Editorial: Have an omelette — cooked in butter

Many farmers bristle at the name Michael Pollan, the author of Omnivore’s Dilemma, and Cooked, two books which are not friendly to what he would call “big agriculture.”

But leaving disagreements on issues such as organic food and GMOs aside, farmers might have to give Pollan credit for his dictum on eating properly: “Eat food. Not too much. Mostly plants.”

As it turns out that’s pretty much what the scientific community has been recommending lately, and it’s good news for farmers — or at least mostly good news.

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As we reported last week, a recent article in the British Medical Journal says that advice to cut fat consumption given to U.S. and British consumers “should never have been issued.” Reading between the lines, it appears that the recommendations were based on studies of men who were overweight and out of shape. Turns out they died sooner than men who weren’t. Their conclusion: must have been the fat.

It seems that the correct conclusion can be summed up by an older and even simpler dictum than Mr. Pollan’s — “It’s the dose that makes the poison.” These men died early because they ate too much, period.

Last week, there was even more “oops” news on the relationship between food and health. The U.S. government’s Dietary Guidelines Advisory Committee has concluded that there is no correlation between cholesterol in food and cholesterol in the blood. So much for those recommendations to limit yourself to two eggs a week.

That news emerged from the committee’s latest five-year review of dietary guidelines, and similar to British conclusions, the committee pretty much threw out the recommendations to limit fat consumption. They do stick with the suggestion to limit saturated fats, but some cardiologists reacting to the announcement last week even disputed that.

So there is good and bad news for producers of red meat and eggs. They’re losing what is in effect a “poison” label, though again, the dictum about the dose making it applies.

The new villain for nutritionists is sugar. That makes sense intuitively — sugar truly is “empty calories” and added sugar from junk food makes up 16 per cent of the American diet.

The other villain for which the science seems sound is trans fats, which are produced by hydrogenating vegetable oil to make solid products such as margarine. It turns out that after all those years you might have been better off eating butter. However, this has also been good news for Canadian producers of canola and its specialty variants like Nexera that don’t convert to trans fats when processed.

The committee’s report on balance is probably good for farmers overall. It does recommend eating less meat and less carbohydrate, but more vegetables, fruits, whole grains, low- or non-fat dairy, seafood, legumes and nuts instead.

Local opportunities

A notable feature of that list is that perhaps with the exception of nuts (maybe sunflower seeds could substitute), everything on that list is produced in Manitoba. And the U.S. recommendations support some of the work of the Manitoba Agri-Health Research Network (MAHRN) and the Canadian Agri-Food Policy Institute (CAPI) in developing a Canadian version of the “Mediterranean diet” based on foods that are produced here.

On that note, it would be nice to see the various commodity groups co-operating to put practical examples of a healthy local diet. Many are doing good work in promoting their own product, including recipes. But we can’t help noting that one of the most visible local examples of promotion lately is from Peak of the Market, with daily recipes advertised in the Winnipeg Free Press. It seems that most of them recently haven’t included many vegetables, and when they do, they are often products that are not grown here or are out of season, such as broccoli and green onions. Granted, you can only come up with so many recipes for potatoes and rutabagas. So instead, perhaps Peak and other commodity groups should pool their resources into promoting simple-to-prepare variations of complete meals made from their products. They could take their lead from the two University of Alberta nutritionists and their book and website called “The Pure Prairie Eating Plan.”

In the past, commodity groups, especially red meat, eggs and dairy, have had to battle the perception that their products are unhealthy. The new message is that you can eat just about anything you want — just don’t eat too much. So have an omelette for supper — and cook it in butter.

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