will effectively break it down (like any other protein) and eliminate it. Therefore both BST and rBST have no impact as a growth hormone in humans.

In 1993, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) approved the use of rBST in cattle. The World Health Organization Committee (WHO) and the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) followed suit and deemed rBST safe for consumer use. Today, over 90,000 scientific reviews and studies document the safety of rBST on both humans and cows.

According to The American Cancer Society, consumers should not fear the insulin-like hormones, “at this time, it is not clear that drinking milk, produced with or without rBGH treatment, increases blood IGF-1 levels into a range that might be of concern regarding cancer risk or other health effects.”

Mary Kraft is a dairy farmer from Fort Morgan, Colorado. She explains hormone use in milk production and why she feels confident that the milk we all drink is safe and healthy.
Source: www.findourcommonground.com

rBST is proven not to affect human health or the nutritional quality of milk, but there are some studies that argue rBST causes mastitis (udder infections), reduction in fertility, and lameness in cows. These alleged side effects, along with the results from a 2003 meta-analysis confirming these findings, resulted in several countries banning the use of rBST. However, 11 years later, a 2014 meta-analysis, sponsored by the American Veterinary Medical Association, showed no ill-health effects to cows given rBST. Given these conflicting opinions, the Dirt-to-Dinner team was curious about what the farmer had to say— after all no one cares more about having healthy dairy cows than a dairy farmer. When speaking with various dairy farmers, they all agree that that the health of the cow depends on the farmer. Dairy cows are like Olympic athletes. If farmers feed their cows well, clean them properly, and monitor their activity they will stay healthy. For example, if they are given rBST and their udders are not monitored and cleaned there is an increased risk of mastitis, but if they are well-cared for the farmer can eliminate that risk!

The Sustainability Factor

The use of rBST can help the environment. Dr. Normand St-Pierre, a retired dairy specialist from Ohio State University, examined a recent study that calculated the number of various pollutants that were inevitably not produced with the use of rBST.

In the study, milk created by the one million dairy cows supplemented with rBST inevitably reduced the number of cows needed to create the same amount of milk. This reduced manure excretion by 3.3 billion pounds per year. It also reduced emissions of CO2 1.3 billion pounds per year—the equivalent of over 350,000 family cars.

The point? Technology often improves efficiency on the farm. In the case of rBST, the environment benefited through fewer carbon emissions and the consumer benefited through more affordable milk and milk products. Technology can lead to efficiency – more milk with less water, waste, and land use. From a farmer’s (and consumer’s) perspective this is a positive in terms of business and environmental impact.

Labels are often used as marketing gimmicks

The ‘BST Free,’ ‘rBST Free’, or ‘rBGH’ labels are often used as marketing gimmicks. This continued marketing ploy drives consumer perception. American farmers work with very thin margins. Our farmers are expected to produce viable dairy products on a specific amount of land, water, and resources. The average farmer produces approximately 38,000 glasses of milk a year, with the average consumer consuming roughly 325 glasses of milk a year. Why not allow farmers to produce this using fewer cows rather than putting stress on our environment?

Labels can be confusing. Here not only are customers assured that this milk is free of hormones, but also states that the use of rBST in dairy farming is safe.

rBGH is practically a non-issue today—most producers no longer use rBGH. In 2007, a government study projected that roughly 17% of US cows were treated with rBST and that number has continued to decline. But understanding this social controversy is very important. Why do we ignore the data? As we have seen with GMOs, consumer perception can negatively affect successful food technology.

What is an Artificial Sweetener?

examples of alternative sweeteners

You have many choices to satisfy your sweet tooth. Last week we wrote about the hazards of consuming too much sugar. This week we are taking the confusion out of the alternative sweetener market. In fact, 84% of Americans are actively trying to limit sugar and 43% are turning to sugar substitutes. There are two kinds of alternative sweeteners: artificial and natural.

First, let’s distinguish between the natural sweetener – Stevia – and the artificial sweeteners such as Splenda, Equal, and Sweet’N Low. Stevia is made directly from the stevia leaf while the others are created in a lab, hence the difference between a natural sweetener and an artificial sweetener. The creation of natural sweeteners, from the Stevia plant, has caused an 8-10% decline in the purchase of artificial sweeteners. But, natural sweeteners are generally more expensive than artificial sweeteners due to their higher ingredient costs. As of 2015, Splenda is still the sweetener of choice in the United States and outsells Truvia, Sweet’N Low, and Equal.

Don’t artificial sweeteners cause cancer? What gives?

The artificial sweeteners, Splenda, Equal and Sweet’N Low, have a very storied past with the public and many people believe some sweeteners to be worse than others. For reference, 39% of consumers think it’s best to avoid food and drinks containing artificial sweeteners, and 38% say that some sweeteners should be avoided more than others. This has been a contributing factor to the recent decline in sales of artificial sweeteners and its associated products, like diet sodas.

Since saccharin has been around the longest, it’s of no surprise that it has had its share of distrust in the market. Saccharin came under a great amount of scrutiny in the 1970s because of a well-known lab test among rats that resulted in an increased incidence of bladder cancer, but the results were later dismissed as it was found that saccharin has an entirely different effect on human bladders. Saccharin remained on a carcinogenic watch list for quite some time until the FDA determined the compound had no proven carcinogenic properties and finally removed it from the list in 2000. However, public opinion of saccharin remains very wary despite a lack of evidence.

Aspartame continues to have its share of the spotlight with similar cancer concerns, mostly of the brain, but in 2006 the National Cancer Institute conducted a 5-year study of data from almost 500,000 individuals and found that higher levels of aspartame were not associated with elevated risk for brain cancer.

However, all artificial and natural sweeteners on the market in the U.S. and Europe are Generally Regarded as Safe (GRAS) by the FDA and tested thoroughly by the European Food Safety Authority and the WHO. Any fears of cancer have been dismissed. All artificial and natural sweeteners on the market in the U.S. have undergone rigorous testing by the FDA. When a new food additive is developed, it goes through dozens of toxicity, animal, and human studies before being approved. Because of the meticulous analysis conducted by such governmental organizations as the FDA, WHO and the European Union, we as consumers can feel confident that these sweeteners have undergone substantial scrutiny before consumption of these products is permitted.

“Although there has been a lot of negative press about artificial sweeteners, there is no evidence that artificial sweeteners cause cancer in humans.”

-Christine Zoumas, MS, RD, Program Director at University of California, San Diego, Moores Cancer Center

The Agony and the Irony of Splenda, Equal and Sweet’N Low…

Some of these artificial, no-calorie sweeteners we use to lose or manage our weight are making us bigger, depending on the amount and duration that we use them!

There is a tremendous amount of controversy on whether and how these artificial sweeteners contribute to obesity. It is debated within the scientific community whether regular, long term consumption of artificial sweeteners leads to long-term health benefits or weight loss. In fact, quite the opposite can be true: a 2017 meta-analysis reported in the Canadian Medical Association Journal found that the consumption of sugar substitutes was associated with increases in weight and waist circumference, and a higher incidence of obesity, hypertension, metabolic syndrome, type 2 diabetes and cardiovascular events.

“Based on all of the research done so far, there is no clear evidence for a benefit, but there is evidence of potential harm from the long term consumption of artificial sweeteners”

-Dr. Meghan Azad, PhD, University of Manitoba

So if sweeteners have zero calories, how in the world is this happening? There may be three reasons for the expanding waistlines and associated illnesses…

Artificial sugar begets more sugar

Dr. David Ludwig, an obesity and weight-loss specialist at Harvard-affiliated Boston Children’s Hospital, hypothesizes that those who use artificial sweeteners may end up replacing the lost calories with less nutritious and calorie-dense options, like cake or pizza, thinking that they can “spend” their otherwise consumed 300 calories if they drank two regular sodas.

Another consideration is that hyper-sweetened substances may alter the way we taste our food. Since sucralose is 600 times sweeter than sugar, our brains become more accustomed to this level of sweetness and eventually we find more natural but lesser sweet things, like fruits, less desirable. And vegetables? Forget it!

Lastly, these artificial sweeteners allow the consumer to disassociate sweet with caloric, which can be dangerous as eating sugar and sugar-like substances signal our brain to consume more sugar (you can blame that on our primate ancestors, as sugar was a scarce commodity way back when!). Since we’re so used to a sugary cup of coffee that has no calories thanks to Splenda, we want more sugar…and quickly! Thankfully there’s that donut over in the corner to fill our needs, but day after day, the sugar intake exceeds what we’d otherwise “save” by using sweeteners. Or, we add more calories to our diet by topping it off with sweeteners, which only makes us crave more…

image: CNN.com

There are other controversies surrounding artificial sweeteners

Again, while the research has not been peer-reviewed or widely accepted by the scientific community, there are several separate research trials of Splenda, Equal, and Sweet’N Low that have shown causal relationships between artificial sweeteners and negative gut microbiome health, stroke and Alzheimer’s disease.

One study conducted by a team of Israeli scientists in 2014 found that artificial sweeteners, such as sucralose, aspartame and saccharin, significantly altered the intestinal bacteria of mice that, in turn, negatively affected their metabolisms, leading to obesity, diabetes, and other related diseases. (If you are unfamiliar with the gut microbiome, also known as our “second brain”, be sure to read our post on gut microbiota.)

Regarding the link of artificial sweeteners to Alzheimer’s disease and stroke, the American Heart Association reported that daily consumption of diet sodas may substantially increase the risk of these diseases. However, it is important to keep in mind that this finding may be a correlation and not causation— meaning that those who drink diet sodas regularly may be in poorer health than those who don’t drink them due to overall poor diet and lack of exercise.

Do Diet Drinks Count?

image source

Some of us may not think we regularly use artificial sweeteners, but don’t discount all those diet drinks and zero-calorie flavored waters! According to a 2016 study published in the Journal of the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics, nearly half of adults and a quarter of children in the U.S. consume artificial sweeteners—and the majority do so on a daily basis, with diet drinks making up the bulk of the intake. Both the American Heart Association and the American Diabetic Association jointly agree that people should use artificial sweeteners cautiously.

The ingredient list on many of these diet drinks show sucralose or aspartame, both of which may be blended with acesulfame potassium (Ace-K), a supplemental sweetener commonly used in the beverage industry. Though aspartame used to be the primary sweetener of choice for the most popular beverages, blends of sucralose, aspartame, and sucralose-only options are entering the marketplace as consumer’s demand what they perceive as a more “natural” artificial sweetener.

And other options are also being added to the grocery store shelves, such as stevia-sweetened sodas and drinks. Because of its taste and its natural origin, stevia sweetened sodas, drinks, and food items are gaining in popularity. From just 2014 to 2017, the market value of stevia has grown 71% to $578 million from $338 million.

Here’s a list of the most popular diet drinks in the market today and their associated sweeteners:

Which is your sweetener of choice?

So we know that Splenda, Equal, Sweet’N Low, and Stevia have no calories, but how is that possible? And how does it affect our bodies? Learn what makes them sweet, how they look under a microscope and how much of the sweetener you can have per day per FDA guidelines (hint: it’s A LOT – but don’t think it’s an open invitation!):

Splenda (sucralose)

The chemical structure of sucralose

Chemical compound: Splenda is an artificial sweetener that is made of sucralose, a synthetically derived compound from sucrose – or table sugar. Chemically speaking, some hydrogen-oxygen groups have been removed from the molecule and chlorine has been added in their place, making sucralose much sweeter than sucrose. For those wary of chlorine being added, in addition to keeping our pools clean, chlorine is an essential nutrient found in many vegetables, including potatoes, broccoli, and tomatoes. Sucralose is extremely sweet – it’s about 600 times sweeter than table sugar and three times sweeter than Equal.

Sucralose in your body: Because your body has no use for it, approximately 85% of sucralose does not get digested or absorbed, thus leaving your body unchanged. Most of what remains gets absorbed in the gastrointestinal tract and then leaves the system as urine, but about 5% of the remaining sucralose will metabolize in the body.

Limitation on consumption: As per FDA guidelines, acceptable daily intake of sucralose is 5 milligrams per kilograms of body weight per day. So if you weigh 150 lbs., it is safe for you to consume upwards of 340mg of sucralose per day, which equates to 28 Splenda packets or 9 cans of diet soda. That should leave PLENTY of room for even the sweetest of sweet-tooth’s! 

A more “natural” artificial sweetener? There’s been some backlash against Splenda’s tagline, “made from sugar, so it tastes like sugar”, which leads consumers to believe it’s a natural sweetener when in fact it’s synthetically made by a complex chemical process, just like its artificial counterparts.

Equal (aspartame)

The chemical structure of aspartame

Chemical compound: Equal, or aspartame, is another artificial sweetener, but its components do not mimic any sugar-based molecules. Instead, aspartame is made from aspartic acid and phenylalanine, two amino acids that when combined in a specific structure, yield a very sweet substance that’s 200 times sweeter than table sugar.

Aspartame in your body: Unlike sucralose and saccharine, aspartame is fully absorbed in the body given its composition of amino acids, which your intestinal tract breaks down into digestive enzymes the same way it would after consuming common protein sources, such as meats, fish, eggs and dairy. Aspartame does not enter your blood stream. 

Limitation on consumption: The acceptable daily intake of aspartame as determined by the FDA is 50 milligrams per kilograms of body weight per day. So if you weigh 150 lbs., it is safe for you to consume upwards of 3,400mg of aspartame per day. This equates to 18 cans of diet soda or almost 100 blue packets…per day!! Keep in mind that your body creates trace amounts of methanol when breaking down aspartame. Though small amounts are not considered toxic and are actually naturally-occurring, larger amounts can lead to headaches, weakness, dizziness and nausea.

Aspartame and health conditions: A very important note about aspartame is that it is not to be consumed by those who suffer from phenylketonuria (PKU), a condition in which a person cannot metabolize phenylalanine (one of the components of aspartame) into tyrosine. Instead, they produce phenylpyruvate, which left untreated can cause very serious problems with brain development. Thankfully, in the U.S. and most countries, detection of this condition occurs in the newborn screening panel. Additionally, those treated for schizophrenia should avoid aspartame due to a potential reaction with some medications.

Fun fact: Previously branded as NutraSweet, aspartame swept the nation in the 1980s, replacing over a billion pounds of sugar in the US during this time, and led to the creation of many diet sodas still hugely popular today.

Sweet’N Low (saccharin)

The chemical structure of saccharin

Chemical compound: Sweet’n Low is an artificial sweetener made of saccharin, or benzoic sulfimide, which is a synthesized compound of methyl anthranilate, sodium nitrite, hydrochloric acid, sulfur dioxide, chlorine, and ammonia. This yields a very sugary substance that’s 300-400 times sweeter than sucrose. 

Saccharin in your body: Similar to sucralose, saccharin is also not largely stored in the body.

Limitation on consumption: As per FDA guidelines, the acceptable daily intake of saccharin as determined by the FDA is 15 milligrams per kilograms of body weight per day. So if you weigh 150 lbs., it is safe for you to consume upwards of 1,000mg of saccharin per day, which equates to 28 pink packets or 16 cans of Tab (if you’re able to locate the cult fave!)

Fun fact: Saccharin was discovered by accident in 1879 by a chemist at Johns Hopkins University working on coal tar derivatives. He noticed a sweet tasting substance on his hands, and then deduced the compound was benzoic sulfimide, which he quickly patented in several countries. It wasn’t commonly used until World War I, when sugar was being rationed due to scarcity. Since then, saccharin has remained a popular sugar alternative.

Stevia

Steviol, the basic building block of stevia’s sweet glycosides

Chemical compound:  Stevia is an all-natural sweetener that comes from a shrub called stevia rebaudiana and is primarily grown in South America and Asia. Today, 80% of all stevia comes from China, where they practice strict farming guidelines. The sweetness is from a family of molecules called stevia glycoside, which is stored within the plant’s leaves. There are 10 unique compounds and each one has a different concentration.  The most common one is Rebaudioside A – otherwise known as Reb A.

The sweetness is released from the plant by steeping it in water, then separating out the water from the leaves and stems, and then purifying the plant’s material with either more water or a food-grade ethanol. It is referred to as a natural process because the stevia glycosides are literally pulled out of the plant and are exactly the same as they were when they were inside the plant. It is so sweet that it is actually 200-300 times sweeter than sugar.

Stevia in your body: Stevia has been studied and confirmed that it does not change your glycemic index or glycemic load. Research shows that it is metabolized by the liver, then passes through the body and does not accumulate anywhere. This is true for all forms of glycosides. Stevia is generally recognized as safe and has been approved by the FDA, WHO, ESFA, and Health Canada as a sweetener.

Limitation on consumption: As per FDA guidelines, the acceptable daily intake of stevia is 4 milligrams per kilograms of body weight per day. So if you weigh 150 lbs., it is safe for you to consume up to 40 packets of stevia per day – every day.

Brands and popularity: There are two primary brands sold of stevia, Truvia and PureCircle, which had 2015 sales of $145 million and $119 million, respectively. Sales of stevia sweeteners used in food and beverage manufacturing has more than doubled since 2013 given consumer demand for a more natural product.

A more “natural” artificial sweetener? There has been some conversation about stevia being considered a natural sweetener. Because there is no real definition of ‘natural’ (read our post investigating the ‘natural’ label here), the word is not meaningful. However, it is not synthetically made like other alternative sweeteners; therefore it is referred to as a ‘natural-origin’ sweetener.

Why Is Sugar Bad For You?

colorful candy

Following an indulgent holiday season, the Dirt-to-Dinner team decided to eliminate added sugars from our diet. And more than that, we wanted to understand the risks associated with eating excess sugar. What is sugar doing to us and should we kick the habit all together?

The average American eats between 90 to 110 grams of added sugar a day. This equates to about five cups of sugar a week. This is roughly 50 grams over the recommended daily allowance by the American Heart Association, which advises us to eat no more than 25 grams or 6 teaspoons per day for women and 36 grams or 9 teaspoons per day for men.

