(Family Features) Health and environmental concerns convince many people they should rethink their diets.
However, it's important to know you can make informed food choices based on facts. By working with farmers and ranchers who use science and research to advance animal agricultural practices, commodity groups like Colorado Corn help ensure the availability of sustainable, healthy and delicious animal protein products.
Consider these facts from Shari Steinbach, MS, RDN, who is a nutrition and culinary consultant with more than 35 years of experience as a health professional. Steinbach works with retailers, food companies and commodities to create educational programs that provide meaningful solutions.
- Compared to 1977, today's beef producers raise the same amount of beef with approximately 33% fewer cattle, according to the National Cattlemen's Beef Association. Improved animal health, welfare, genetics and nutrition has resulted in a 16% lower carbon footprint and fewer natural resources used for every pound of beef produced.
- A retrospective analysis on pork production in the U.S. from 1960-2015 from the Pork Checkoff shows a significant reduction in the use of natural resources. Per pound of pork produced, producers have reduced land use by 76%, water use by 25%, energy use by 7% and their carbon footprint by more than 7%.
- Compared with 75 years ago, dairy milk production now uses 65% less water, 90% less land and 76% less manure, which translates into a 63% smaller carbon footprint of milk, according to the "Journal of Animal Science."
- Sheep can consume dried plants to help prevent wildfires or eliminate weeds, which helps farmers avoid or at least minimize the use of herbicides. Across the U.S., farmers bring in sheep to graze leftover stalks and seeds after crops have been harvested.
- All cattle eat grass, and those fed grain like Colorado Corn provide 19% more human-edible protein than they consume, according to a Council for Agricultural Technology task force report. Because cattle can eat everything from the kernels to the stalks, farmers can enhance sustainability by using every part of the plant.
- The largest of cattle's four stomachs is called the rumen, which provides upcycling benefits. Because the rumen is naturally filled with trillions of microbes, it can upgrade plants of little to no nutritional value into high-quality protein and micronutrients people can consume.
- Based on guidelines from the Food and Drug Administration, one 3-ounce cooked serving of beef supplies more than 10% of the Daily Value for 10 essential nutrients including protein, iron, zinc and B vitamins. One 3-ounce serving of pork is an "excellent" source of thiamin, selenium, protein, niacin, vitamin B6 and phosphorus, and a "good" source of riboflavin, zinc and potassium. One 3-ounce serving of American lamb is an "excellent" source of protein, zinc, selenium, riboflavin, niacin, vitamin B12 and vitamin B6.
- Dairy products provide an important nutrient package and are under-consumed. In fact, calcium deficiency is one of the most important global nutrient deficiencies, according to the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations.
- A study published in "Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America" simulated the environmental and nutritional impact of removing all animal foods from an American diet. When diets contained only plant-based foods, a greater number of nutrients fell below recommended levels, most notably calcium and vitamins A, D and B12.
When taking steps to improve your diet and make the planet healthier, you can combine eating a balanced diet with another important goal: reducing food waste. On average, 40% of all food brought home in America goes uneaten, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture, which means food waste costs the average family $2,500 annually. A diet that emphasizes a variety of whole grains, fruits, vegetables, beans, nuts and seeds along with meat, fish, dairy and eggs can be an environmentally responsible one that supports a sustainable food system.
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