Before Going “All In” on New Dietary Guidelines, Remember the Egg

February 25, 2015

eggsI started my morning today by eating a hard-boiled egg for breakfast, and now I don’t have to feel guilty about it.

The new U.S. Dietary Guidelines released last week lifted the limits on dietary cholesterol. So I can enjoy an egg for breakfast – yolk and all – and know that I’m making a healthy choice.

Growing up, my family went “all in” with the low-fat craze of the ‘90s. We never had butter in our fridge, only “light” margarine. I ate giant bagels for breakfast because they were low-fat – never mind all the calories.

Now it turns out that a little fat isn’t bad. Yet the advisory committee that wrote the 2015 Dietary Guidelines didn’t entirely give up its restrictive ways. The committee still calls for limiting saturated fat and, unfortunately, reducing red meat consumption.

Their outdated recommendation overlooks the fact that beef and pork are excellent sources of protein and often-lacking nutrients in our diets, such as iron, zinc, vitamins B12 and B6, niacin and thiamin.

Plus, the beef and pork cuts you can find at the grocery store today are much leaner than they were in the 1970s, when the government first called for limiting fat in our diet.

Today, U.S. farmers are raising leaner animals to provide consumers with healthy, nutritious protein for themselves and their families.

The American Heart Association recently gave its “Heart-Check” mark to 96 percent lean ground beef. This is in addition to eight other beef cuts that meet the American Heart Association’s requirements for heart-healthy foods.

So why is there so much conflicting information about healthy eating? Surprisingly, even the experts admit that nutrition science isn’t concrete.

Last year, I was invited to attend a class taught by Stephanie Clark, a professor of food science and nutrition at Iowa State University (ISU), discussing common misconceptions about dairy foods.

Clark explained that most nutrition science is based on observational studies. Researchers ask their test subjects what they are eating, sometimes over the course of several years, and then they try to determine a cause and effect based on those answers.

The problem is not many of us remember what we ate for lunch yesterday, let alone one week or one year ago, Clark said.

And the research may not measure for other lifestyle factors, such as how active we are during the day.

That’s why nutritional science is always changing and what is recommended today may be scrapped when the next U.S. Dietary Guidelines are released in five years.

Yet most nutritional experts agree that healthy eating is about balance.

Dietitians recommend following the government’s current “MyPlate” guidelines: Fill one-half your plate with fruits and vegetables; one-quarter of your plate with lean meat and protein; and one-quarter of your plate with a grain, preferably whole grain; plus include a serving of low-fat milk or dairy.

In addition, the DASH eating plan was recently rated one of the top diets for 2015.

The science-based DASH plan includes lean meats, low-fat dairy, plenty of fruits and vegetables, and even a few sweets in moderation.

Healthy eating comes down to our choices. It’s about choosing the side salad instead of the fries, a glass of water instead of the fancy coffee drink, or a low-fat yogurt instead of a candy bar or chips for a snack.

And it’s good to know that the dietary recommendations, once again, realize that an egg for breakfast is a healthy choice.

By Teresa Bjork. Teresa is Iowa Farm Bureau’s Senior Features Writer.

Young farmers talk conservation

February 9, 2015
Iowa farmers

Alicia Schmitt discusses conservation practices she and husband Greg have brought to their family’s farm.

More than 500 young Iowans, the largest attendance on record, gathered in Des Moines recently for the 2015 Young Farmer Conference, organized by Iowa Farm Bureau’s Young Farmer Advisory Committee.

With the meeting just a few miles away from Water Works Park, a lot of the conversation in the hallways centered on the Des Moines Water Works’ threat to sue three Iowa counties upstream for high nitrate levels in the Raccoon River.

In reality, it’s young farmers who will be impacted the most by the lawsuit, as the baby boomers retire and the millennials accept the future challenge of producing safe, healthy food while protecting the environment.

And as young farmers will tell you, they’re already taking steps to conserve the land, water and wildlife across the state.

Young farmers today are more educated than ever before. They’ve come back to the farm ready to apply their college degrees in engineering, agronomy and environmental studies.

They’re comfortable with ever-changing technology and readily embrace it to continuously improve their farms. And frankly, young farmers don’t want to do things the way their parents’ have always done things on the farm.