What is worse: “high in fat” OR “high in sugar”?

Foods that are “high in fat” have been blamed for many health issues in the United States. When President Dwight Eisenhower had a heart attack in 1955 Americans began to investigate the relationship between prevalent diseases and sugar. His doctors divided into two camps over what was to blame: sugar or fat.

Unfortunately for the American public, foods high in fat became the culprit for his health problems and sugar was deemed safe for consumption. The food industry took note and started creating “healthier” foods that were “low fat.” And in order to compensate for the bland taste and ‘mouth feel’ that occurred without  the presence of fats, sugar was added as a substitute.

Today, 31% of Americans are obese. One American dies every 40 seconds of cardiovascular disease, 9.4% have type 2 diabetes, and 34% of Americans are pre-diabetic. Is this a coincidence or is sugar to blame?

Now, sugar has been deemed the new poison. The New York Times, The Guardian, and The New Yorker have all written about the toxicity of sugar. And documentaries, such as That Sugar Film and Fed Up, highlight sugars adverse effect on our health.

However, until it is possible to perform research that incorporates human trials, it is very difficult to state these claims definitively. Of course, it is much easier to feed sugar to rats and see the results than performing the same experiments on humans. In fact, while the National Institutes of Health has several studies that point to the adverse effects of sugar on our health, it also has published studies that indicate the results of fructose consumption are inconclusive.

Added sugar vs. naturally occurring sugar

Many of our readers have asked about the sugars found in fruit and dairy products. Fruit is packed with fiber, vitamins, and minerals! Yes, it does contain naturally occurring sugars, but the fiber present will slow down the glucose and insulin peaks. (For more on glucose vs. fructose read our previous post on sugar.)Chewing fruit adds to your satiety and prevents you from overeating. Fruit juice, on the other hand, is packed with sugar and does not have the same fiber content. Even if it doesn’t contain added sugars, we recommend skipping the fruit juice and eating your fruits!

The sugar found in dairy is called lactose. Lactose does not contain fructose. However, dairy products can have added sugars, which do contain fructose— and that sugar counts as added sugar. Be sure to grab the unsweetened yogurt options, drink milk, and eat 2 servings of fruit a day.

The research says…

Too much sugar hurts your brain. Yes, glucose feeds our brain, but the excess consumption negatively affects on our brain signals. Our brain cells need 2x more energy than our other cells, which is roughly 10% of our diet. Too much fructose reduces a chemical called brain-derived neurotrophic factor (BDNF). This helps with repairing and protecting brain cells, forming connections and make new memories. A low level of BDNF causes all sorts of issues such as low concentration, limited memory, and even depression.

Fructose is not metabolized by our bodies so it gets stored in our liver as fat. When the liver can’t hold anymore, it will send the fat to the organs in your body and around your belly. A diet high in sugars is strongly associated with metabolic syndrome – which means that everything your body regulates starts to fall apart.  It is the precursor to heart disease, diabetes, and inflammation. The first sign of metabolic syndrome can be something as simple as visceral fat.

Finally, a new study from the University of Texas MD Anderson Cancer Center showed a link between breast cancer and sugar. Mice on a sucrose diet, containing fructose, were approximately 60% more likely to develop mammary tumors.

Why do we have sugar cravings?

Eating a high sugar diet makes you want to eat even more! Because it doesn’t take as much energy to process sugars as it does protein and fat, so your body processes sugar much faster. So fast, in fact, that your body can’t tell that you are full.  High peaks and lows in both glucose and insulin create a craving for more food 2-3 hours after you ate a high glucose load. The snacking continues – the calories build – and weight gain follows.

Ever had a sugar high? Sugar rushes energy through your body as the insulin enters through your bloodstream. This is often followed by a fast decline because there was so much glucose in your bloodstream that insulin can’t keep up and your cells don’t get the energy they need. This tells your brain to eat more sugar in order to get more energy. It is a never-ending cycle that most people are on throughout the day: up and down and up and down.

The negative effect of sugar is not an overnight phenomenon – it is a slow progression. It could start by eating too many sweets with not enough exercise. Or your LDL (bad cholesterol) could be too high. Keeping a poor diet for a longer period could then cause you to develop a pre-diabetic condition of insulin resistance. This, combined with a high level of triglycerides, will start to take its toll on your health. Continuing this bad diet over a period of several months or years would then begin to deteriorate your health. (Read our post on inflammation for more insight on the link between unhealthy digestion and cancer.)

Quit the sugar

The average caloric consumption per capita in the United States is 3,750 calories per day. That is approximately 1,750 more calories than we need. Additionally, on average, Americans sit 10 hours a day and this doesn’t even include sleep! In order to get healthy, something has to change. The good news is that all the negative effects of sugar can be reversed once you ‘quit the habit’ and start making better choices!

Excess sugar has health consequences, but let’s be honest – there are more factors to blame, as well. No one sits down and eats a plate of plain cane sugar.

If you are not exercising, start. Exercise burns the triglycerides before they turn into visceral fat. Exercise also reduces stress, which makes you happier and helps reduce your cravings. Not to mention, stress and obesity are linked.

If you walk out of the grocery store with a cart filled with overly processed food and no vegetables, start writing and sticking to a shopping list, and stay away from the center aisles. Going to the grocery store is even more fraught with unexpected purchases. 60% of grocery store purchases are unplanned – and most of those are in the center of the grocery store, where all the processed foods are kept. Added sugar is literally everywhere. If you removed all the items from the shelves in the grocery store that have added sugar, you would eliminate 80% of the food in the center aisles.

If you crave sugar-sweetened drinks, then start to wean yourself off them. Sugar-sweetened drinks are a major culprit because they pack so much sugar into one small product. Meta-analysis has shown that drinking two 16 oz sugar-sweetened beverages a day can cause diabetes, metabolic syndrome and cardiovascular disease. They are a companion to a meal, they don’t fill you up, and you can exceed the recommended allowance sugar. We associate sugar drinks with sodas such as Coke, Pepsi, or Dr. Pepper, yet they are found even in ‘healthy’ drinks such as fruit juice, ice teas, expensive cleanses and sports drinks. Energy drinks are particularly fraught with sugar.

 

Click here for recipes to satisfy your sweet tooth without added sugar — from the D2D team!

What is Inflammation?

inflamed knee

Inflammation is often the starting point of many diseases. Is it the result of an unhealthy diet? What is the effect of inflammation on your body?

Inflammation is your body’s protective response to injury, disease or irritation of the tissues

Inflammation is your body’s mechanism to protect itself and heal damaged cells or tissue. This damage can be caused by either a wound, toxic substances or pathogens which may be in the form of sickness, excessive alcohol, chemicals, stress, unhealthy diet or lack of sleep. When your cells are in distress, they call out for help, and your immune system is full of front line soldiers who are programmed to attack and dispose of them. Inflammation is classified as either acute or chronic.

Acute vs. Chronic Inflammation

Acute inflammation occurs in the short-term. It is responsible for getting rid of an infection, helping clean a wound, and repairing your tissue. Examples include cutting yourself while shaving or spraining your ankle. The inflammation that occurs is a healthy reaction to repair the injured tissue. An army of white blood cells are the first responders that ingest and dispose of the damaged cells, pathogens, or irritants that may have entered your body.

On average, as long as you don’t re-injure yourself, an acute inflammatory response should only last a few days or weeks. Your body knows to trigger acute inflammation in order to get rid of things that are harming you.

If you don’t take care of that wound, or if your body is inundated with a constant invasion of pathogens or toxins, your cells continually call for help from your immune system, and your body is on high alert at all times. This prolonged “state of emergency” can cause lasting damage and is called chronic inflammation.

Chronic inflammation can last from several months to several years. The onset of chronic inflammation can be delayed, and signs of chronic inflammation are difficult to detect. It can also be incredibly difficult to identify the part of your body that becomes inflamed when the problem is chronic.


If our body is using energy to unnecessarily fight a perceived “invasion”, then it has less energy for normal functions. More importantly, with less energy available, our bodies cannot produce anti-inflammatory compounds such as glutathione, one of our bodies’ major antioxidant. In addition, adenosine triphosphate (ATP)— the energy molecule used by our cells is being used to fight a threat that isn’t real. At the end of the day, we have less energy and lower levels of antioxidants creating vulnerability for potentially diseased states.

How do you know if you are chronically inflamed?

You may not always be able to visually see the effects of inflammation, but there are signs that indicate its presence. These include fatigue, weight gain, skin outbreaks, gastrointestinal issues, and even depression or anxiety.

The best way to fight inflammation is with a healthy diet, regular exercise, and sleep

You can avoid certain foods that trigger inflammation. These include sugars and overly-processed foods. Additionally, smoking and excessive alcohol consumption should be eliminated.

A healthy diet helps fight inflammation

Foods to eat include plenty of colorful vegetables and greens, and foods containing healthy fatty acids, such as those found in nuts and avocados. Additionally, drink plenty of clean water so your cells stay hydrated and can perform at their optimal level!

Regular exercise is also an important part of fighting inflammation. A recent study performed by Mark Hamer, PhD, an epidemiologist at the University College London, examined the long-term effects of exercise with regard to inflammation. The study lasted for 10 years and included 4,000 middle-aged men and women.

Ultimately, Dr. Hamer found that subjects who completed approximately 2.5 hours of “moderate” exercise per week – or at least 30 minutes a day – reduced their inflammation markers by a minimum of 12%. Additionally, some study participants began exercising midway through the study period and were able to lower their inflammation levels as well— meaning it is never too late for the benefit of working out!

Get enough sleep and reduce stress. Poor sleep and stress trigger inflammation. According to a study performed by Emory University and presented at the 2010 American Heart Association Scientific Sessions, getting less than six hours of sleep per night is associated with higher levels of inflammation. This is also linked with an increased risk of heart attack and stroke.

Reducing stress and getting enough sleep helps fight inflammation

In addition to lack of sleep, excessive levels of long-term stress can negatively affect your gut and compromise the production of enzymes that aid in the digestive process. For your best performance, it is optimal to get eight hours of sleep each night, with at least five of those hours being continuous or uninterrupted.

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: www.readworks.org)

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

D2D in the Kitchen: Prepping a Clean Turkey

raw whole turkey

There is nothing better than a fresh turkey on Thanksgiving Day accompanied with all the fixings. Can’t you almost smell the garlic and herbs wafting through your kitchen? Whether you dry-brine, deep-fry or lather the bird in white wine and butter, the preliminary steps of turkey preparation are the same. One of the biggest issues facing poultry prep is the spread of pathogenic bacteria, such as Campylobacter and Salmonella that can cause foodborne illnesses. If you are not dressing or cooking your turkey properly, you are putting yourself and your fellow diners at risk!

Thawing a Frozen Turkey

If you are buying a frozen turkey, the meat needs to be completely thawed before cooking it— otherwise, you might not cook it thoroughly. According to the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA), when the turkey begins to defrost, any bacteria present before being frozen can continue to grow again. Therefore, the defrosting process must be done correctly. It takes approximately 24 hours to thaw roughly 5lbs of turkey meat. The average size turkey purchased for Thanksgiving is 15lbs, therefore you should allow 3 days for your bird to completely thaw in the refrigerator. Once the turkey is thawed, it is recommended that you cook it within two days. Failing to cook the meat within this time-frame may result in foodborne illness if harmful pathogens are present and the meat is not cooked thoroughly.

Prepping a Fresh Turkey

You have two days from the purchase of a fresh turkey to get that bird in the oven! If you are starting with a fresh, or even a recently-thawed turkey, you may feel inclined to wash the meat before you begin your seasoning preparations. Resist the urge!

“Washing raw meat and poultry can cause bacteria to splash and spread up to three feet away. Cooking (baking, broiling, frying, or grilling) meat and poultry to the right temperature kills any bacteria that may be present, so washing meat and poultry is not necessary.” (USDA)

After handling your turkey, you also want to be sure to wash your hands and any utensils or plates that came into contact with the raw meat as these can serve as a source of cross-contamination. Using platters interchangeably is never a good idea as this can allow for the transfer of pathogenic bacteria from the poultry to other dishes. So, after the turkey is in the oven, make sure to thoroughly clean your counters before moving on to the side dishes!

If not properly maintained, cutting boards can harbor harmful bacteria. Cutting boards with nonporous surfaces, such as plastic, marble, glass, or pyro ceramic, are easier than wood to clean. The USDA Meat and Poultry Hotline recommends consumers use a nonporous surface for cutting raw meat and poultry.

Temperature = 165°F

It doesn’t matter if you started with a fresh or frozen turkey, and, even if the turkey looks perfectly cooked with a crisp brown exterior, the inside of the meat must reach 165 degrees Fahrenheit before it is safe for consumption. In order to properly check the temperature of the meat, you want to make sure to use a thermometer in three separate places. First, check the breast (the thickest part of the bird), if this has reached 165° you then want to check the thighs and the wings to make sure they are the same temperature.

The leftovers

Thanksgiving almost always means great leftovers through the weekend, right? …Only if you store your meat properly! You want to have your leftovers refrigerated within two hours. If properly refrigerated, your leftover turkey meat will last for 3-4 days. That means four days of Thanksgiving sandwiches. Yum!

Sustainable Ag Series: Corporations

looking up at skyscrapers

In a four-part series on sustainability, we are illustrating how farmers, NGOs, governments, and in this article, corporations, work together in order to facilitate sustainable objectives in agriculture.

Corporations often are maligned when it comes to their sustainability efforts. In general, consumers perceive small companies or “local” operations to be better and environmentally friendlier than large companies and their wider distribution networks. When in reality, it is often the sustainability efforts of large corporations that influence smaller operations. Sustainability has no borders— everyone is involved.

“Sustainable development is development that meets the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs.”
-International Institute for Sustainable Development

How do corporations address agricultural sustainability?

Responsible corporations can help improve our food supply chain. Today, it is not enough for corporations to focus solely on making a profit and increasing shareholder value; they are expected to leave the world a better place for consumers and stakeholders alike. In many cases, large agriculture corporations are the leaders in sustainability and create a bar for other smaller-scale companies to follow.

While each responsible corporation generally accepts the same overarching definition of sustainability, they implement it uniquely, according to the factors that are the most important to their corporate practices and the products they are creating. Individual corporations will create a plan for sustainability that is good for the environment, good for business, and good for social welfare. However, it is important to note that not all corporations treat sustainability in the same way. Some use it as a marketing ploy— they don’t ‘walk the talk’. An increasingly important aspect of today’s sustainability initiatives is a verification process to ensure that they are meeting their goals.

How do these large-scale corporations figure out which sustainability efforts to promote while maintaining a profit and achieving their vision? 

Corporations will perform research and poll their stakeholders (customers, suppliers, shareholders, governments) to see what is most important to these key players. Generally, companies will target water usage, food and packing waste, greenhouse gas and energy consumption, farmers, and/or employee welfare. Corporations in the agriculture industry recognize how important the environment is for both current consumers and future generations. They want to be known for responsible, good business practices and will be vigilant about their sustainability initiatives. And, let’s not sugar coat it— they have their brand and reputation to protect, which is a driving force for doing good.

PepsiCo Sustainable Agriculture’s Water Project uses technology and agricultural skills to reduce global water use. source: Pepsico- Agriculture Sustainability

PepsiCo’s Sustainable Farming Initiative (SFI), for example, is a program that encourages all of their farmers to continually improve their sustainable agricultural practices. The key ingredients they source are potatoes, corn, oats, and oranges. They “aim to implement specific programs and measurement processes to improve overall agriculture supply chain performance.” Their lofty goal includes topics within the social, economic, and environmental framework of agricultural sustainability.


Source: The Coca-Cola Company 2016 Sustainability Report

The Coca-Cola Company, another titan of industry in the beverage sector, has expansive environmental goals that include water and energy preservation. Looking specifically at their water initiative, Coca-Cola has pledged that for every drop of water they use, they will give one back to the environment. Essentially, they are water neutral.  Coke and their bottling partners set this as their goal for 2020, but they were able to achieve it by 2016! Not only did they use less water, but they replenished it through community water partnerships in 71 different countries.

How corporations work with Farmers

Within the agriculture sector, many sustainable corporate initiatives are often met with backlash. The prime example of this, of course, is genetically modified organisms (GMO). Without getting too much into the debate behind GMOs, regardless of where you stand on this issue, there is no denying that genetically engineered (GE) crops save environmental resources. And many farmers that provide food to big corporations will grow environmentally-friendly GE crops in order to help support sustainability initiatives in Ag.

For example, Monsanto is constantly under fire for “poisoning agriculture” with its GE crops, when in reality the reverse is true. While Monsanto has 17 sustainability efforts, their biggest contributing factor to consumers and our environment alike is to to double the yield size of canola, corn, cotton, and soybeans by 2030. What gets lost in the GMO conversation with environmentalists is that higher yields actually protect the environment. How? This means less land under plow and less water usage, energy, herbicides, and pesticides used to grow non-GMO crops.

Source: Monsanto 2016 Sustainability Highlights

McDonald’s is another company looking to “make a positive difference in the lives of farmers and our planet by advancing more sustainable beef production.” This means that when you sit down to eat a Quarter Pounder, you can be assured that the particular cow was raised by farmers employing the most sustainable environmental practices. McDonalds Canada started a ‘birth-to-burger’ program where for the first time you can track hamburger meat back to the cow it came from. You can be assured that the cow was raised humanely and in a sustainable environment, discover what the cow ate during its lifetime, and know that it was processed with food safety standards. This program is a collaboration with specific ranchers, the World Wildlife Fund, JBS, and Cargill. They currently track 9,000 head of cattle, which supply roughly 2.4 million beef patties.


Source:  McDonald’s Sustainability Reports

Small-Scale Sustainability…

Sustainability efforts can be harder to accomplish for smaller-scale farmers who are trying to eke out a living in the developing world— especially when these farms are nestled next to rainforests. Keeping ancient forestintactct is better and more productive for the Earth than slash and burn farming. Additionally, destroying these forests, which provide tremendous plant and animal life biodiversity, as well as CO2 sinks, is damaging to the Earth’s ecosystem.

