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Agriculture, Sustainability

Common Consumer Questions about Food and Ag Answered by RDN Farmers–PART ONE

(C) National Dairy Council

In my role as the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics Foundation (ANDF) Chair, I am excited to bring you this four part series written by guest blogger, Chris Vogliano, MS, RD, LD. He is the agriculture nutrition and health research fellow with ANDF and the lead author of the article Plentiful, Nutrient-Dense Food for the World: A Guide for Registered Dietitian Nutritionists. In this series, he brings you RDN farmer experts who address some common questions consumers want to know about food and agriculture. Enjoy this first edition.

Farm Scene at Sunset

National Dairy Council (c) 2015

There has been a significant rise in consumer interest surrounding sustainable agriculture practices, and many are beginning to ask more questions about where our food comes from. As Registered Dietitian Nutritionists (RDNs), our expertise primarily lies in food and nutrition, not necessarily agriculture. However, this is changing. There are RDNs who are already farmers, and a new wave of younger RDNs are increasingly interested in connecting the dots between growing nutrient-dense foods and helping educate the public on how to consume them. At a past FNCE symposium, “The RDN’s Guide to Plentiful, Nutrient-Dense Food for the World”, four RDN farmers lent their insights to answer these questions commonly asked by consumers about food and agriculture.

Tractor Hauling Grain Past a Free Stall Barn National Dairy Council (c) 2015

National Dairy Council (c) 2015

  1. Is grass-fed beef better thank grain-fed beef?
  2. What can I do to reduce the environmental impact of my diet?
  3. How do dairy farmers care for the environment and animals?
  4. How does soil health impact nutrients in food?

It is likely that your patients or clients have asked you these same (or similar) questions, but you may not have known how to answer them. So you are more in the know the next time you are asked, let’s hear from the RDN farmer experts.

Meet our first expert, Amy Myrdal Miller, MS, RDN. She is an award-winning dietitian/nutritionist, farmer’s daughter, published author, and founder and president of Farmer’s Daughter Consulting. Amy succinctly addresses the first commonly asked question-“Is grass-fed beef better than grain-fed beef?” and how RDNs can apply this information.

Beef cattle image from Photo by Kyle Spradley C 2014 - Curators of the University of Missouri

Photo by Kyle Spradley | © 2014 – Curators of the University of Missouri

“Many factors affect beef quality. However, there is little difference in nutrient value between grain-fed and grass-fed beef. Grass-fed is slightly lower in calories and total fat, and slightly higher in protein. It is important to remember that all cattle start their lives eating grass. If cattle are not receiving enough nutrition from grazing in a pasture, the rancher may supplement their diets with other grains, including corn, sorghum or soybeans.
Even though there is little difference in nutrient value, there is a difference in the environmental impact between grass and grain-fed cattle. Grass-fed cattle take longer to reach the weight they need to be for slaughter, which means that they produce more methane gas during their lives compared to grain-fed cattle. Also, grass-fed cattle produce more methane gas that their counterparts due to the quality of their diet. Cattle are ruminants, meaning that methane is produced by bacteria in the stomach (rumen) of the cattle. The less digestible the feed, the more that is available for the bacteria to produce methane gas.”

How can RDNs apply this information?
“RDNs and other nutrition and dietetics practitioners can help consumers select lean cuts of beef as part of a nutrient-dense diet while clarifying confusion about the differences between grain-fed and grass-fed beef. Recommending and, when applicable, demonstrating healthy cooking techniques, recipes, and proper portion sizes can also help consumers include recommended amounts of lean beef and other proteins in their diet.”

(c) National Dairy Council 2015

(c) National Dairy Council 2015

Stay tuned for part two of this series. Abigail Copenhaver, RDN, CDN will answer the question “What influence do dairy cows have on the environment?


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