Is (insert food du jour) Good for Me?

I work with National Pork Board and other farmer-led organizations, and this post is inspired by my thoughts on how amazing agriculture is, with contributions and synergy we seldom pause to reflect upon. In a world where it’s easy to get caught up in the hurry, taking a moment to see the full story is essential.

Is (insert food du jour) good for me?

balanced eating plant basedI get asked this question regularly, about foods from all five food groups. Usually, people expect a yes or no, and often, they seem to assume they already know what my response will be.

Would it surprise you to know that my answer is more likely to be a question back?  There are many ways to eat healthfully, and the synergy between food choices is essential to consider, both on farm and on the table. If we choose a lean meat and pair it with a refined grain, we must get fiber elsewhere. If we choose something high in sodium, we need to balance it with lower sodium choices. It’s a constant dance of pairing foods to deliver on taste, nutrition, convenience, budget, and more….and this is just from the nutrition perspective.

We have always thought about food. Originally, we thought with concern if there would be enough to survive. With agriculture, we could focus on specific details because farmers provide our safe, affordable, nutritious food supply. This is where the story starts.

Is meat good? Both fresh and prepared meat play an important role in meals around the world. Before refrigeration, cured meats were critical for survival. Safe and nutritious to help get us through winters. Salt was essential from a food safety perspective. Once refrigeration became available, fresh meat, like lean pork tenderloin and sirloin, allowed for nutrition without added salt. Our choices expanded.

If you dig into details beyond protein, which is one of the simplistic filters people use, meat offers a bioavailable, diverse source of many nutrients, including iron, zinc, Vitamin B12, and several others that aren’t as plentiful in other foods. In addition to being nutrient-rich in and of itself, it can help boost the meal. For example – did you know that combining iron-rich plant-based foods with animal sources of protein (and sources of Vitamin C) can help improve iron absorption?

If we choose to forego a specific food, we must make up the nutrients. It’s that simple. The “good for me” question is really about choice. It requires deeper consideration for all that each food does for us, and how to get what is missing if we don’t eat it.

“Diets including fresh or fresh lean pork provided higher energy-adjusted amounts of protein, selenium, thiamin, and vitamin B (6) as compared with diets of adults not consuming fresh pork (P < .05) and provided comparable amounts of fat and saturated fat. Consumption of lean cuts of fresh pork is consistent with dietary guidance, and selection of fresh lean pork products by current nonconsumers could increase dietary variety without adversely affecting nutrient intake.”

Nutr Res. 2011 Oct;31(10):776-83. doi: 10.1016/j.nutres.2011.09.006.

A “healthy diet” is one that helps us prevent and/or manage chronic disease, supports physical/mental success, respects cultural and personal preferences.  Wise choices provide as much nutrition as possible for the calories we are consuming.

What will you choose to achieve this?