According to the Rainforest Allianceattempted agriculture accounts for more than 70% of tropical deforestation. As a result, some of the world’s largest agriculture and food companies have signed an agreement to monitor their outsourced supply chains. Some of these companies and organizations are Carrefour, Walmart, Bunge, Cargill, Conservation International, Rainforest Alliance, and the Nature Conservancy. Unilever, Wilmar, and Hershey also have their own commitments against purchasing goods produced on deforested land. Using satellite imagery, they can track exactly where the crops came from and ensure that the crops were grown safely and sustainably.

How corporations work with NGOs

As we discussed in the first installment of this series, NGOs and corporations create meaningful partnerships to achieve corporate sustainability goals while benefitting farmers and the environment. The Nature Conservancy, for example, is an NGO that has partnered with many different corporations to help achieve various goals within agricultural sustainability.

The Nature Conservancy has recognized that the private sector has an important role to play in advancing our conservation mission. Businesses around the globe can, and do, have significant impacts on our climate and on the lands and waters that people and nature rely upon for survival. That’s why we are applying our science, reach, expertise in conservation planning, and on-the-ground experience to help businesses make better decisions, understand the value of nature, and ultimately protect it.”

In 2016, the Nature Conservancy and PepsiCo announced a 5-year partnership entitled “Recycle for Nature,” which aims to protect our drinking water through recycling. Their primary goal is to save 1.2 billion gallons of water over five years. This partnership is also working to protect the important rivers and lands that are integral to our water resources in North America.

source: Nature.org

How corporations work with governments

“Much can be achieved by combining the authority and resources of government with the efficiency of a for-profit business.”
Mark Lefko, Global Sustainability

Governments often have more influence and power than private corporations and as a result, companies will work with local or national governments and legislative representation to implement sustainability initiatives. For example, in Terneuzen, a city in the Netherlands, the Dow Chemical Company worked with government officials to successfully re-purpose three times the amount of water, which in turn saves energy equivalent to the CO2 emissions of 13,000 cars every year. (Global Sustainability)

Scott Pruitt, EPA Chief, has been soundly criticized for supporting the withdrawal from the Paris climate agreement, encouraging discussion about the cause of climate change, and repealing Obama’s Clean Power plan. His approach to environmental sustainability takes a different tact – obtaining immediate benefits. He is working with Walt Disney World to convert 120,000 tons of food waste into electricity. This will help the EPA goal toward reducing the 21% of food waste that fills landfills by 50%.

How corporations address consumer concerns

It all starts with good values. In all successful cases, ethics and transparency are at the forefront of any sustainability initiative. Looking specifically at agricultural sustainability, consumers want to feel more connected to the environment and have a good understanding of where food is coming from. To that end, consumers are more likely to support a corporation if they are successfully supporting the environment and transparent about their corporate practices. Furthermore, employees will go the extra mile if they feel their company has the same values they do.

“Our people feel there is a soul in the company, a purpose. It has an effect not only internally, but also externally– especially for the younger generations. They don’t want to work for a company for the benefits or the pension packages, they want to work for a company where they can say the values match with their own values”.                                                                                            —Feike Sijbesma, CEO, DSM.
Social Media & Corporate Sustainability  Sustainability is important to consumers, who use social media to determine whether the product they are buying meets their personal values. As a result, sustainable brands tend to grow faster than others. For example, Unilever has 16 sustainable brands that grew 50% faster than other comparable brands and represented 60% of overall growth in 2016.

Corporations working together

“If we can find ways to collaborate with those who share our values on the topic of sustainability, we will find that many of our principles are transferable regardless of the industry in which we work.”
Mark Lefko, Global Sustainability.

Finally, many similar-minded companies in the same industry form partnerships to set the standard for their industry. In many cases, they use vision, innovation, and accountability to raise the bar…

The World Business Council for Sustainable Development is a CEO led organization of innovative companies that spurs the business community toward sustainability in the following area: Energy, Food and Land Use, Cities and Mobility, and Redefining Value.

The Global Roundtable for Sustainable Beef defines themselves as promoting an environmentally sound and economically viable product that prioritizes the plant, people, animals and progress. They are a consortium including McDonalds, Cargill, JBS, National Cattlemen’s Beef Association, and the Canadian Cattlemen’s Association as well as the Rainforest Alliance and the World Wildlife Fund.

The Global Salmon Initiative sets the standard for sustainably farmed salmon. It is represented by a group of salmon farmers from 8 different countries.

The Beverage Industry Environmental Roundtableis a collaboration of companies such as Diageo, Danone, Heineken, Coke, and AB InBev in the beer, bottle water, juice, tea, coffee, soft drink, and alcohol business. They are far reaching with over $260 billion in combined revenue, over 2100 facilities across 170 countries and have over 5,600 brands. Their purpose is to advance environmental sustainability within the beverage sector.

Sustainable Ag Series: NGOs

many hands on top of each other-symbol of unity

In a four-part series on sustainability, we are illustrating how farmersgovernments, corporations and in this article, NGOs, work together in order to facilitate sustainable objectives in agriculture.

The term ‘sustainability’ is thrown around a lot…in the media, on corporate websites, in the government—even on D2D! The term is now used so frequently that it often has more than one interpretation.

At Dirt-to-Dinner, sustainability means protecting our global environmental and human resources for future generations while still providing for today’s population. Agricultural sustainability initiatives can address clean water, ocean health, deforestation, soil health, global hunger, food waste, human rights, child labor, and general ethical practices. As you can see, sustainability can wear many different hats.

Sustainability can pertain to anything from clean water to deforestation to global hunger to just plain ethics.

How do NGOs address agricultural sustainability?

NGOs are non-profit, usually voluntary citizen groups that advocate for certain policies and monitor various government initiatives. They often rally around an important cause with the hopes of achieving a specific outcome in government regulations.

Sustainable NGOs are defined as organizations that make “essential contributions to the environment, society, and the sustainability of the world at large.”

You can find an NGO cheering section for just about every cause. While some have lost credibility due to overly angry and theatrical behaviors,  (like chaining themselves to pieces of equipment in order to prevent a corporation from instituting a strategy or business plan) most NGOs have a sound, solid mission to make the world a better place. You may recognize some of these names: World Wildlife Fund, Conservation Initiative, CERES, OxFam, and Heifer International.

NGOs work on their own initiatives and facilitate connections between corporations, farmers, and government regulation. They even help motivate consumers around a specific cause. Here’s how…

How NGOs work with government regulators.

NGOs often advocate the concerns of citizens to the appropriate government regulators. These concerns and differences of opinion can have a lot to do with government spending and the appropriation of funds. For example, there is frequently a debate over the funds given to the Ag industry. In July 2017, Politico reported a proposed $10 billion spending cut to agricultural programs in the United States. In direct opposition to this, National Association of State Departments of Agriculture (NASDA) is lobbying for the 2018 Farm Bill, which advocates for the continued support and funding of American farming. This is an area where different NGOs would advocate for a specific allocation of funds on behalf of stakeholders.

How NGOs work with corporations.

If aligned on culture and mission, corporations and NGOs can work well together. Previously, they were more foes than friends, but today they can create meaningful partnerships. A corporation looks to an NGO for critical research and to help motivate consumer awareness. NGOs also offer support to corporations looking to better monitor their own definition of sustainability. Companies have the jobs, resources, and execution skills that NGOs might not have, particularly in the developing world. They also have relationships with various government regulators.

Today, there is a big emphasis on the importance of corporate sustainability in relationship to how the manufacturing or production of a product affects the environment. How much emissions are used, how much water is wasted, what materials are recycled? These are all questions being asked by consumers, suppliers, and even employees. NGOs have assumed an important role here by helping strategize and create a plan for big business to achieve transparency and realistic environmental sustainability goals.

CERES, for example, is an NGO with over 80 corporate partnerships focusing on issues such as water scarcity, reducing CO2 emissions and human rights. Additionally, Carbon Trust has helped companies like PepsiCo and Coca-Cola create climate change strategies. In their partnership with Coca-Cola, The Nature Conservancy helped Coke replenish the water equivalent to what will be used in finished beverages by the year 2020. This means that each drop of water that is used in making their drinks will be matched by a drop of water saved in the environment.

“Ensuring that all the people on the planet have the resources and environment necessary for them to survive and thrive, both now and in the future.”

-Global Sustainability by Mark Lefko

How NGOs work with Farmers.

On the ground level, NGOs can connect farmers with corporations to offer financial stipends for their conservation and sustainability efforts. These might include water conservation, cover cropping, or no-till farming. Many small scale farmers are motivated to participate in sustainability efforts in return for financial support.

Conservation International, for example, can provide loans to corporations in order to help create programs that benefit small-scale farmers. For example, CI acted as an influential advisor to Starbucks when exploring the sustainability of coffee trade and how to make the harvesting of coffee beans more environmentally friendly. CI provided Starbucks with a $2.5 million-dollar loan to form Verde Ventures. Verde Ventures in turn provides financial support to small and medium-sized business that contribute to healthy ecosystems. This venture has helped protect and restore more than 515,353 hectares of land and has helped employ 59,000 local people in 14 different countries.

Verde Ventures provides debt and equit y financing to businesses that benefit healthy ecosystems and human well-being, including agroforestry, ecotourism, sustainable harvest of wild products and marine initiatives.

Another example of an NGO assisting small-scale farmers is Heifer International, which has helped over 21 million families around the world obtain farm animals so they can provide for their families and end their poverty and hunger. These are just some of the different ways in which NGOs offer their support to farmers while promoting the principles of sustainability.

How NGOs help consumers.

NGOs help to increase social awareness and motivate consumers around specific causes. Whether they want to rally citizens around impending government regulation or appeal to the moral responsibility of consumers to participate in conservation efforts, NGOs offer resources to support sustainability efforts on the consumer level. For example, Consumers International was founded in order to work on any issues that are facing consumers globally. Additionally, the US Farmers & Ranchers Alliance (USFRA) is creating a dialogue between consumers and farmers to help consumers understand where their food is coming from.

The TB12 Diet: One Size Does Not Fit All

Tom Brady about to pass the football print

Some of us at D2D are part of the New England ‘Patriot Nation.’ So, when the G.O.A.T (*Greatest of All Time) released his manual outlining how to achieve a lifetime of sustained peak performance, it was quickly pre-ordered. I mean, who doesn’t want to achieve greatness like Tom Brady? He has made some of the greatest comebacks in football history and has earned (to date) 5 Super Bowl rings. Now 40, he argues that he is playing better than he was at 30. Regardless of your opinion of the Patriots, you have to respect the fact that Tom Brady has far exceeded the average tenure in the NFL and shows no signs of slowing down!

What is Tom Brady’s roadmap to his incredible success on the field?

According to his book, the principals of the TB12 Method support established knowledge that long term health (and proper weight management) at any age is directly linked to eliminating or reducing bodily stressors like toxic congestion, inflammation, and imbalances. And while you eliminate these triggers, you ADD in good stuff, like nutrient-dense foods, exercise, stress reduction activities, and clean air and water.

The TB12 Diet isn’t for everyone

While his method to maintaining overall health seems like a balanced approach, we did a couple of double-takes over Brady’s shunning of conventionally grown and genetically modified food. Eating a diet rich in fruits, vegetables, and lean protein is most important to your health, whether you shop at your local grocery store or the local farm stand. Whether you choose to buy conventional or organic foods, regulations ensure the safety of the food that hits your plate.

“If Brady wants to know the facts about today’s agriculture, he should come to visit my farm and learn the facts.” Maryland farmer who grows corn, soybeans, canning tomatoes, grapes, and fresh-market green beans writes to Tom Brady to discuss his misinformed ‘issues’ with conventional farming.

Brady’s very regimented diet is one that is designed specifically for his lifestyle and enables him to perform at the top of his game every day. He maintains that throwing the ball is easier than eating, so he tackles the quality, quantity, and timing of his meals with the same precision and focus as his passes to Gronk.

On the list of what he doesn’t eat are the usual suspects: sugar, caffeine, and alcohol. But he takes it a step further by adding nightshade vegetables to the list.

What are nightshades?

Nightshade vegetables are members of a large group of flowering plants in the Solanaceae family. Included in this large family are a few of the world’s most cultivated and consumed crops: potatoes, tomatoes, eggplant, and peppers.

Tom’s chefs are likely not including these in recipes because (he may not like them!); yet there are some observational studies that claim patients who eliminate nightshade vegetables from their diets experience a feeling of improvement from varying forms of arthritis, allergies or autoimmune deficiencies.

Healthy people, on the other hand, should have no problem digesting nightshade vegetables. To date, there is no verified science behind these anecdotal observations, and the benefits of these nutrient-packed group of vegetables far outweigh any risk.

Despite the ominous name, ‘nightshade’ might have been coined from the fact that some of the plants in this family grow at night, and some prefer shade. Commonly, they all produce an alkaloid (solanine or tomatine) – which is poisonous to… insects… not humans. Blaming them for inflammation is overkill – except for those people who are allergic or sensitive to solanine. Their antioxidants actually can reduce inflammation!

The inflammation conspiracy against nightshades

The inflammation theories point to the alkaloid compounds in the leaves, roots, and stems of nightshade plants. Alkaloids are natural toxins produced by the plants as a defense against animals, insects, and fungi that might feast on them. Alkaloids actually have medicinal properties, but to the taste are bitter, which makes the plant less palatable to insect predators.

The alkaloids found in nightshades are quite low and not a health concern. Furthermore, millions of these vegetables are eaten every day around the world without incident. We wouldn’t recommend that you start munching on the leaves, stems, and roots of these plants, but the ripened fruit is safe, healthy, and completely digestible. In fact, as fruits and vegetable mature and ripen, the concentration of beneficial antioxidants actually increases!

To put this in perspective, “A large potato weighs about 300g (10.6 ounces) and has a solanine (a type of alkaloid) content of less than 0.2mg/gm That works out to around 0.03mg per kilogram for an adult, a hundredth of the toxic dose;  A murderous wife would have to feed something like 67 large potatoes to her husband in a single meal to poison him. Unless he’s a phenomenally big eater, arsenic would be a better bet.”
(Source: Science Based Medicine.org)

Every body is a unique body

Given that everybody is unique, there is no one solution to address inflammation. Existing food intolerances, autoimmune deficiencies, and allergies will affect inflammation but what affects you may not affect others. But in general, the eating nutrient-dense foods like dark leafy greens, legumes, bright colored fruits, and vegetables, and skipping the white bread, overly-processed “junk” food, and sugar will help your body fight inflammation.

Eggplant is full of fiber, potassium, magnesium Vitamin C and Vitamin B6. The anthocyanins in eggplant may protect heart and brain health.

Most of us can excuse the specific elimination of nightshades as we are not professional athletes or getting slammed by 250-pound linebackers in our daily lives! Overall, eliminating whole food groups from your diet isn’t necessary unless you suffer from specific food intolerances or allergens.

Nightshades are Nutrient Dense

Whether chopped, cooked or processed, tomatoes, eggplant, potatoes, and peppers are nutrient-dense foods that can combat inflammation, decrease cancer and heart-disease risk, support good digestion, and can aid in bone, eye and brain health.

Bell peppers are low in calories and high in vitamin C, (one cup provides 157% of RDA of vitamin C) and supply good amounts of the B vitamins (B2, B3, folate, and pantothenic acid), vitamin E, potassium, phosphorous, vitamin K, manganese, and magnesium. Bell peppers are also rich in phytonutrients.

Tomatoes contain all four major carotenoids: alpha- and beta-carotene, lutein, and lycopene. They are also high in vitamin C. And if you don’t like them raw, chop and cook them in a sauce — which enhances the bioavailability of their nutrients.

EAT YOUR FRUITS AND VEGETABLES!

Alpha and beta carotene, cryptoxanthin, lutein, zeaxanthin, and lycopene are carotenoids responsible for the pigmented orange, yellow red color in fruits and vegetables. These have long been known as powerful antioxidants.

“At the end of the day, despite the vicious rumors, nightshades are brimming over with nutrients and vitamins, which are excellent for your health and for most people, should be welcomed warmly into their plant-based lifestyle.”

– UC Davis, Integrated Medicine

Nix The Toxins!

smog over a city

We know that the term ‘toxic’ is frequently used to describe a substance that is considered to be bad for your health. You have probably been told that a poor diet and lack of exercise can contribute to the build-up of ‘toxins’ in your body. But is it true? And where do these toxins come? Do you know what happens when a toxic substance enters your body? I mean…what is a “toxin” anyway?

Toxins are very complex

By definition, a toxin is a poisonous substance that is biologically produced (i.e., by a plant or animal). This term is often erroneously used to describe all substances that have the potential to be toxic to humans. Manufactured or synthesized chemical compounds (e.g., pesticides, chemicals used in plastics, solvents, and metals) that may be poisonous or toxic to humans are considered toxicants.

When discussing cleansing and detoxification, generally, any substance that does not nourish our cells or aid in the function of our cells to be toxic, i.e. not necessary and therefore a burden to some degree.

– Dr. Ben Kim

Don’t live in fear of toxic substances

Your body is equipped with detoxification systems that eliminate the toxic compounds you ingest. As an informed consumer, you are probably concerned with the toxic substances that may be found in your food or the surrounding environment. These toxicants can be anything from mercury in fish and some preservatives in food to cadmium in cigarette smoke and lead in paint. Because of this, it is unrealistic to think you will never ingest something that is ‘toxic’. However, while it is virtually impossible to be completely free of toxic compounds, you should not live in fear of them. Maintaining a healthy lifestyle that includes exercise, a balanced diet, and moderation when it comes to consumption of alcohol, refined sugars, and heavily processed foods is the best way to support your body’s natural detoxification processes. 

To better understand how substances may be toxic to us, we first need to learn about these chemicals and how they enter our bodies.

