Quinn on Nutrition: Thereís a lot of bull out there, the choice is yours

February 1, 2016

If you eat today, you can thank farmers and ranchers. I thought about that as we drove to the family owned and operated ranch of Joe and Cyndi Van Newkirk in Oshkosh, Nebraska for their annual Bull Sale. Each year, this family sells more than 200 of their prized breeding animals to ranchers from across the United States looking to produce top beef herds back home. Good quality, after all, breeds good quality.

This was a first for me. So I kept my hands down as I watched the fast-paced bidding and buying.

"Now thereís a bull," auctioneer Joe Goggins of Billings, Montana announced as a one ton 2 year-old lumbered into the ring. "Look at that body!"

Generations of highly selective breeding produce cattle with size and muscle, I learned. Like other successful ranchers, the Van Newkirks grow their cattle on well sustained pasture grass for most of the year. Through the winter months, these big boys get hay and other high energy feed cultivated on the land. 

This is no business for sissies, I realized. Cattle breeders study intricate details on their animals, from their weight at birth (lower weights, easier deliveries) to how fast they grow (more muscle, more lean meat) and measurements of theirÖparts (better calf crops). 

"This bull will let you make it to all the basketball games," the auctioneer assured bidders. Translation: He will produce easy to deliver calves so the rancher wonít have to spend as much time out in the pasture helping the process. 

From a nutrition standpoint, highly muscled animals produce leaner meat. In fact, according to the National Cattlemanís Beef Association two-thirds of the beef sold in stores now meets current standards for lean meat; that includes sirloin and 95 percent lean ground beef. When balanced with a healthful dietary pattern of vegetables, fruit, whole grains, fish, nuts and low fat dairy foods, up to 4 to 5 ounces of lean meat a day can support good health, according to the most recent Dietary Guidelines for Americans.

Studies now show clearly that itís not any one food but our pattern of eating ó the types and amounts of what we eat over time ó that has the biggest impact on our long-term health. Thereís a big difference between a diet of high fat processed meats devoid of vegetables and one that includes protein and nutrient-rich lean meats along with healthy doses of plant-based foods. 

We can achieve a health sustaining diet in many ways, say experts, and we do not have to completely eliminate any food group to get there. In fact, studies from around the world show clear evidence that healthful eating patterns can address our social and cultural preferences as well as our medical needs. We all have choices. And thatís no bull.




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