By improving soil health, plant diversity can impact nutrients in food – AgriNews


MADISON, Wisconsin – Great biodiversity in ecosystems exists in nature.

“There is no monoculture in nature – it’s artificial,” said Stephan van Vliet, nutrition scientist and metabolomics expert at the Center for Human Nutrition Studies at Utah State University.

“Often there is a wide variety of plants and animals in nature, but humans simplify it into a single species of crops or animals and, therefore, require considerable inputs of fossil fuels,” van said. Vliet during a Grassland 2.0 digital dialogue.

“Simplified systems are generally productive in the short term, but it is difficult for farming systems to recycle nutrients and be sustainable in the long term. “

One of van Vliet’s concerns is the dependence on fossil fuels in agriculture to produce food.

“An article in 2020 reported that to produce one calorie of food, it takes two calories of fossil fuels for machines to plant, irrigate and harvest and to produce fertilizers and chemicals to grow and protect these crops,” he said. declared van Vliet.

“It also requires an additional energy equivalency of eight to 12 calories to process, package, deliver and store the food,” he said. “So we have to make changes in the future. “

Consumers and farmers are increasingly interested in meat and milk from pastures.

“Retail sales of grass-fed beef in the United States have doubled every year since 2012 and the global organic dairy market is also on the rise,” said van Vliet.

“Farmers are moving beyond high pastures into regenerative agriculture with systems that improve soil health and plant diversity,” he said.

“I was interested in linking the areas of food production agriculture to human health, as most foodborne illnesses can be attributed to food.

The scientist spoke about a project that evaluated regenerative agriculture systems by collecting soil samples from nearby pastures and corn fields. Additional samples were collected, including plant samples, grain samples, and grass-fed meat samples.

“We compared them using metabolomics,” van Vliet said. “We take biological samples, identify a wide variety of metabolites and group them into classes such as phenols, fatty acids or amino acids.”

Food metabolomics goes beyond protein, vitamins, minerals and fatty acids, van Vliet said.

“Typically, for a nutritional food panel, you see about 13 nutrients, but foods are a lot more complex than that,” he said. “We regularly monitor 150 components, but there are thousands of metabolites. “

People don’t get nutrients. They eat food.

“Metabolites are small molecules that come from the breakdown of food, drugs, chemicals, or our own tissues,” van Vliet said. “Breakdown of your muscle tissue can generate amino acids.”

Animals can eat vegetation that humans cannot.

“Plants react biochemically to sunlight, moisture and nutrients to produce phytochemicals and there can be thousands to hundreds of thousands of compounds,” van Vliet said.

“We are really scratching the surface of understanding the impact of these compounds on our health,” he said. “Research suggests that phytochemicals are potentially anti-inflammatory, antibacterial, and antioxidant at moderate doses, but we also know that at high doses some of them can become problematic.”

Grass-fed beef is not the same at all, van Vliet said.

“When the animals end up on pastures of various plant species, we see this translate into the most phytochemical rich meat and milk,” he said. “It’s reduced on monoculture pastures and less or sometimes undetectable when animals are finished in feedlot on concentrates. “

Grass-fed meat and dairy products have been studied for the inflammatory response, van Vliet said.

“Inflammation plays a central role in metabolic diseases such as heart attacks and strokes, but also a central role in cancer, diabetes and arthritis,” said van Vliet.

“Every time we eat we have an inflammatory response, but if the inflammatory response to food gets high and turns into low-grade systemic inflammation, that’s when we run into problems and increase our risk of metabolic disease, ”he said.

“Research is scarce, but studies show potential for anti-inflammatory effects,” van Vliet said.

“Current knowledge does not allow a direct link between animal production practices, so we need more human data on this topic,” he said. “But I do feel comfortable saying that meat and milk from biodiversity pastures looks healthier on paper.”

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