Most toxicants enter your body via ingestion, inhalation, or absorption.  Examples of toxicants are pesticides, flame retardants, heavy metals, and chemicals used in common cleaning agents. This also includes chemicals such as acrylamide found in cooked or processed foods and acetone in cosmetics like nail polish removerOne of the primary means for supporting your body’s natural processes to eliminate potentially harmful substances is a healthy digestive system. If you maintain a poor diet over a long period of time, your liver and gut health are compromised and your body cannot properly eliminate them.

Endogenous Toxins are toxins that are produced inside of your body. Some of these toxins are waste products from normal metabolic activities— carbon dioxide, urea, and lactic acid are examples of endogenous toxins that your body actively creates. Unless your health is severely compromised, you are well equipped to eliminate these endogenous toxins from your system” (Dr. Ben Kim).

As far as toxic substances are concerned, the primary issue is their ability to damage your healthy cells. Whether you inhale or ingest pollution, your body’s best defense is to maintain a healthy lifestyle.

How does your body process toxic compounds?

Your liver is the primary detoxifying agent. It is well equipped to eliminate toxicants that are ingested, absorbed, inhaled, or created by your body.

Your body protects itself…

We previously discussed your body’s ability to ‘cleanse’ itself in our article, The Truth Behind Cleansing.  If you are eating well, exercising, sleeping, and avoiding significant toxic substances to the best of your ability, you can trust your body to protect itself. 

The problem occurs when you are exposed to more toxicants than your body is able to eliminate. If you are taking in too much too quickly, your body’s elimination processes may break down. The more toxicants taken in (e.g., the dose you receive), the more likely your elimination systems will become overloaded— resulting in harmful health effects.

Our kidneys and liver are well equipped to handle the detoxification process for potentially harmful toxic substances. That is what they are there for!

Your kidneys primary function is to filter your blood. The organ contains millions of microscopic units called nephrons, which filter your blood to eliminate waste and regulate your body’s fluid and electrolyte balance. The liver, on the other hand, is the primary detoxifying agent. It is responsible for keeping pathogens from entering the bloodstream. It is well-equipped to eliminate toxicants that are ingested, absorbed, or inhaled, or created by your body. So, if you are careful about what cleaning products or pollution you might be exposed to on a daily basis and you maintain a healthy, balanced lifestyle, your body has the tools to eliminate the substances that may be harmful.

Hydrate, Hydrate, Hydrate!

Eat nutritious whole foods, exercise, and hydrate. This will help facilitate healthy blood circulation and the elimination of unneeded substances from the body. If your body is being fed and hydrated properly, your liver and kidneys have the tools to detoxify on their own. In fact, recent studies have shown that the traditional recommendation of ‘8 servings of water per day’ is actually unsubstantiated! Nutritionists are now saying that you should aim to consume roughly half an ounce to one ounce of water per pound.

If you weigh 150lbs you should be drinking between 75-150 ounces of water per day. This recommendation can also vary depending on your weight, size, and exercise regime.

All in all, we need to be realistic. You are never going to be able to completely eliminate exposure to all potentially harmful substances in your daily life. The best way to protect yourself is to be good to your body. Be aware of the cleaning solvents and other chemicals used in your home, skip the cigarettes, and avoid second-hand smoke and heavily polluted areas when possible.

Your body is well-equipped to handle the day-to-day threats of the environment. The danger only comes from overexposure. Hydration and a well-balanced diet help your organs efficiently and effectively eliminate toxicants.

What is Clean Eating?

a piece of kale and small pieces of fruit on a white background

Are you eating “clean”?

There are so many different ways to interpret this new food trend. What originally started as a healthy push to eliminate heavily processed foods (like sugary cereal, white bread, and candy) has now become a program that considers “processed food” as any foods that have been altered from their most natural form.

But, does this vague definition include best farming practices? Safe labor? Harvesting methods? Pesticide application? Treatment of farm animals? We’re not so sure…

Consumers want to feel more connected with their food— and this is a movement D2D certainly supports. However, the idea of “eating clean,” which has been heavily perpetuated by social media, is often very misleading. Media outlets, like Clean Eating Magazine and Fitness Magazine, outline various ways to practice clean eating but this definition varies depending on the consumer.

Sometime in the early 2000s, two distinct but interrelated versions of clean eating became popular in the US – one based on the creed of “real” food, and the other on the idea of “detox”. Once the concept of cleanliness had entered the realm of eating, it was only a matter of time before the basic idea spread contagiously across Instagram, where fans of #eatclean could share their artfully photographed green juices and rainbow salad bowls. The Guardian

The basic definition of “clean eating” means eating no “processed” food. But what does that mean?

After some research, it seems that the most basic definition of eating clean is a diet full of fresh, often organic, whole foods. This means no processing— and, for the record, “processing” can include steaming your veggies or putting fresh ingredients into the blender for a smoothie! In some cases, this eating method can actually be detrimental to the nutritional value of produce. Peas, for example, lose nutrients very quickly when harvested and are often flash frozen to protect the nutritional content. But frozen produce is considered processed, so by keeping clean you are actually getting fewer nutrients! Like peas, tomatoes also contain more nutrients when they are heat-processed, as they release more lysine.

“Processing is not always bad. Often processing removes toxins or bacteria, or allows for us to eat certain types of foods in the off-season due to freezing or canning. Processing can also include altering the consistency or taste of food to make it more appealing.”
Jessica Fanzo, assistant professor of nutrition at Columbia University

And how does the “clean” label apply to labor, animal farming, and best agricultural practices? Currently, there is no accepted standard by which companies are measured and able to deem their food “clean.” This whole clean trend is not as cut and dry as you might think…

Meet The Clean Label Project. This non-profit organization is currently working to add transparency to consumers’ food purchases and reduce the contamination that can occur in consumer products. They want to clarify the misleading labels and bring more awareness to the environmental contaminant issues that can affect your food. And while this initiative could prove to be very beneficial in the future, at the moment they can only advise on pet food. 

“Clean eating” means eating only organically grown foods — but does that translate to healthier?

It comes as no surprise that the organic industry is a fan of the clean eating movement. Similar to the use of the “natural” label, they have motivated the narrative on this term. Keep in mind, there are no set rules or regulations when you eat “natural” or “clean.” You might remember, we recently investigated the natural label in order to clarify that “natural” doesn’t translate to healthier.

Does organic mean “cleaner?”  The organic industry is deeply rooted in the clean eating trend, but as we discussed in the article Conventional or Organic? organic doesn’t always mean fewer or no pesticides have been used to grow the food.

What about the definition of “clean meat?”

What gets a bit trickier, however, is how to incorporate meat. How are you determining the cleanliness of your beef and poultry? Some diets recommend organic, grass-fed meat and poultry. But let’s think about this rationally— does feeding your cow grass really make its meat clean?  

Clean meat means meat that was produced using safe and regulated practices. It means animals that were harvested following the standards set by the USDA or respective governing organization of that country. It means meat that was inspected before entering the grocery store. And it means meat that won’t make you sick! The idea of “clean meat” being held to a different standard than our current global regulations would create a total disruption of our understanding of the food chain. This could lead to increased foodborne illnesses and would negatively affect the safety regulations that are already in place. Why are we trying to blur the food safety lines? It is harmful to our health!

Globally, consumers spend about $1 trillion per year on meat and this can have a pretty significant impact on the environment and our natural resources. Memphis Meats is an innovative food company that wants to find a safer, more ecologically-sound way to harvest meat while preserving farming resources. Meat created in a lab isn’t grass-fed, it isn’t considered organic, but it was harvested using clean and safe practices. In fact, it was cultivated in a petri dish! Memphis Meats actually hopes to cater to non-meat eaters by providing these individuals with a safe way to enjoy meat that does not harm animals.

Memphis Meats’ cell-based chicken and duck

Does “clean eating” incorporate labor regulations?

This idea of eating clean seems to only incorporate the food once it has reached our plate— but there is a fundamental issue with this. If the grass-fed, organic beef on your plate was farmed under harsh or unsafe labor conditions, is it still considered clean?

Good labor practices are a huge component of sustainability efforts. While some “clean-eating” consumers consider clean food to mean food created using safe and regulated labor practices, the majority of people eating clean focus solely on the processing of food.

UTZ chocolate, for example, created a model around sustainability that includes child labor laws, therefore child labor is prohibited on all contributing UTZ farms. Their products are farmed and harvested within regulatory guidelines, their factories are inspected, and their products are made safely — but their chocolate isn’t considered “clean.” Chocolate is made from by processing cacao beans. And as we learned in Crazy for Cocoa, there are nutrients in cacao beans that are available in a serving of dark chocolate. So, while we aren’t telling you to eat tons of candy, if you are buying a more nutrient-dense dark chocolate, shouldn’t we reward the companies employing these safe practices with our business?

The notion of clean eating can be very confusing, and raw ingredients often must be processed slightly to create a viable and safe product. Processed foods are not always the enemy, in fact, they often keep you from getting sick. The D2D team certainly supports a diet rich in fresh produce and lean meats, but the idea that your diet can be deemed “clean” is very misleading.

The Ketogenic Diet: Fueling the Body with Fat

keto diet ingredients

If you are an avid D2D reader, you know by now that our team is not a fan of crash diets, extreme weight loss programs, or the elimination of whole food groups. But, when a reader approached us with his success on the ketogenic program, we took pause. Like D2D, a ketogenic diet values the importance of healthy fat! (You may recall: Fat is our Friend). And since the ketogenic diet is less about crash dieting and more about achieving the state of ketosis, we were intrigued…

The ketogenic diet was first introduced in the 1920s to help treat epilepsy in children after several studies indicated that the ketone chemical could help to reduce seizures. However, it wasn’t until much later that it was developed into a weight loss program for adults. In 2012, Dr. Gianfranco Cappello, an associate professor of surgery at the Sapienza University in Rome, Italy, researched the effect ketosis could have on weight loss. He found that ketosis could help overweight patients with both fast and significant weight loss (with very few side effects) when they were given a healthy, full-fat diet. His research, which included 19,000 participants, was particularly effective in very overweight or obese patients and demonstrated successful one-year weight management in ‘long term’ participants.

So, we wondered if a ketogenic diet is healthy for those just trying to maintain a well-balanced lifestyle? And is there any research that supports following this program over a long period of time?

“Being in a state of ketosis forces a physiological shift from a sugar-based metabolism to a fatty acid and ketone-based metabolism. Nutritional ketosis suppresses insulin and forces a ‘fat adaptive state.’” (Keto Clarity)

Ketosis: using fat for energy

This diet program focuses on what fuel source the body uses for energy. The true purpose of the ketogenic diet is to enter a state called ketosis. Ketosis occurs when your body has successfully switched from using glucose for energy to using fat for energy. It takes at least three days to enter into ketosis. When you have entered ketosis and your body is burning your fat for fuel, ketone bodies, “ketones,” are created and used for energy. A ketone is a chemical that is inevitably turned into energy by the mitochondria in your cells.

There are three different types of ketone bodies, acetoacetate, beta-hydroxybutyric acid, and acetone. They vary in structure and can perform different roles within your body. Acetoacetate and beta-hydroxybutyrate, for example, take the energy from your liver and transport it to different organs in your body. Acetone is the least used ketone and will be eliminated quickly if it is not used. If you are practicing a ketogenic diet, you can test your urine to see if ketone bodies are being released. This is called “ketonuria.”
(Image source: Perfect Keto

Entering a state of ketosis has been studied for its ability to possibly improve both mental and physical performance. In addition to the reduction of seizures, the ketogenic diet has also been associated with restful sleep, stabilized blood sugar levels, decreased inflammation, and increased HDL (“good”) cholesterol— however, many of these claims remain unproven.

Your body is programmed to use glucose for energy

ATP (adenosine triphosphate) is a high-energy molecule that is considered the “energy currency of life.” This energy molecule is created by glucose, fats, and proteins. Through evolution, your body is programmed to fuel itself on glucose. The benefits of glucose are twofold: it doesn’t require digestion and it yields 45-50% more energy than a ketone body.

Fat, on the other hand, takes energy to digest and does not produce as much energy for your body to use. So why switch? The purpose of this is, of course, to burn up fat stores.

In ketosis, fat is being burned for energy— but your brain cannot fuel itself on fat directly. So, the liver processes the fat and creates ketone bodies which are able to fuel your brain when glucose is not available. The rest of your body, like your muscles, can utilize the full fat for fuel.
(Source: Diet Doctor)

When the glucose from your diet is metabolized in the cell, it releases ATP that provides energy to the body. If you are consuming more glucose than is needed for energy, the excess glucose is stored in the liver as glycogen. When energy is needed glycogen is used first as a glucose source. However, for longer energy supply needs (especially in the brain) if the glycogen stored in your liver is depleted your body starts to convert fat to energy, which that can result in weight loss. This is the premise of the ketogenic diet.

Low-Carbohydrate, Moderate Protein, High Fat

At its core, the ketogenic diet pushes your body to switch from burning glucose as its primary energy source to burning fat. This is done by strictly limiting the amount of carbohydrates, sugar, and even protein you are allowed to eat during the day.

If you are thinking that this sounds similar to the Atkins Diet or High Fat Low Carb (HFLC) diet— you are correct! The keto approach is similar to these more mainstream programs; however, the ketogenic diet goes even further by limiting protein intake as well.

As a rule of thumb, a proper ketogenic diet should contain roughly 70% healthy fats, 20% protein, and 10% carbs. There is no strict limitation on the number of calories you can consume per day on this program. However, based on this percentage breakdown, most ketosis followers will actually consume less than on a traditional diet because of the satiety they experience when consuming higher volumes of fat. Unlike carbohydrates, fat takes longer for your body to digest and will keep you feeling full.

The ketogenic diet: 70% healthy fats, 20% protein, and 10% carbs

According to the ketogenic method, reducing protein intake (in addition to restricting carbohydrates and sugar) further forces your body into a state of starvation and enables it to utilize fat as fuel. The human body considers its fat stores to be a “last resort” in terms of fuel— glucose is its preferred fuel, with protein falling in second place. Because of this, if you are consuming normal levels of protein, it will use the protein as fuel as opposed to your fat stores. A Keto-approved meal indicates that roughly 3-6 ounces of meat per meal is acceptable.

On the Ketogenic Diet, your protein serving size should be the size on your old iPhone!

Carbohydrates, on the other hand, should barely touch your plate! On average, ketogenic dieters consume between 20-50 grams of carbohydrates per day. The maximum amount of carbohydrates allowed per day on this program is 100 grams, however, most followers have reported that they reach optimum ketosis when they maintain their carbs in the 20-50g range.

Blood Sugar = 100

Innately, your body is programmed to have a blood sugar level of 100. When you hear of a drastically dropping or spiking blood sugar level, that means it is varying from the baseline of 100. To put this into perspective, a normal blood sugar level of 100 is equal to 2 teaspoons (or 8 grams) of sugar in your blood! In order to stabilize your blood sugar levels, your body secretes insulin.

Insulin is a hormone that acts as a key for your cell. It attaches to the cell wall and allows glucose to enter in order to provide energy. Insulin works to lower your blood sugar levels by converting sugar to fat.

Regulating your insulin levels is one of the key components to the ketogenic diet as you are effectively eliminating sugar, including naturally occurring sugar from fruit. By preventing major spikes in your blood sugar levels, ketosis helps to stabilize your appetite and your body cravings. Low insulin levels can also help with weight management.

Be warned, however, when you enter into a ketogenic program, you might experience the “ketogenic flu.” Due to the absence of carbohydrates and sugar in your diet, your body goes into a state of shock. In the beginning, the lack of glucose will make you feel sick, sluggish, and dizzy. Not to mention you are also losing a lot of water very quickly because every gram of glycogen (aka the storage of excess glucose) contains 2.7 grams of water! In order to fight these symptoms, you must be diligent about drinking water and replenishing electrolytes!

Ketogenics is redefining the food pyramid and telling you to embrace the fat!

The Research

While there are promising studies on ketosis and your body’s use of ketones, the body of research that exists today is inconclusive. Unfortunately, there is a lack of depth in the research that makes many positive claims for the benefits of ketosis. As we discussed in When is Science Truly Sciencein order for a scientific study to be credible it must meet a host of qualifications. For example: Has it been peer-reviewed?Has it been replicated? Was it performed by scientists who are unbiased?

And while some of the important criteria may have been met, there has not been enough replicated research to make any claims definitively. Additionally, this program and its research are in its infancy as it was only first introduced as a weight loss program in 2012.

One particularly noteworthy growing body of research is the link between cancer and a state of ketosis.

There are a few dynamic areas, however, that require further exploration. One particularly noteworthy growing body of research is the link between cancer and a state of ketosis. Science has proven that cancer cells hate fat and love sugar.

When a cancer cell needs to feed itself it turns directly to glucose. So, by effectively eliminating the sources of glucose in your diet, the cancer cell would starve. Is that to say that keeping a ketogenic diet will make you cancer-immune— no! But, there is a need for more research in this space.

Additionally, there have been a few stand-alone studies that discuss the ability for ketones to demonstrate disease-fighting abilities, specifically neurologically. For these reasons, the ketogenic diet has also been positively linked to reducing some of the symptoms of Parkinson’s and Alzheimer’s diseases. And while maintaining a state of ketosis is by no means a cure for neurological diseases, it is an exciting avenue to be explored.

It is also important to note that organizations like the Mayo Clinic, the American Heart Association, and the American Medical Association believe that a state of ketosis is considered “abnormal” because you are essentially forcing your body into starvation mode in order to utilize stored fat. This side of the argument believes that your body was designed to use glucose as fuel and starving yourself to the point where you are forced to use “last ditch” energy reserves is unnatural and may put excess stress on your body.

The ketogenic diet can be very harmful to people with diabetes. Unlike people without diabetes—who have insulin to help prevent the build-up of ketone bodies in your blood— diabetics are at risk for ketone build up which can result in ketoacidosis.