But I’ll let the young farmers tell you themselves what they’re doing to protect water quality. At the conference, I talked to several young farmers and asked them to explain what conservation practices they’ve adopted on their farms. Here’s what they said:

James and Megan Holz, both 28, cattle farmers from Greene County. The Holtzes live in the Raccoon River Watershed, but so far, their home county isn’t named in the Des Moines Water Works lawsuit.

The Holtzes have adopted strip-till (or minimal tillage) practices, and they planted several acres of cover crops last fall to help protect fields from soil erosion in the winter. James also sells cover crop seed as a side business. In addition, they planted grass buffer strips around waterways to control storm water runoff.

“I know what we do, we do it well,” Megan said. “The day (the lawsuit) came out, we stayed up and talked for hours because that’s our future. We are very concerned about protecting the environment and always looking for ways we can improve. It’s this kind of stuff that keeps us up at night, just thinking about how an unknown outside influence could change our entire future. It’s scary.”

Greg and Alicia Schmitt, both 26, hog farmers from Floyd County. The Schmitts custom-feed hogs, and they help Alicia’s dad with planting and harvest. Greg, who studied agronomy at Iowa State University, helped his father-in-law transition to strip-till practices last year.

“Greg helped my dad understand what new practices would work best on his farm,” said Alicia, who also blogs about her life on the farm at “Fit and Farm” ( “He has more time to try new things because we are helping him.”

Ryan England, 23, a crop and cattle farmer who currently lives in Dallas County and works in seed sales. “My boss and I, we’ve done a lot of work on application timing for nitrogen (fertilizer),” England said. “We took a Snapper lawn mower, and we built it so it can drive down the (crop) rows. We do small-scale plot tests. We can do more side-by-side studies.” Through the comparisons, they are helping local farmers determine the best time to more precisely apply nitrogen, so the crops can fully use it. “Maybe (the farmers) have always done it this way, but why is that? We’re in a data world, and collecting that data and recording it is a great tool to take advantage of,” England said.

Ben Pullen, 33, a sheep farmer from Clay County. Pullen lives on a Century Farm, and he has left some of his farm untouched from cultivation.

“I like to have nature. I like to have the wildlife. I think the farm is connected with nature and wildlife. It’s the joy of being out here,” Pullen said. “I seriously think that when we make decisions about our farm, we do think about what impact it is going to have 50 years down the road, 100 years down the road.”

By Teresa Bjork. Teresa is Iowa Farm Bureau’s senior features writer.

When it’s cold, farmers head outside to care for livestock

February 2, 2015

Iowa cattle farmer in the winterIowa’s brisk winter temperatures and snow means all I want to do is snuggle up in a warm blanket by our fireplace and sip hot chocolate. But sub-zero temperatures like those we’ve experienced this winter remind me of times I spent growing up on my parent’s pig farm in northeast Iowa.

When I was a kid living with my parents, we raised pigs outdoors year-round in addition to raising pigs in confinement barns. The outdoor lot was split into seven longer pens. On the north side of the paved pen, there was shelter and bedding so pigs kept warm in corn stalk bedding and out of the wind during cold weather. Nearby, they had access to feed. On the south side of the longer pens, each pen of pigs had access to waterers for drinking.

Having waterers outdoors in the winter meant several extra checks to make sure water wasn’t frozen inside. I don’t even like to go out and shovel our driveway now, but I remember Dad bundling up several times to check on the waterers and thaw them out if necessary so the pigs wouldn’t go thirsty.

Doing chores in those winter months seemed endless to me as a kid. One storm that I’ll never forget brought an abundance of snow and ice, making footing treacherous for humans and pigs. We needed to sort pigs for market and had to use our sorting panels to brace ourselves on the ice. Pigs were quick on four hooves, quicker than the four of us of trying to safely escort them out of their pens and into a larger holding area meant for only the pigs heading to the market.

It was a long, cold day. But it’s memories like these that remind me of the farmers who battle the snow, ice, and other elements to care for their livestock.

As one farmer reminded me recently, pigs and other livestock don’t care if it’s a holiday or an especially cold day, they need feed and water and care. And as I talk to livestock farmers and ask how they’re dealing with the cold weather, they don’t complain about the cold or having to go outside to do chores. Instead, they’re worried about water freezing, snow piling up in outdoor lots, and providing the best care for their animals.

It’s because of these men and women who care for their livestock that I’m able to snuggle on the couch in my warm blanket and sip hot chocolate without second guessing the safety of the dish I plan for the next meal.

Bethany Baratta is the commodities writer for Iowa Farm Bureau Federation.

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