Monday 18 December 2017

Blog: "Buying Irish is best for your health and our nation's wealth"

The best quality produce is always found closer to home, writes Daniel Davey

You are what you eat eats: a group of grass-fed Irish Hereford bullocks.
You are what you eat eats: a group of grass-fed Irish Hereford bullocks.

Daniel Davey performance nutritionist BSc MSc, CSCS, NEHS

Over the past 10 to 15 years there has been a significant push from the likes of Bord Bia to encourage people to buy local Irish produce.

Irish consumers spend as much as €1.8bn on imported food brands annually, even though Irish-produced alternatives are readily available.

Apart from creating jobs and the other economic benefits of shopping local, there are some other suggested benefits to buying Irish produce, including environmental protection, traceability and animal husbandry. So, what about from a nutrition perspective? Could Irish food be better quality and more nutritious compared with imported food?

From my own experience of growing up on a farm, working in a local dairy and seeing how food is both produced and manufactured in Ireland, my opinion is there are numerous reasons we should all be looking to buy Irish food.

The relatively mild climate in Ireland lends itself to a plentiful supply of grass and for animals to be left outside grazing for long periods of the year. Hence, the vast majority of meat (beef, lamb, venison) that is reared, produced and processed in Ireland is from farms using grass as the main food source.

For example, the majority of sheep in Ireland are left out for the whole year. Free-range and pasture chicken farms are widely found throughout Ireland, and cattle are mainly only housed in the winter months while being fed a diet of silage (preserved grass), and a small amount of grain.

In most other countries, this isn't always the case. Quite often cattle are fed a grain-based diet in "feed-lots" that limit their movement in order to "finish" them at a much faster rate compared to pasture-rearing.

In recent years a great deal has been made of the value of meat from grass-fed animals compared meat from grain-fed animals. This came with the realisation that the diet of the animal can significantly impact the nutrition profile of the meat – in other words, you are what you eat eats.

One benefit of meat produced from grass-fed animals is that their meat and dairy products are the richest known source of a recently discovered healthy trans-fat named conjugated linoleic acid (CLA). Studies have suggested that CLA may help to prevent certain diseases like cancer and cardiovascular disease. Moreover, beef animals raised on grass have as much as a ten-fold increase of beta-carotene in their muscle tissues and four times more vitamin E compared with grain-fed cattle.

These are both powerful antioxidants which it is suggested play an important role in protecting our bodies' cells from damaging free radicals.

You are what you eat eats: a group of grass-fed Irish Hereford bullocks.

Similarly to how the diet of animals effects the composition of their meat, the same is true for dairy products. The composition and the health benefits of dairy products can vary depending on what the animal (most often cows) eats. High-fat dairy products from grass-fed cows are now known to be vastly different to dairy products produced from cows kept in feed-lots and fed diets high in soy and corn meal.

Dairy products developed from grass-fed cows are among the best sources of Vitamin K2 in the diet. It is suggested that Vitamin K2 helps to counteract arterial plaque build-up, and helps the body use calcium more efficiently to strengthen bones.

There are significant levels of vitamin K2 in grass-fed butter but little or none in grain-fed butter. This is because grass and other foliage are needed to produce vitamin K2 through a process of fermentation in a cow's stomach. Vitamin K2 is a vitamin you will a lot more about in the coming years.

Eggs from pasture-fed hens have been found to have a greater nutritional value compared to free-range or caged-hens eggs – and they taste better too.

Never to be undervalued, taste is a major consideration for everyone. Fresh Irish food has a reputation as being not only healthy and sustainably produced but also tasty. It is easy to take for granted how tasty Irish food is until you visit countries where food is industrially-produced and highly-processed.

There is no doubt that the vast majority of farming practices result in food products that can help us meet most of our nutrition needs without having to look elsewhere.

In Ireland we can benefit from high quality natural whole foods that are produced on farms that help to protect our environment. Many people around the world would love to be access to the foods that we can freely enjoy.

Twitter: @Foodflicker and @Fit_Mag

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