Happy Ketos!

After reading a significant amount of literature on the subject, one thing is clear: a ketogenic diet is not for the faint of heart. 20-50 grams of carbs a day is next to impossible. For reference: there are 20 grams of carbs in an apple! Remember, carbs are not just in foods like rice, pizza, and pasta, they are in vegetables and fruits as well!  A D2D member even tried going “low carb high fat” for her wedding, keeping it to 90 grams of carbs a day and voiced how incredibly challenging it was.

 

So, we had to speak with keto followers that transitioned into this eating program and were happy about it. The recounts were astonishing. Almost unanimously, we were told “once you change your mindset about carbohydrates you will feel great.” However, we also learned that the ketogenic diet also calls for moderate exercise. If you increase your heart rate too much, your body will require more food and it will be harder to maintain a state of ketosis.

We then turned to personal trainer and ketogenic follower Chris Clarke of Tiger Fit. He indicated that he follows “keto cycling” where he incorporates carbohydrates on the days he is doing high-intensity training. Therefore, if you are intrigued by the nature of this program and you are highly active, there are ways to build ketogenics into your life.

However, ketogenics still controversial with supporters and opponents in part because its long term implications haven’t been studied. So, if you do decide to go on such a strict regime, it is best to consult with your doctor first to make sure it is the right choice for you given your weight, your genetics, and your lifestyle.

Let’s Byte into Ag

computer programming language on a computer screen

In today’s global agricultural system, we are collecting, sorting, analyzing, and acting on data. Data mining is now integral in the universal effort to improve the quantity, quality, and sustainability of our food supply—now and into the future.

Feeding the world while protecting the environment is a science— a data-driven science. Data allows us to find practical solutions that deliver better results across every segment of the food chain.  While the role of data and intelligent data management may seem to be invisible to most of us, it is essential to assuring that today’s consumers—and future generations—don’t just eat, but thrive.

Intelligent, innovative data management is already a critical core competency in feeding animals and people with wholesome, safe, and affordable food. 

Statistics on the amount of data being created every day is mind-boggling

Many data science experts support the notion that we risk “drowning in data,” when what we really want to do is “swim in knowledge.”  Data scientist Abdelbarre Chafik highlights that every day, more than 2.5 quintillion bytes of data are created. (That is 2,500,000,000,000,000,000 bytes!)

AppDeveloper magazine recently stated,

More data was created in the last two years than the previous 5,000 years of humanity. In 2017, we will create even more data in one year alone, creating more challenges around consuming that data to make strategic and tactical decisions. Yet, recent research has found that less than 0.5 percent of that data is actually being analyzed for operational decision making.

Bits and Bytes and the Agricultural Sector

What has changed, however, is the sheer volume and variety of data that is now available to the agricultural sector through the emergence of new information technology. In order to use data effectively, we need to be collecting with purpose.

The value of an idea lies in the using of it.
—Thomas Edison

Collecting data is to drive better decision-making at every step along the food chain.  What’s more— this emerging focus on data management is rapidly becoming a core competency for all members of the food system.  Data holds the potential to make every segment of the food chain work better.

Because this is a new and rapidly growing market, many companies are trying to find their niche. It will be very interesting to see how this market place develops and which agriculture and data companies are able to work together in order to find the best solutions.

There are many companies competing in the agricultural data space. Source: AGC Partners

Data isn’t new to agriculture

Farm data has been collected for centuries— first as hieroglyphics etched in stone, followed by hand-written entries in dusty ledgers. Data is stored everywhere: in grain elevators, on commodity exchanges, in the basement of barns, on the rolling handwritten inventories of food stores, and countless other places along the food chain.

Farmers used basic facts and figures about input costs, pest controls, machinery expenses, yields, market bids, etc. to help themselves better produce their crop in future seasons. Commodity merchants tracked market trends, historic demand, crop estimates, stocks and other factors important to buying and selling farm products at a profit. Food manufacturers took careful note of stocks, purchase needs, ingredient prices, market demand and more. Food consumers also had a role to play in data management, even if only to stay within their household budget.

Today, the difference is that all of this information from the farmers, merchants, distributors, food processors, and the grocery store can be loaded into algorithms to provide consolidated information from farmer to consumer.

But, at every step along the way— all the players have different objectives. The farmers want to grow their crops with the best yield and the least inputs (pesticides, herbicides, and water). The commodity traders want to buy low and sell high. The food processor wants to buy food from the farmer and efficiently process it into a different product (for example soybeans into soybean oil.) And the consumer wants affordable, healthy, and safe food that is accessible daily.

Let’s imagine a few things can be done by harvesting this volume of data

As a consumer:

  • Scan the label on your produce or fruit to learn about the farmer who grew your food.
  • Scan the label on your meat packaging and know exactly what the cow was fed throughout its life.
  • Supermarkets can manage their end of life products and notify consumers and food banks who could use them.
  • Restaurants can use Food Genius to gather the popularity of over 22 million menu items to see what sells to which type of consumer – and then tailor their own menu.

As a farmer:

  • Know the exact locations on the fields that have heavy water, normal, or drought conditions and manage pesticide applications.
  • Know the approximate yield, around the globe, of their crop so they can decide whether to sell their crop at harvest or store it on site until prices are more favorable.
  • Know the exact moment to plant their crops through weather and soil analytics.
  • Program the driver-less tractor to manage the fields.
  • Purchase the right seed each year for today’s climate and soil.
  • Use big data to provide crop insurance for farmers regarding crop yields and weather patterns.

As the food producer:

  • Be able to instantly track all the ingredients and their prices that come from around the world.
  • Have instant access to sales at the grocery store so inventory can be managed accordingly.
  • Know about every animal that is purchased for your farm and have access to what it was fed pre-purchase.
  • Streamline transportation logistics in order to get optimal pricing to send product via rail, ship, or truck.
  • Increase understanding of all food inputs to effectively manage margins.

How can we use data to improve food sustainability?

As we discussed in Farming from the Thermosphere, technology is becoming increasingly important in farming practices. Data becomes knowledge, knowledge becomes insight, and insight should inevitably become action.

But of all the data that is captured, it is important to discern what kinds of data are important to agriculture. While the internet and subsequently the Internet of Things (IoT) has allowed for better data collection, there is room for improvement. Here are some areas within the food supply chain that will benefit from improved data collection and management:

One of the most important questions to be resolved in a brave new data-driven world is— what we do with the data once we have it?

Many companies are trying to answer this question. In fact, 2016 Global Opportunity Report cited “smart farming” as the top-ranked opportunity.

The idea that agriculture is now a tech industry is firmly established. The farming community knows they have to embrace this. —Roger Royse (Silicon Valley attorney)

Farmers Edge specializes in precision agronomy and helps enable farmers to better monitor their fields and collect effective data. IBM’s artificial intelligence product, Watson (IoT), is attempting to transform precision agriculture by utilizing predictive weather analytics to help farmers. The platform also offers real-time plant and field monitoring. Bayer Digital Farming uses Amazon Web Service to help feed a growing population. In 2014, John Deere introduced SeedStar a mobile application that gives farmers a row-by-row assessment of their field and its performance. Moreover, John Deere recently (Sept 2017) acquired See and Spray Robotics, which sees, diagnoses, and executes on something as small as seedlings. Monsanto bought The Climate Corporation, which uses big data to predict weather and climate change. Cargill invested in Descartes Labs, which uses satellite imagery to help with crop forecasting. U.S. Foods bought Food Genius— and the list goes on…

Source: IBM

As technology enables the creation of larger amounts of data, determining which data is relevant, complete, and honest grows more difficult. Unfortunately, it is easy to twist data to support a pre-conceived idea, and data alone is often fuel for argument and debate.

In an age in which consensus about important issues (such as climate change, water use, and topsoil depletion) has become bogged down in rhetoric, claims, and counterclaims, objective data management enables informed decision-making. More and more effort is being devoted to sorting through competing data analysis methods and conclusions. But finding critical data— and true insights within reams of legitimate data — remains very much a work in progress.

Agave: Too Good to be True

creative image of agave plant

We can’t sugarcoat it— consuming excess sugar is simply not good for you! The average American eats between 80-110 grams of added sugar a day. To put that into perspective, the recommended daily amount is 24 grams of sugar for women and 38 grams of sugar for men per day.

Mintel has reported that 84% of adults have decided to limit their sugar intake. At D2D, we applaud this effort and recognize that it is no small feat! In response to the movement away from traditional sugar, many sugar tricks have made their way onto the health food market. But (for the most part) sugar is sugar is sugar— and almost all variations have the same effect on your body….

Enter: Agave

Pictured above: Agave americana. (Source: Plant Rescue)

Grown in Mexico and the U.S. Southwest, the agave plant resembles a cactus but is actually a member of the asparagus family. There are many different cultivars, and the syrup is produced from only a few of these. When in flower, the agave plant can reach a height of 25ft!

Marketing claims and excellent branding have made it easy to believe that agave used as a sugar source is “better for you.” In fact, according to Mintel Market Research, consumers rank Agave the fourth healthiest in the long list of sweeteners.

The use of this “naturally occurring sweetener” has grown exponentially in recent years. More specifically, from June 2012-2013 33% of all food and drink product launches contained agave.

Agave nectar producers claim that this syrup is healthier because it provides fewer calories per serving and has a low glycemic index, which means it won’t raise your blood sugar levels as much as other sugar and sweeteners.

However, there are some issues with these claims. The agave syrup that is sold commercially is highly processed in order for it to have a longer shelf life. While it is true that the fructans in naturally occurring agave nectar are a healthy source of sugar, when these fructans are processed (at high heat) they are turned into fructose and the healthy qualities of this nectar are eliminated.


Video: Authority Nutrition

Love Tequila? Look for 100% agave on the label!
Tequila is made by extracting and fermenting the juice from the core of the agave plant, which is high in sugar. Unlike agave syrup, which is processed, tequila is a live food and the natural sugars present in the plant are used as fuel during the fermentation process. That is not to say all tequila is sugar free! U.S. regulations allow tequila companies to add sugar to their final product, whereas Mexican tequila distributors are prevented from making tequila with anything other than the blue weber agave plant. When purchasing tequila, look for 100% agave on the label!

Let’s have a quick recap on fructose & glucose

In our previous post on sugar, we discussed the importance of fructose and glucose. Table sugar is composed of a combination of both glucose and fructose.

Glucose will give your body an energy boost. Unlike fructose, glucose is very important. It fuels your brain and muscles and helps convert food into nutrients. Fructose, on the other hand, truly serves no purpose in your body. It cannot be used as energy and can only be processed by your liver. Once it reaches your liver, it is converted into fat and sent to your body’s fat cells to be burned, or eliminated.

Fructose build up in your liver is toxic and can have the same affect on your liver as excess alcohol build up!

Most sugars have a fairly equal ratio of glucose to fructose. Table sugar, for example, is 50% glucose and 50% fructose, a 1:1 ratio. This can vary roughly 5% depending on the sugar source— however, it is safe to say that almost all sugar products will be processed by your body relatively the same.

Agave is a 2:1 ratio of fructose to glucose.

Even high fructose corn syrup contains less fructose than agave! Like most sugars, HFCS has a 1:1 ratio of fructose to glucose. HFCS is roughly 55% fructose.  Agave syrup can contain between 70-97% fructose. It is because of this increased fructose amount that agave is technically lower on the glycemic index than other traditional sugars. But that means at least 70% of the agave you are consuming is going straight to your liver!

“In theory, it’s high in fructose and low on the glycemic index, making it a better option than refined sugar. But there’s not a lot of research to back that up, and one of the studies was done in lab animals, not people. The American Diabetes Association lists agave as a sweetener to limit, along with regular table sugar, brown sugar, honey, maple syrup, and all other sugars.” (Web MD

Additionally, unlike what many agave health claims report, agave typically has more calories per serving than other sweetening products. For example, 1 tablespoon of white sugar has 48 calories, whereas a tablespoon of agave contains roughly 60 calories. Agave producers claim that because the syrup is so sweet, consumers will inevitably use less than traditional sweeteners and save calories that way.

Kefir, Kombucha, and Sauerkraut…Oh My!

three bottles of kefir with red straws

“Hey D2D, I am a Kefir drinker but just read your article on Kombucha and was wondering if I should switch to this probiotic source? Which one is better for me? “

More than just giving a simple recommendation based on these two products, this question opened a new door for us. How can we help our readers make smart food purchases?

Incorporating diverse, nutrient-dense foods is the best way to keep your digestive system healthy. But, foods containing probiotics might not find their way into your diet naturally.

“When you look at populations that eat real food that’s high in fiber, and more plant-based foods, you’re going to see they have a more robust microbiota, with more genetic diversity, healthier species and fewer pathogenic bacteria living in the gut.” —Meghan Jardine (Registered Dietitian)

Probiotics are not just limited to Kefir or Kombucha— although the companies that make these products do a great job at marketing themselves as the best option to maintain a healthy gut. In reality, there is a laundry list of products and foods that contain probiotics, some of which are sauerkraut, yogurt, miso soup, and vinegar. But how often are you reaching for the sauerkraut when there isn’t a hot dog attached? If the answer is “not very,” then clearly that isn’t the right probiotic for you!

We know that you want to incorporate a probiotic into your diet and we know where you can get them—but, is there a food/product that is the “best” for you? The answer is simple…No! D2D (and the microbiota industry) cannot recommend which probiotic source your body will respond best to. But, we can give you a few tips and tricks when selecting probiotic supplements for your diet.

So many choices!  The labels we see every day can be overly complicated. 

While probiotic foods can be quite different, there should be a probiotic-rich food or supplement that is right for you…you might just have to experiment a bit. And there may not be one solution!

We have talked a lot about the importance of good bacteria. If you happen to have read an earlier post on the microbiota in your gut, you know that your gut is actually your second brain! New research shows that your gut health may have the ability to influence your mood, energy levels, immune system, sleep, weight, and even your mental clarity. It is even being said that your gut bacteria are responsible for 70% of your immune health.

The biggest challenge with promoting gut health is emphasizing how unique every single individuals’ microbiome is! Thus, its hard to give supplement recommendations because what might work for you might not help another.

So, back to Kefir vs. Kombucha— there are a few advantages and disadvantages that you should be aware of.

Kefir is typically made from a fermented milk base and for that reason, it is a strong source of calcium. It also contains vitamin B12, magnesium, folate, enzymes, and (of course) probiotics! Kefir products, like Lifeway, can contain over 15 billion viable bacteria cells per cup! You can also buy water based Kefir products, like Kevita, however, these beverages contain roughly 4 billion colony forming units.

One thing you definitely want to be aware of when buying Kefir and other similar probiotic foods is sugar! Excess sugar consumption is believed to cause inflammation and inflammation has been associated with a whole host of health issues. Unfortunately, the average American consumes 3x more sugar than is recommended on any given day. (The FDA recommendation for sugar is 24 grams a day for women and 36 grams per day for men).

Sugar is often used to feed the live bacteria cultures that are present in probiotic supplements. And while most of this is utilized by the bacteria and not ingested by the consumer, some products can sneak extra sugar into their foods to make them tastier. Kefir, for example, typically contains about 12 grams of sugar per serving. If you are a woman, that is half your daily amount. Similarly, yogurt is another probiotic source that has a higher sugar content.

If your stomach feels great, and you are mindful of your remaining sugar intake, then Kefir might be the right probiotic for you. But, if the roughly 12 grams of sugar that is coming from Kefir is not accounted for in your diet— then you might want to look elsewhere. Kevita and Kombucha, on the other hand, usually contain roughly 3-5 grams of sugar per serving.

Recommended Articles: 

New York Times: A Gut Makeover for the New Year

Cell Host & Microbe Study: Prior Dietart Practices and Connections to a Human Gut Microbial Metacommunity Alter Responses to Diet Interventions

WebMD: Leaky Gut Syndrome

WebMD: What Are Probiotics?

Harvard Health Publications: The Benefits of Probiotics Bacteria 

Water, Water…Everywhere?

Irrigation equipment on farm field

Our water supply is stressed!

Water is essential to all living things. Humans, animals, and crops rely on a steady water supply in order to survive. But, with a growing population and a finite water supply on earth, we are finding ourselves in a bit of trouble! While about 80% of the Earth’s surface is covered with water, it is the fresh water supply that we are most concerned about. Freshwater assumes only 2.5% of all water on Earth – and 90% of this fresh water is located in Antarctica. To put that into perspective, if you were to take all the world’s water and fit it into a one-gallon jug – fresh water would only account for roughly one tablespoon.

Based on current projections, our population is expected to grow .89% per year through 2050. At this rate, that is approximately 66 million more mouths to feed each year! Thus, our farmers are expected to not only produce more food but to use less water throughout the growing process. So, as shifting rainfall patterns, frequent droughts, and population growth put added stress on our water supply, farmers are looking to technology for new ways to reduce, manage, and reuse fresh water.

Water on Earth is a closed system.

There is the same amount of water on our Earth today as there was two billion years ago, but it may be in a different form. Water on earth is recycled daily through evaporation, condensation (clouds), precipitation (rain, snow, or hail), filtration down through the earth, and surface run-off. Consider this: When you drink a glass of water you could be drinking the same H20 molecule that your Grandmother met when she got caught in the rain 50 years ago! That same H20 molecule may have also met the dinosaurs 200 million years ago or, more recently, George Washington in 1789!

Farming requires a lot of water

Growing crops and raising animals requires a lot of water. Worldwide farming activities account for approximately 70% of freshwater withdrawals. Farming in the mid-west, for example, requires millions of gallons of water to keep crops and livestock healthy and happy. These farms utilize rainwater as well as underground aquifers. After this water gets used on the farm, it can take a lifetime to make its way back into an aquifer. In addition to recharging groundwater, water can also run off into streams and/or rivers and end up in the ocean. It may also be evaporated! Water is rarely used in the same way more than once.

The areal and vertical location of the major aquifers is fundamental to the determination of groundwater availability for the Nation. An aquifer is a geologic formation, a group of formations, or a part of a formation that contains sufficient saturated permeable material to yield significant quantities of water to wells and springs. Source: USGS Aquifer Map

Farmers want to conserve water

Technology experts have been working for decades to create innovative technology to help farms save water. Most farmers are very motivated to use water efficiently, and many rely on water-saving techniques in their conservation efforts. (Additionally, as we discussed in our previous post, they must also address soil health to ensure optimal water and nutrient retention.)

There are various ways that technology can be used to conserve water – let’s explore some of the available approaches…

  1. The biotech approach begins with engineering seeds and crops that can grow with less water and have drought resistant properties.
  2. The computer-related approach includes aerial imaging, sensor networks, data analytics, and social networking. These systems are helping farmers optimize their water inputs, create smarter irrigation systems, and communicate with each other on water-saving techniques.
  3. Advancements in filtration and membrane technologies have made it more cost-effective for farmers to conserve water.
  4. Absorbent soil additives can increase the amount of water the soil can retain and release throughout the growing season.

Seeds of solution

If you are an environmentalist, then drought-resistant genetically modified organisms (GMOs) are the answer to your water concerns. Seed producers are using biotechnology to create seeds that can grow a water-efficient, drought-resistant crop. Breakthroughs in seed technology can help farmers around the world growing in different climates optimize water use.

Digital tools

One of the primary water-related issues farmers face is: where to put the water— as some parts of their field often need it more than others.

Drones help farmers perfect irrigation techniques.  Image source

Thanks to computer-related technologies (aerial imaging, sensor networks, data analytics, and social networking), farmers can now determine where the drier part of their field is located. The goal of agricultural aerial imaging, sensor networks, and digital tools (such as data analytics) is to perfect irrigation techniques.

When the sensors detect low soil moisture in a specific area or crop, the control network will turn on the computer-automated irrigation system and turn it off when an optimal amount of water is delivered to that zone.

A single field can differ in slope, land elevation, exposure to the sun, and/or contain various soil types (i.e., mineral and clay content, sandiness, etc.), all of which affect the amount of water needed to grow crops. The development of these computer-related technologies is to allow farmers to more precisely deliver water to meet crop needs on a real-time basis.

In a previous article, D2D described how the use of aerial imaging captured by drones, satellites, and aircraft has been “taking off” in the farming industry.

Large farms today can synthesis data from the fields, the animals, the machines and the barns to run more efficiently.

Normally, growers manually evaluate their soil moisture, crop health, and potential yields on foot or by tractor, but aircraft or drones can quickly fly over their field or satellites can produce a bird’s eye view of the field generating more accurate data often at an accelerated pace. The data produced by the satellite or aircraft imagery can be directly downloaded to a farmer’s smartphone or tablet allowing the farmer to adjust their field management accordingly.

There are many drone companies offering imaging services. Searching the internet for aerial crop imaging companies brings up dozens of entries. However, many of these companies provide only images without any analytics or “actionable intelligence” to make sense of what is shown. DroneDeploy and Agribotix are two startups that offer both imaging services and analytic software platforms where farmers can analyze images taken from their personal drones. Another imaging-as-a-Service company, CeresImaging, captures high-resolution images at specific wavelengths by flying close to the ground. Using various image processing techniques, they generate highly accurate data on every plant in the field then use biological and mathematical modeling to correlate this data to the plant’s physical properties.

Sensing the Earth

Similar to aerial imaging, wireless sensor networks create a smarter irrigation system that allows farmers to customize irrigation to a field’s unique needs. The sensors are placed around a field and continually report various soil measurements, including moisture levels, directly to a computer, tablet, or cell phone. The farmer can then take that information and act on it. More advanced sensor systems have control networks installed in a field’s irrigation system.

CropX, a company with offices in Tel Aviv and San Francisco uses publicly available data to generate algorithms for a particular piece of land. After formulating the algorithm, they use data from sensors strategically located within a field to generate detailed information about how much water is needed as well as where and when it is needed. Raptormaps is another company that combines sensor technology with analytics to provide farmers with information to optimize crop inputs and to make decisions based on field and crop conditions.

Additionally, pressure and acoustic sensors wirelessly connected to a cloud-based monitoring system can be attached to a field’s irrigation pipes and groundwater sources. Using sound waves, the sensors can detect and pinpoint leaks in irrigation pipes below the ground, as well as accurately measure a farmer’s groundwater storage. Ag data analytics use the massive amount of information from imaging and/or sensor networks to assess and predict field conditions.

Farmers utilize social media to communicate with one another

Computer use and access to the internet have not only given farmers tools to more precisely irrigate their crops but have also provided a forum to communicate with other farmers about farming issues such as water-conversation. Social networking and mass text messaging have been successfully used in other industries for communication but is now also starting to be used more widely in agriculture.

Studies show that farmers rely on their social network as a primary information source. Farmer-specific social networking platforms are attempting to leverage this natural tendency by encouraging farmers to share their questions and knowledge with others in the industry on issues including water use, irrigation tools, and weather information.

Water re-use and membrane filtration

This approach shifts from water management and conservation techniques to water reuse. Water purification and desalination (a process that removes salt and minerals from water) has been around for decades and is used in mostly arid countries around the world. Israel is a major proponent of water reuse — reusing about 80% of its municipal wastewater for irrigation. Israel not only reuses grey water from sinks and showers but also uses black water – better known as sewage. Following the Israelis lead in water reuse is Spain at 17%, followed by Australia at 10% and the U.S. at less than 1%.

In addition to water reuse, desalination provides another major water source for Israel. Breakthroughs in membrane technology have lowered the cost of desalination technology significantly.

The World Bank reported advances in membrane filtration have lowered the cost from $1 per cubic meter to 50 cents per cubic meter in less than five years, making seawater desalination considerably more affordable water source option.

Graphene membranes can be used for water filtration, gas separation and desalination projects.

There are a few startup companies working on membrane technology. Most startups or academics that develop promising technologies typically sell it to large companies such as LG ChemAquaTechKoch Membrane Systems, Inc.Evoqua Water TechnologiesMarlo, Incorporated, and The Dow Chemical Company are already heavily invested in the water utility markets.

The most popular membrane technology is reverse osmosis – a process that uses a semipermeable membrane to remove ions, molecules, and larger particles (salts) from drinking water. Historically, the reverse osmosis process used a lot of energy, but newer membrane technologies (e.g., nanomaterials and graphene-oxide membranes) and solar powered electrodialysis are able to filter seawater using significantly less energy (although some of these technologies have obstacles to overcome before becoming commercially available).

Soil sponges

One of the most unconventional, exciting and innovative approaches is to add a biodegradable sponge in the soil. These super absorbent polymers that farmers can put in their soil ahead of planting are slowly gaining popularity.

The size of a grain of sand, a polymer particle can soak up to 250 times its weight in water. Absorbing the excess water left behind from crop irrigation, the polymer then slowly releases the water back into the soil as it dries out. Developed at Stanford University, one such polymer is said to help farmers reduce water use by 20 percent and cut water bills by 15 percent. Environmentally, the polymer lasts about a year before it starts to break down without leaving any by-products behind.

Soil: It is much more than Dirt

soil and crops

Many of us don’t give it a second look, but without soil (note: we won’t call it dirt) life on Earth simply would not exist! 95% of our food is directly or indirectly dependent on soil. You wouldn’t be eating very well without it! The soil is an essential ingredient to healthy food and nutrition and is responsible for the ripe fruit you eat at breakfast, the crisp lettuce used in your salad for lunch, and the chicken you prepare for dinner. Thank you, soil!

Soil also supports the foundation for our homes, it helps grow the fibers that make up our clothes, provides the fossil fuels that keep our engines running, acts as a purifier for our water and air and helps control both erosion and flooding. Soil provides habitat for essential organisms and has a big impact on climate stability. (Read more about this in our post, Out of the Air and Into the Soil).


Soils deliver ecosystem services that enable life on earth (FAO)

Soil health is a paramount concern around the world

According to the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO): 33% of the world’s soil is moderate to highly degraded due to erosion, drought, loss of soil organic carbon, loss of biodiversity, destruction of ecosystems, habitat destruction, and pollution.

The World Wildlife Fund estimates that half of the topsoil on Earth has been lost over the past 150 years.

This is a huge problem! Soil is a finite resource, which means its loss and degradation is not recoverable within the average human lifespan. This is critically important because it threatens our ability to provide food for a growing population and jeopardizes the quality of our environment.

Global status of human degradation of soils. FAO

The Dust Bowl in the 1930s.  Severe drought and wind whipped up the topsoil in the Great Plains, which had been heavily tilled for the previous decade. Image source

The good news is that there is a worldwide effort amongst government agenciesNGOs, and food and agricultural companies to provide education, research, and funding to farmers, ranchers, and landowners to help improve, manage, and sustain healthy soils.

For too long, we have cared too much about what the soil can do for us, and each year it grows a little more tired, depleted, susceptible to pests, disease and water shortages, and we are all responsible. “It is up to us, farmers, ranchers, soil scientists, legislator, and consumers, to invest in our soil once again.
Soil Health Institute

What is healthy soil?

Do you grow your own veggies? If yes, you know that they grow better and have fewer pests and diseases if they are grown in a soil that is rich in organic matter. Adding composted kitchen scraps, well-rotted manure or bags of purchased compost to the soil supports the beneficial biota living in the soil.


Examing soil: The presence of earthworms is a good sign of soil health!

These billions of beneficial organisms–bacteria, algae, fungi, protozoa, nematodes, earthworms, and beetles — feed, digest and decompose the organic matter and in turn improve soil tilth, texture, aeration, drainage, and nutritional content.

The soil food web is composed of billions of organisms that decompose organic materials, cycle nutrients, and improve soil structure. (USDA NRCS)

A single gram of healthy soil contains millions of organisms, most of which we cannot see with the naked eye or have even discovered. (Photo: FAO) Test your knowledge of soil!  Click on the image.

“Making” healthy soil…

By increasing the organic matter in your soil, you can improve its long-term health and performance. Similar to how you can drink and eat pre and probiotics improve your gut health, farmers incorporate organic matter such as crop residues, animal manure, compost, cover crops, and perennial grasses, and legumes to feed the microbial community in the soil. These practices are the basic principles that underpin conservation agriculture.

Researchers agree that soil health improves through diversified crop rotations, minimal soil disturbance (no-till and reduced tillage), and the use of cover crops. These practices are the basic principles that underpin conservation agriculture. As a result, farmers are sequestering more carbon, increasing water infiltration, improving wildlife and pollinator habitat—all while harvesting better profits and often better yields.

Crazy for Kombucha

kombucha on a grocery shelf

Referred to as the “elixir of life”, Kombucha is one of the most desired beverages on the health-food market right now. “Brewers” of this tea tonic boast a laundry list of benefits from the carbonated drink. Some of the most noteworthy claims include aid in digestion, detoxification, cancer prevention, and enhanced liver functioning. Furthermore, a few of our D2D readers are convinced that it keeps them healthy during the cold and flu season, too. But are any of these claims credible?

Kombucha has been brewed since 200 B.C. According to a review on the microbiology of kombucha, the fourth imperial Dynasty of China (Tsin Dynasty) first used kombucha for its detoxifying properties. It then expanded to Japan where, in 440 A.D., it was recorded that kombucha was used to treat digestive problems.

What exactly is kombucha, and how is it made?

Before it is fermented to its probiotic goodness, kombucha begins with a base of green and/or black tea. Sugar is then added to the brewed tea, as well as white vinegar or previously-made kombucha, for an acidic base. Brewing kombucha also requires a SCOBY, short for “symbiotic colony of bacteria and yeast”.

According to Cultures for Health, “not all kombucha SCOBYs contain the exact same strains of bacteria and yeast, but they generally all act in a similar way to create kombucha tea. One thing all kombucha SCOBYs have in common is that they are a self-perpetuating culture. This means the SCOBY multiplies itself through the process of creating kombucha.

After adding all the ingredients together, the mixture is typically fermented for 10-14 days. During the fermenting period, the SCOBY multiplies itself, creating more available good bacteria.

SCOBY, which is probably the most important part of the kombucha brewing process, resembles a mushroom cap and has a jelly-like consistency. Luckily, as a consumer, we do not have to drink or see this unappetizing blob!

During this fermentation process, an additional SCOBY can be created from the original. The colonies of bacteria, enzymes, and tea yeast are technically “alive”— the sugar that was added to the tea mixture is actually fuel for these colonies. The second SCOBY can be used for future kombucha batches.  This allows for the probiotic content of the kombucha to grow.

We know what you’re probably thinking—I’m drinking a carbonated tea fungus? It’s not as appetizing as the marketing makes it seem, huh? But, luckily this SCOBY blob may hold a lot of healthy bacteria for your gut.

Kombucha is brewed with only 4 ingredients

4 simple ingredients of Kombucha. Flavoring is extra. Image: Health-Ade

If you are a Kombucha fan or want to give it a try, don’t be afraid of the sugar used to make it. The sugar is needed to make the yeast grow and is almost completely eliminated by the time the drink is ready. The primary source of sugar present in kombucha (which is typically only 2-3 grams for an eight-ounce serving) is actually from the cold-pressed fruit juice that is used for flavor. Just keep an eye on the sugar content to make sure you’re not buying an excessively sugary flavor!

Kombucha is very high in B vitamins. The yeast from the SCOBY is high in vitamins and minerals, which contributes to the health benefits of the drink. One serving of kombucha can account for 20% of your B1, B2, B6, B3, and B12 vitamins.

Probiotics & Your Gut

The most noteworthy health components of kombucha tea are its broad spectrum of yeast species and acidic bacteria. The longer you ferment the kombucha, the higher in acetic acid it will have. (And you may recall this healthy acid is the same we discussed in our article on apple cider vinegar.)

As we learned in one or our earlier posts, “Your Second Brain: Gut Microbiota,” the research conducted for probiotics is very promising, however, it is impossible to say for certain that taking probiotics will undoubtedly help an individuals’ gut health. We do know that bacteria can influence your health and mental well-being, but the scientific community is still a ways away from recommending a specific combination. Even if they could, because of everyone’s unique microbiota combination, what can help one person may not help another. (Remember, 2/3rds of your gut bacteria is unique specifically to you.)

Additionally, if you consume probiotics daily, you want to be sure you feed these probiotics with prebiotics. For probiotics to help your gut at their full potential, they need to eat! Probiotic bacteria actually live in your gut and must be fed to help your digestion!

Prebiotics are found in many different veggies and plant-based foods. Foods with a high prebiotic content include garlic, onions, leeks, asparagus, bananas, and yams. So, if you are drinking kombucha for your daily probiotics, be sure to eat these plant-based foods regularly to ensure that your probiotics are being fed properly!

While kombucha is a good source of probiotics, there are many other ways to get a sufficient serving of probiotics. (And kombucha is expensive!) Yogurt, kefir, apple cider vinegar, and fermented foods like pickles and sauerkraut, are all strong sources of probiotics. Additionally, according to WebMD, there isn’t enough scientific research to determine what the appropriate serving, or dosage of kombucha at this time. But, keep in mind your average kombucha purchase will provide 2 servings per container, so you might want to keep it to 1 serving per day.

How about Homemade Kombucha?

We do not recommend brewing your own kombucha. Although it has been deemed “safe for human consumption” by the USDA, if you are not properly monitoring your kombucha fermentation, bad bacteria can grow, as well. Some studies have shown toxic levels of lead are present in improperly-made kombucha. For these reasons, we recommend doing your research and buying a brand you trust.

What does the research say about Kombucha?

According to a 2014 review, A Review on Kombucha—Microbiology, Composition, Fermentation, Beneficial Effects, Toxicity, and Tea Fungus, “there has been no evidence published to date on the biological activities of kombucha in human trials.” (Jayabalan et. al. 2014). However, there has been promising research performed in experimental models, like lab mice.

The acid content of kombucha tea has demonstrated antimicrobial properties against certain pathogens. This means that drinking kombucha could help protect you against the growth of bad bacteria, like Salmonella, E. coli, and other dangerous strands. The antibiotic activity of kombucha is caused by the acetic acid, which is a product of the fermentation of the beverage. (Jayabalan et. al. 2014).

Kombucha has also been studied for its antioxidant capacity. A 2008 study reported that kombucha demonstrated “excellent antioxidant abilities.” Because of the fermentation of bacteria and yeast, kombucha demonstrated free radical scavenging abilities. These antioxidant properties are attributed to the polyphenols in tea.

As we have previously discussed in “The Lowdown on Antioxidants,” antioxidants (like polyphenols) help stabilize free radicals. And while the ability for antioxidants to stabilize free radicals has yet to be proven in complex systems, like the human body, research on kombucha in experimental models has demonstrated positive antioxidant activities.

It was also proven that an increased fermentation time of the tea allows for higher antioxidant capacity. However, when taking these findings into consideration, if a brewer increases the fermentation time by too much, it can cause harmful levels of bacteria to grow in the beverage.

Should kombucha be pasteurized like other ‘raw’ products?

We spoke with a nutritionist who suggested that if you are drinking pasteurized kombucha, you are missing the benefit of good bacteria. Unlike dairy, kombucha is brewed in small batches and monitored carefully, if you are purchasing from the right companies. If you kill off the majority of good bacteria, there really isn’t a point to drink kombucha. However, with raw kombucha, you do run the risk of getting some bad bacteria, but you can hedge yourself if you buy it from a manufacturer that you trust and has a good safety reputation. We like brewers like Health-Ade, which brews all their kombucha in small, manageable batches.

Digging Deeper: Pasteurization

milk being poured into a glass

If you grew up on a dairy farm you probably drank fresh, raw milk every day. But, these days, most consumers don’t live on or near a diary farm, so enjoying fresh from-the-udder milk isn’t an option. Raw milk is only safe when it is consumed immediately after milking a cow as bacteria that can make you sick proliferates very quickly.

Since milk needs to be packaged and delivered to a grocery store or corner market, it may be several days before it hits your glass. Pasteurization keeps milk safe and allows it to have a longer shelf life when it reaches your refrigerator.

To put it simply, pasteurization is the process of heating a substance in order to kill foodborne pathogens, such as listeria, somatic cells, and salmonella. Dairy producers pasteurize milk in order to make it safe for extended storage and human consumption. If you drink raw milk straight from a cow, without treating it, you put yourself at great risk for pathogenic bacteria.

But, there are those who argue that pasteurization makes milk harder to digest. Let’s look at the science behind pasteurization.

Ultra-pasteurization, or flash pasteurization, heats up the milk to 280 degrees for 4-5 seconds. Because the temperature of the milk exceeds 150 degrees, it is possible for the proteins to “denature,” or change from their original structure. Essentially, the heat can cause the protein compounds to breakdown. It is also argued that this process kills off some of the good bacteria that is present in the raw milk.

High-temperature pasteurization is the most commonly used pasteurization technique. This process heats up milk to 161 degrees for 15 seconds.

Like flash pasteurization, some of the micro-life present in raw milk will be killed off through HT pasteurization. But, this is a necessary evil in order to protect yourself. And despite the heat treatment, milk remains a nutrient dense food! Additionally, the proteins in high temperature treated milk may experience some denaturation—but more on that in a bit!

Low-temperature pasteurization heats raw milk to 145 degrees for 30 minutes before chilling it rapidly. Like HT and ultra pasteurization, this process can also kill off some of the probiotics present in raw milk. But, it is argued that low temp pasteurization helps to maintain the proteins that are present. And while it is true that this process does not “denature” the proteins, it can cause protein aggregation, which can actually make the proteins harder to digest. This means that rather than causing the protein compounds to break down, they actually accumulate and clump together. Aggregated protein is actually harder to digest than denatured proteins and may cause challenges for immune compromised or extremely allergic individuals.

Raw products have not been heat-treated and are at much greater risk of carrying harmful bacteria. They also have a shorter shelf life.

In summary, while heat treating raw milk will cause some of the good bacteria that is also present to be killed off, it is necessary to protect against drinking harmful bacteria. Additionally, there are some companies that re-introduce “active cultures” into their dairy products to supplement the probiotics that were affected during heat processing.

Let’s take a closer look at the “denaturation of protein”

Anti-pasteurization folks believe that the denatured proteins in pasteurized milk will inevitably cause gut inflammation because your body cannot properly break down these protein compounds.

Labels will tell you how milk has been treated.

Scientifically, the heat treatment disrupts the hydrogen bonds in a protein molecule and causes the bonds to be “disrupted.” (For reference, when you cook an egg the proteins also denature— but would you eat a raw egg?)

So, while it is true that heating raw milk can cause denaturation of protein, this has only proven to potentially affect immunocompromised patients.

Additionally, how your body digests denatured protein depends entirely on the amount of heat exposure the proteins have had. Typical high-temperature pasteurization (161 degrees Fahrenheit for 15 seconds) generates very little denatured protein.

Fairlife milk takes heat-treated milk one step further

One company that has taken proactive steps to protect your digestive system from the altered lactose content is Fairlifeowned by Coca-Cola. Fairlife milk is flash pasteurized (which prolongs shelf life) and then ultra-filtered to concentrate the protein content, sterilize the milk, and remove the lactose content from the final product. Lactose is a sugar that can disrupt your digestive system, especially if it has been heat-treated. Their cold filtration system removes any impurities in their milk and aids in the digestion of this product.

Source: Fairlife

What about cheese?

Like milk, cheese is another important food when it comes to pasteurization. The U.S. Food and Drug Administration mandates that any cheese produced from raw milk must be held or aged for 60 days and kept consistently at 35-degrees Fahrenheit before it can be sold commercially. This helps ensure that foodborne pathogens are no longer present in the food, as they cannot survive in an environment after 60 days. Additionally, treating the cheese with salt and curing the rind can also protect from potentially dangerous bacteria. Like milk, pasteurized cheese can be treated at either a high temperature (174 degrees for roughly 20 seconds) or low temperature (149 degrees for 30-40 seconds).

(image source: Penn State Creamery)

When you think of pasteurization, you undoubtedly think of milk! Dairy products get all the heat (no pun intended) for being pasteurized. You might be surprised to learn, however, that there are many other foods that are heat treated as well. Almonds, sauerkraut, and some kinds of vinegar are pasteurized in order to sanitize the food and kill harmful bacteria. The pasteurization process keeps consumers safe!

Grilling Season: Food Safety Best Practices

chicken and vegetables on skewers

Before you fire up the grill, let’s review safe food storage, handling, and preparation to help you protect yourself, your families, and your guests from foodborne illnesses.

Clean, Separate, Cook, and Chill

Meet the Be Food Safe campaign. This initiative was created by the U.S. Department of Agriculture, in cooperation with the Partnership for Food Safety Education, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration, and the Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) in order to raise awareness of the importance of safe food handling in American households. The campaign recommends just four simple steps: clean, separate, cook and chill.

Wash Your Hands, Wash Your Utensils

  • Wash your hands with water and soap for at least 20 seconds before and after handling food. Wash between your fingers and fingernails as well.
  • Use gloves to handle food if you have a cut or infection.
  • Wash your cutting boards, dishes, utensils, and counter tops with hot soapy water after preparing each food item, especially after using them for cutting raw meat, poultry, and seafood.
  • Consider using paper towels to clean up kitchen surfaces. If you use cloth towels, launder them often in the hot cycle. Put sponges in the microwave for sixty seconds or more to kill bacteria

Maintaining cutting boards: If not properly maintained, cutting boards can harbor harmful bacteria. Cutting boards with nonporous surfaces, such as plastic, marble, glass, or pyro-ceramic, are easier to clean and can hold on to fewer bacteria. The USDA Meat and Poultry Hotline recommends consumers use wood or a nonporous surface for cutting raw meat and poultry.

Which foods should you clean before eating?

MEAT: DO NOT WASH
Washing raw poultry, beef, pork, lamb, or veal before cooking it is NOT recommended by the FDA, USDA, and food safety experts. When meat is washed, water may splash harmful bacteria present on the raw meat spreading them to surrounding surfaces, including the clothes of the person washing the meat. Since cooking meat to the appropriate temperature kills disease-causing bacteria, washing meats prior to cooking is not necessary.

EGGS: DO NOT WASH
Eggs contain a natural coating that prevents bacteria from permeating the shell.  And during commercial egg production, eggs are washed and sprayed with edible mineral oil to protect them from bacterial contamination. Washing eggs at home will remove these protective coatings and makes the eggs more susceptible to contamination.

FRUITS & VEGGIES: WASH
Raw fruits and vegetables can carry harmful bacteria, be sure to wash them under running tap water to remove any lingering dirt. When preparing fruits and vegetables, remove any damaged or bruised areas. These are prime spots for bacteria to thrive. In some cases, like with berries, it is best to not wash the produce until you are ready to eat them so they so they stay fresh.

Cook: Use a thermometer— even on your hamburger on the grill! Cooking food to a high enough temperature destroys harmful bacteria. To make sure food is heated to the appropriate internal temperature, the use of a food thermometer is highly recommended. You cannot see, smell, or taste bacteria that cause foodborne illness so it is imperative that you use a thermometer to determine when food is safe to eat.

Chill: Refrigeration is essential. The “danger zone,” where bacteria grow most rapidly, is the range of temperatures between 40 °F and 140°F.  Within this temperature range, bacteria can double in number in as little as 20 minutes. Keeping your food out of the “danger zone” is imperative to food safety in the kitchen.

Storage: USDA has developed guidelines recommending safe time-limits for keeping refrigerated foods from becoming dangerous to eat. (Maximum freezing times are recommended for quality purposes only.)

For additional information on safely shopping for food, transporting food and serving food, check out the USDA’s Kitchen Companion: Your Safe Food Handbook.

Ancient Spice Gets New Reputation

turmeric in a pottery container

Despite being used in cooking for decades, recent product launches have featured turmeric for its ability to fight inflammation. And because many long-term diseases are associated with inflammation, turmeric has been linked to cancer-prevention, Alzheimer’s, lupus, Crohn’s, and other inflammatory diseases.

Turmeric’s popularity spans continents

Since 2011, turmeric has become a very popular ingredient in the health food market. Mintel Market Research named this “super spice” a superfood to watch in 2016. From 2011 to 2016, of all global turmeric and curcumin supplements launched between May 2011 and April 2016, 30% of them were in North America. But, Europe and Asia are also experiencing a turmeric supplement boom and have launched equally as many products as North America. So, we are seeing turmeric’s popularity expand across three continents!

According to Stephanie Mattucci, a food scientist with Mintel, “Research on turmeric’s active compound, curcuminoids, has primarily focused on the compound’s anti-inflammatory benefits. Chronic inflammation has been associated with a wide range of major diseases, including arthritis, cardiovascular disease, and even cancer. Some of the potential benefits of turmeric include protection against these diseases, due to the compound’s anti-inflammatory properties.” (Mintel)

The health benefits of turmeric

The health benefits of turmeric are from a molecule in the plant called curcumin. Curcumin (and its bioactive compound curcuminoids) is believed to help reduce swelling in your body and thus has been dubbed an “anti-inflammatory molecule.” In clinical research, curcumin has demonstrated antioxidant qualities. According to the UCLA Alzheimer Translation centercurcumin has a “polyphenolic molecular structure.”

The turmeric root (image credit)

These polyphenol properties are what is believed to help fight inflammation in your body. (We have also discussed the role of polyphenols in our article “The Red Wine Diet.”) A polyphenol is a specific type of antioxidant that can be found in foods like red wine, dark chocolate, and turmeric. However, as we reviewed in “The Lowdown on Antioxidants,” while there is promising research into the ability for antioxidants to neutralize free radicals, it has not been conclusively proven through human trials.

What does the research say about the health benefits of turmeric?

With regards to its anti-inflammatory properties, most of the claims made for turmeric supplements have not been conclusively proven and thus it is not possible to make a verified claim regarding these supplements. However, there is a lot of promising research that has been performed and that is being used to design new trials, especially since turmeric is not toxic.

InflammationA noteworthy 2005 study determined that the curcumin compound demonstrated multiple beneficial properties, most notably its ability to act as an ‘anti-inflammatory agent’ and ‘oxygen radical scavenger.’

In science, it is generally understood that reactive oxygen radicals can cause inflammation. Because of its potential to hunt and collect these oxygen radicals, curcumin is believed to fight inflammation and act as an anti-inflammatory agent. The study asserted that curcumin “may exert its anti-inflammatory activity by inhibition of a number of different molecules that play a role in inflammation.” So, because curcumin is able to keep prevent damage-causing oxygen radicals it protects your body from having an inflammatory response.

Some of the many products that contain curcumin

This hypothesis was further discussed in a 2007 review that addressed the anti-inflammatory properties of the curcumin compound. Additionally, more current research has focused on the relationship between curcumin and specific inflammatory molecules. For example, a 2017 study determined curcumin was an effective inhibitor of Interleukin-6, which is considered a “pro-inflammatory molecule.” Like Interleukin-6, many of these pro-inflammatory molecules have inhibited by curcumin in lab studies.

Alzheimer’s: A 2008 research analysis investigated curcumin’s ability to help treat Alzheimer’s, a neurodegenerative disease (AD). In addition to the anti-inflammatory properties of curcumin— which could help keep the symptoms of AD at bay—lab research has also indicated that curcumin may have the ability to protect your nerve-endings. The papers entitled, “The Effect of Curcumin (turmeric) on Alzheimer’s Disease: An Overview” determined that curcumin “will lead to a promising treatment to Alzheimer’s disease.”

When Alzheimer’s advances, one of the biggest developments of the disease is the ‘chronic’ inflammation of nerve cells in your body. If curcumin can effectively prevent an inflammatory response, it may help to prevent or treat AD in the future. A 2001 study also investigated the relationship between curcumin and Alzheimer’s prevention. The study, which was performed on rats determined that curcumin “may find clinical application for AD prevention.”

Curcumin has powerful antioxidant and anti-inflammatory properties; according to scientists, these properties are believed to help ease Alzheimer’s symptoms caused by oxidation and inflammation. (Mishra, 2008)

Cholesterol: According to WebMD, there has been some promising research into turmeric’s ability to help regulate cholesterol. Research including human participants indicated that taking a turmeric supplement (containing curcumin) 2x a day over a three-month period reduced total cholesterol and specifically LDL cholesterol— the bad kind!

Overall, there is a significant amount of current and verified research that indicates curcumin is a strong antioxidant that may help inhibit an inflammatory response inside your body.

How much turmeric should you be taking?

Several human trials have been conducted to determine the potential toxicity of turmeric supplements and powders and it has been deemed safe for consumption even at high doses.

There have been several trials that tested more reasonable daily doses (1,000-2,000mg), however, in one particularly compelling study 25 human participants were given 8,000 milligrams of curcumin a day. To put that into perspective, in order to achieve this dosage you would have to eat about 40 teaspoons of turmeric a day. The study found no toxicity from curcumin in the participants. The trial was conducted over a three-month period and curcumin was deemed safe for consumption. Regardless of whether taking turmeric is going to help your inflammation (remember every body is different), if taken in reasonable amounts it is not going to make you sick.

In 1 teaspoon of turmeric, there are roughly 200 milligrams of curcumin. In a recent interview with the website Well and Good, Dr. Robin Berzin noted, “curcuminoids only comprise a small part of turmeric. If you want anti-inflammatory effects you need to get 500 to 1,000 milligrams of curcuminoids per day.” By that standard, to reap the benefits of turmeric you would need to incorporate at least 3 teaspoons, or 1 tablespoon, into your regimen.

The D2D team tried the golden milk latte with coconut milk, turmeric, vanilla, cinnamon, and a little honey.

However, it is also important to note it is possible for some people to experience difficulty reaping the anti-inflammatory benefits of turmeric if it is being consumed on its own. For this reason, it is actually recommended that you take turmeric along with black pepper as it helps your body utilize the curcumin more effectively. This is because black pepper contains a compound called piperine that prevents your liver from breaking down the turmeric and thus enables a significant portion of the spice to remain in your body. This may help your body better utilize the curcumin compound. It has been written that black pepper helps absorption of the turmeric, but technically speaking that is not the case. Black pepper will help boost turmeric levels, however, eating healthy oils (like coconut oil) and foods containing a good fat will help your body with turmeric absorption.

Turmeric shows promising health benefits, however, it has not been conclusively proven with double-blind studies that taking turmeric supplements will fight inflammation. Additionally, many of the popular turmeric products include high levels of sugar and might not be that good for you! If you do choose to add turmeric to your routine, it is recommended that you take the supplement along with oils or fat-containing foods to promote absorption and drink 4-6oz of water.

Greek Yogurt: Wasting a-Whey

yogurt with berries

After snoozing the alarm several times, the last thing we like to think about in the morning is cooking breakfast. Because of its creamy taste and texture, dense protein and low sugar content, Greek yogurt is a perfect grab-and-go option. Greek yogurt has almost 2x as much protein as regular yogurt— hence its popularity. Market Research shows that over 50% of consumers that purchase yogurt are buying greek yogurt. And like the statistic, the Dirt-to-Dinner team found we were purchasing more Greek yogurt than traditional yogurt products.

How is Greek yogurt different from traditional yogurt?

It is the straining process that sets Greek yogurt apart from traditional yogurt products. The nutrients from the milk are consolidated into the protein-dense product.

 

Unfortunate waste in the process of making Greek yogurt

The process of making Greek yogurt, however, creates more waste. For every gallon of milk that is used to make Greek yogurt, two-thirds of that gallon is discarded after straining.  The remaining watery substance is too acidic (with a pH of 4.6) and too salty to use productively anywhere else in the food supply chain. This strained residue is called acid whey and is a mixture of lactose, galactose, calcium phosphate, and lactic acid.

While we love Greek yogurt, the Dirt-to-Dinner team was concerned about the sustainability of this food’s production. The under-utilized byproduct that is created by making Greek yogurt is something that doesn’t sit well with us. In fact, on a recent visit to the Agricultural School at Cornell University, we learned about the negative impact this acid whey can have on the environment.

Where is the acid whey going?

Water has a pH of 7. Putting acid whey with a pH of 4.6 into the environment is not beneficial for either the soil or the water. The soil would turn into a perfect environment for weeds and conifers— not crops. The run-off into the waterways can kill fish. Overall it would negatively affect the environment.

Most acid whey is sent to the municipal waste system where huge holding tanks process liquids in an anaerobic environment. Acid whey is able to break down the waste because the protein and sugars help the fermentation process. However, there is little economic value in this AND there is significant water waste to consider.

In addition to the acid whey by-product that is created, there is also the issue of water wasted.

While we support the need to find an application for acid whey, what really caused the Dirt-to-Dinner team to pause and consider whether Greek yogurt was worth the extra protein boost was when we considered the water that is wasted.

According to Tristan Zuber, Dairy Processing Specialist at Cornell, “For every four pounds of Greek yogurt manufactured, about three pounds of acid whey is produced. When you think of the various factors that contribute to creating a gallon of Greek yogurt, you can extrapolate that two-thirds of that are not fully utilized for human or industrial use…

…A dairy cow drinks about 40 gallons of water a day to make about 8 gallons of milk. So for the yogurt that is made from one gallon of milk, the dairy cow must drink five gallons of water. And because not all of this milk is being consumed, inevitably the water the cow drinks to make a gallon of milk is not being fully utilized. So each time you eat a 5.3 oz of Greek yogurt you are wasting 26 ounces of water— about three glasses.”

This is not including all the water, fertilizer, and other inputs used to grow the crops to make the animal feed for the cow.

Time for innovation…

When food is processed into a sellable product, there is usually some type of by-product that can be used in some other type of capacity. For instance, soybean oil residue can be repurposed with asphalt. Or, a by-product of corn processing is used to make ethanol. Unfortunately, in the case of Greek yogurt, an effective application for the acid whey byproduct has not been discovered.

In 2016, 800,000 metric tons of Greek yogurt was produced in the U.S. and the acid whey by-product from that production could fill up approximately 640 Olympic-sized swimming pools! There is an opportunity here…

The cheese industry had a similar problem with the sweet whey that was produced while making cheese. However, sweet whey is less acidic and has a bit more protein so it can be sold as protein supplements. Acid whey is more of an issue, but patents have been filed to try and extract the proteins and lactose into a usable food or animal feed. Right now, when extracted it turns into a lumpy, hard material.  Arla Foods has found a solution to mix acid whey with Nutrilac solution to make drinks, cheese, dressings, and other dairy products. One of their drinks was named ‘Best Beverage Ingredient” at the 2013 Beverage Innovation Awards.

Sustainability is a big issue for Greek yogurt. Try adding extra protein to your regular yogurt instead. 

  • Add Almonds (18) for 6 grams of protein
  • Add Chia Seeds (2 tablespoons) for 4 grams of protein
  • Add Hemp Seeds (3 tablespoons) for 12 grams of protein
  • Add Cashews (14) for 4 grams of protein

Waste Not, Want Not

discarded food in a landfill

TELL US YOUR IDEAS! WIN SOME D2D GEAR!

HOW DO YOU FIGHT FOOD WASTE?

Tweet @dirt_to_dinner with your best food waste ideas. Use the hashtag #D2DFightsFoodWaste

Or visit our Facebook Page and write on our wall!

Imagine this…you have a vegetable garden about the size of a football field where you grow fruits and veggies for your family. Now, once you’ve harvested the entire football field, take everything produced from the goal post to the 35-yard line and throw it all away!

Yep, put that beautiful bounty straight in the trash. According to the USDA, food waste in the U.S. is estimated at between 30-40%.

Food loss and waste has certainly become a hot topic around the world. We’ve made significant progress in raising public awareness while also implementing improvements across the food chain to decrease overall food loss. But, the problem still remains: how can we reduce the amount of food going to waste while the world grows larger and hungrier every day?  

We see the subject of food waste more and more: on television, in newspapers and magazines, and in the places we shop for and consume food.  It’s of growing importance to everyone along the supply chain: food producers, handlers, transporters, processors, manufacturers, distributors, retailers and restaurants, food banks and food pantries, and, especially, a growing number of concerned consumers.

Where is the greatest opportunity for improvement?  Where can we have the most immediate positive impact in addressing food loss and waste?

Most observers point to simple human behavior.

In our previous post, “Such A Waste,” D2D discussed the annual loss and waste along the entire food supply chain. Much of the public attention to food loss and waste sensibly focuses on the way food is packaged, sold, or otherwise used.

But statistics show that the greatest portion of food loss and waste in the United States and other developed economies can be traced to what we as consumers do every day.

The decisions you make about the food you purchase and prepare for your family, how you store it in your kitchen, and how you deal with the leftovers from food preparation and meals can make a significant impact on the amount of overall food waste.

And let’s go back to the imaginary vegetable garden for a second. Don’t forget about the resources inevitably wasted with food waste. Think of the pesticides, fertilizer, and water to keep those crops alive in the field— that’s money and natural resources flushed down the drain!

source: Business Insider

So how much water is wasted when you throw away produce that may have gotten lost in the back of the refrigerator? When you throw away an orange, you are throwing away a portion of the 13.8 gallons of water it took to grow that orange.

Yes, it is true that the majority of that water is eventually returned to the atmosphere through evaporation and transpiration, however, it is important to acknowledge the number of resources that go into something as simple as one orange— and how quickly those resources can be wasted! And if we think about this waste on a global scale, the amount of wasted resources gets even bigger.

Here is where YOU can come into the picture. Back to the football field— take all the food from the goal post to the 12-yard line – that is about how much food is wasted at home. In fact, just about every household wastes almost $1,000 in food each year!

Strategies to help reduce food waste

Health Benefits of Apple Cider Vinegar

apples with apple cider vinegar

Whether you throw a tablespoon in your evening tea, put a splash in your water bottle, or mix it with your salad dressing, there are many ways to get your daily apple cider vinegar fix. And, admittedly, the Dirt-to-Dinner team has tried them all! Yes, we are a bit obsessed with apple cider vinegar.

Like many consumers these days, we were curious about the craze— but, we didn’t know much about the science behind it all. And once we got to digging, we had a hard time finding tangible evidence to support consumer beliefs. Is this miracle ingredient actually doing all it claims or is this just another fad?

Bragg’s vinegar contains “the mother,” which claims to help support digestion. image source

Unfortunately, as with many popular ingredients, there is always more research that needs to be done, and many of the reported claims of apple cider vinegar (ACV) cannot be proven conclusively. But, new research does look promising.

What is apple cider vinegar?

Apple cider vinegar is made from apples, obviously, but is either filtered, resulting in a clear product with no residues, or unfiltered, which has a cloudy color. The reason for the cloudiness is that most of the apple and its various enzymes and minerals remain in the vinegar.

The “mother” in raw, unfiltered and unpasteurized apple cider vinegar appears as a web-like substance which are molecules of protein connected in strand-like chains.

The mother is the dark, cloudy substance in the ACV formed from naturally occurring pectin and apple residues – it appears as molecules of protein connected in strand-like chains. The presence of the mother shows that the best part of the apple has not been destroyed. Vinegar containing the mother contain enzymes and minerals that other vinegar may not contain due to over-processing, filtration and overheating. (Braggs

Unfiltered ACV is high in several organic acids – two of which may have specific health benefits: acetic acid and malic acid. Acetic acid may help control digestion, manage mineral absorption, blood pressure and fat deposits. Malic acid, found in many fruits, is known to boost energy levels by converting fats, proteins, and carbohydrates into energy. Although the studies are inconclusive, doses of ¼ to ½ tsp are thought to help chronic fatigue syndrome and fibromyalgia.

Fruits, in general, have malic acid, but it’s especially abundant in apples. Watermelon is another great source of malic acid. Apricots, bananas, blackberries, cherries, grapes, kiwi, lychees, mango, nectarines, oranges, peaches, pears, and strawberries are other sources. 

So, what does the research say about the benefits of ACV?

It may keep your sugar levels stable

Apple Cider vinegar may help maintain and stabilize blood glucose levels. You may recall from our Sugar is Sugar is Sugar article that spikes in your blood sugar levels can negatively affect your energy and your digestion. If you are able to maintain stable blood sugar levels, your body can function at a more optimal level.

Carol Johnson, Ph.D., (highlighted on the Braggs website) has studied the effects of apple cider vinegar for over 10 years and believes this ingredient provides an “anti-glycemic effect.” This means it helps maintain a steady blood sugar level. It does this by essentially blocking your body from digesting starch.  Dr. Johnson recommends one to two tablespoons in a cup of water right before you eat your meal – or with your first bite.

image source

“It doesn’t block the starch 100%, but it definitely prevents at least some of that starch from being digested and raising your blood sugar.” -Dr. Carol Johnson PhD

However, the Mayo Clinic indicates that there is very little scientific support for these claims. They recommend a healthy diet and physical activity as the most effective means to lose weight.

ACV can make you feel full

Another one of the more promising studies about vinegar is related to satiety and weight loss. Satiety is the ability for your body to feel full and signal that it does not need to ingest more food. This helps to control your appetite and thus minimizes weight gain. There is new research that demonstrates vinegar’s ability to increase satiety and glycemic control.

In a study performed in Japan, 175 overweight people participated in a three-month study that measured the effectiveness of vinegar on weight loss. The participants were separated into two groups— one was given vinegar before each meal and the other was given water. The study found that the participants who consumed the vinegar lost roughly 2 pounds over the study. Vinegar, in this case, is believed to help the participants feel satiated before those who just drank water. Therefore, the participants in the vinegar control group ate less over the period of the study, which resulted in weight loss. However, once the study was over, those who lost weight immediately gained it back again.

image source

While this study is not specific to apple cider vinegar, the ability of apple cider vinegar to help manage the digestion of starch and regulate stomach acid production is believed to help weight control.

ACV may help reduce stomach acidity

And that brings us to another very important claim made by ACV— its effect on your body’s stomach acid production. This is quite an interesting one, and it was the one that initially introduced our team to ACV in the first place! After a visit to a gastroenterologist ended with a recommendation to include a teaspoon of ACV in the morning to reduce stomach acidity, we couldn’t help but wonder…why? And although there is no literature that speaks to this premise, there is a very interesting hypothesis regarding apple cider vinegar…

When you are suffering from heartburn, acid reflux, or indigestion,  you may take an antacid (i.e., Tums). The calcium carbonate tablet reacts with the acid that’s in your stomach and raises the pH of your stomach, thus neutralizing it. In theory, this is meant to calm the overly acidic environment and provide pain relief— however, often times your stomach actually responds to this substance by creating more stomach acid in order to bring the pH of your stomach back down to where it is supposed to be (your stomach is naturally fairly acidic).

It is hypothesized that when you add an acidic substance to an already overly acidic environment it could tell your body to stop producing the acid, thus neutralizing the environment.

So, let’s look at this reaction objectively: if you add a base (alkaline) pH to your stomach, your body then tells your stomach to produce more acid.

If we’re to look at the flipside of this bodily reaction, you might conclude: if you add more acid to your stomach maybe your body will tell your stomach to stop making acid.

While the negative effects of antacids have been documented, this hypothesis has not been validated by science. But, if you suffer from these symptoms and apple cider vinegar has been working for you, as it has for us, there is no harm to incorporating this product into your daily routine.

Can it cure cancer? 

Unfortunately, there is very limited research regarding apple cider vinegar and its ability to fight cancer cells. While there was a study that demonstrated the ability for a vinegar-based product to suppress tumor growth in mice, there is no research that indicates drinking ACV will help protect humans from cancer.

Regardless of whether or not the health benefits you experience are fiction or fact, you would not hurt yourself by incorporating vinegar into your diet. Just don’t expect it to offset the effects of pizza and french fries! However, ACV should be diluted in water (recommendations are about 1-2 tablespoons per 8 oz). Straight up ACV can harm your esophagus and the surrounding soft tissues and ruin the enamel on your teeth. It may also negatively interact with any drugs or supplements you take, so check with your doctor first.  Finally, used in excess for years, ACV could possibly cause low potassium and thus low bone density.

How is Salt Made?

different types of salts

You would be hard-pressed to find a household without a salt shaker today, but this wasn’t always the case. Salt was a very rare commodity until the industrial revolution provided the technology to discover vast salt reserves. Salt was once used as a currency as valuable as gold – traded and fought over around the world.

“For millennia, salt represented wealth. Caribbean salt merchants stockpiled it in the basements of their homes. The Chinese, the Romans, the French, the Venetians, the Habsburgs, and numerous other governments taxed it to raise money for wars.”

Salt: A World History

Salt is used in thousands of ways all around the world. It is a jack of all trades that can enhance the flavor of foods in your kitchen and assist in the manufacture of paper, plastics, and fertilizers. Its preservative and antimicrobial effects are significant in the food processing industry, and it has an important role in the feeding of animals and plants.

The U.S. and China dominate in world salt production, accounting for 40% of the 250 million tons of salt produced each year. Kansas, Louisiana, Michigan, New York, Ohio, Texas, and Utah produced about 95% of the salt in the United States in 2016. In fact, the city of Detroit sits on one of the largest salt deposits in the world, and most of the salt used for de-icing our roadways is mined from an ancient seabed near Cleveland, 2,000 feet below Lake Erie.

It’s not just in your salt shaker! Salt is used across many industries. Source: U.S Geological Survey, 2017

All salt comes from the sea

Whether salt is mined from ancient sea beds under the city of Detroit, the Appalachian Mountains or the Himalayan Mountains; extracted from salt domes along the Louisiana coastline, or solar evaporated from the Atlantic or Pacific oceans – all salt comes from the sea!

There are three basic technologies to produce salt:

Deep-Shaft Mining is much like mining for any other mineral. Salt exists as deposits in underground ancient sea beds, which are typically miles long and thousands of feet deep. The majority of “rock salt” (used to de-ice highways and walkways) is produced this way. Have a look at the video!

Solution Mining is where wells, similar to oil and gas wells, are set up over salt deposits and fresh water is injected to dissolve the salt. The brine is then pumped out and taken to a plant for evaporation.

Solar Evaporation is the oldest method of salt production and is dependent on warmer climates. Salt is first captured in shallow ponds, where the wind and sun evaporate the water. The salt is then harvested either by hand or by machine.


 

Watch this video on how salt is harvested in California:

Got Milk?

milk canister, milk bottle and glass of milk

There are differences in opinion over the nutritional value of dairy products. Yes, milk is a staple for growing kids, but as adults we often start to assume the need for dairy starts to diminish. While it is true that we do not need as much milk as we did as a child, milk products can still remain an important part of daily nutrition.

Milk is a nutrient dense food

As a “nutrient-rich” food, milk contains many essential macro-nutrients, vitamins and minerals — an especially high amount when considering the rather low calorie content! According to the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s food pyramid, the average human should consume approximately three servings of dairy per day.

Vitamin D enables your body to absorb calcium and helps maintain your overall body health, while Vitamin A keeps your skin, teeth, and cells healthy. Vitamin E also acts as an antioxidant that helps your body fight free radicals and protect against cell damage. Because of this, Vitamin E it may help reduce the risk of cancer!

Magnesium, Selenium, and Zinc are not to be forgotten either. They support your immune system, hormone activity, and help your cells rebuild.

And in addition to these essential vitamins and minerals, milk is also high in amino acids. Amino acids are the building blocks for all protein. And that’s pretty important given that the average human body is roughly 20% protein.

Amino acids are vital in supporting your muscle and tissue. They also help your immune system and enable the body to heal itself. The amino acids found in milk are supplements that support muscle development and help regulate your central nervous system (CNS). The CNS is responsible for regulating information exchanged between the spinal cord and the brain.

One cup of milk also provides roughly 240 milligrams of calcium per serving. To put this calcium content into perspective, we looked for other foods, like fish and leafy greens, that a nutritionist might recommend helping achieve a daily calcium level. Unfortunately, in comparison to milk, these barely scratch the surface!

The average fish is paltry in comparison with only 20 mg. Greens are a little better.  1 cup of kale contains 101 milligrams of calcium, 1 cup of broccoli contains about 43 milligrams of calcium, and a salmon fillet contains 36 milligrams of calcium. These secondary options all pale in comparison to the amount of calcium in milk. Not to mention, the naturally occurring vitamin D in milk helps your body absorb this calcium more efficiently.

So, if you are not getting your calcium, vitamins, and minerals from dairy you have to be very conscious of what you are substituting milk with in order to fulfill your daily requirements.

Are you getting enough milk?

The USDA recommends three servings of dairy a day, but it can be hard to get a grasp on how that influences your diet. If you break it down, getting three servings of milk a day isn’t as challenging as you may think.

One serving of milk = eight fluid ounces = one cup.

If you order a tall latte from Starbucks, the beverage is 12 ounces. Depending on the milk you include in that latte order, this can account for one of your three servings of dairy! Having a sandwich or salad for lunch? Incorporate some natural cheddar cheese for your third recommended serving.

See—that wasn’t so hard!

And remember, it is important to mix and match your dairy selections as each has its own nutrition, sugar and fat content.

Types of milk and cheese will also have varying nutrition. As a rule of thumb, milk products will have a higher nutritional value, but always check the nutrition labels as they indicate the percent daily values of these nutrients.

So, we know milk is a nutrient dense food…but, let’s take another look at the fatty acids…

Milk began to get a bad reputation when the fat content of foods was put under the microscope. Even today, with our better understanding of the human body and how it processes food, when you are told food is “high in fat” you might immediately think its bad for you! Thus, reaching for the whole milk in the grocery store refrigerator case probably goes against all of your instincts. Well, you are not alone.

Most people believe that fatty acids will increase your cholesterol, increase your risk of heart disease, and increase your blood pressure. And while it is true that a diet high in bad fat can trigger these symptoms— there is such thing as good fat. (For more on that, check out our post Fat: Our New Friend!)

Like the ever-popular omega-3 fatty acid, there are other types of fats that are now being studied for their potential health benefits, some of which are: cancer prevention, antiviral activities, antibacterial functions, delay of tumor growth, and notable anti-plaque agents. To illustrate the point, we’ve all seen the rise in sales for the ever-popular and healthy avocado!

Food “fat content” is determined by fatty acids and can be broken out into two categories: Saturated and Unsaturated. Saturated are generally solid at room temperature – and are thought of as ‘undesired fats’. Because of this, animal protein and dairy products are often thought of as unhealthy because they are higher in saturated fats than unsaturated fats.

Unsaturated fats, on the other hand, are liquid at room temperature and are found in almonds, avocado canola oil, olive oil, salmon, and tuna. Unsaturated fats break down easier and are not thought to raise one’s cholesterol.  BUT – let’s not count out milk yet. It contains over 400 different fatty acids and they are very diverse in their composition.

The role of saturated fat in milk

As we discussed in Fat: Our New Friend, there is still debate regarding the role of saturated fat in milk. The argument surrounding dairy consumption and the fatty acids found in whole or 2% milk is fueled by the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s recommendation.

Because of the rise in obesity due to sugars and overconsumption, when the USDA recommends that you consume three servings of dairy per day, they are recommending these servings be fat-free or low-fat. However, the current understanding of fatty acids found in milk is being challenged by new scientific research.

In the past, saturated fat was thought to be linked to heart disease and strokes, but it turns out that this may have been a big, fat lie.

A 2010 meta-analysis published in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition pooled together data from 21 studies and included almost 350,000 people tracked for an average of 14 years. This study concluded that there is no relationship between the intake of saturated fat and the incidence of heart disease or stroke. (Siri-Tarino et al. 2010)