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Farm Beat: Lots of good, and good-for-you, Valley foods

Farmers in and near Stanislaus County stand ready to serve the kind of food that federal nutritionists say is good for people.

The U.S. Department of Agriculture this week released a proposed update to its dietary guidelines, done every five years. It urges lots of fruits, vegetables, nuts and whole grains, along with meat, poultry and dairy products that are not too high in fat or sodium.

This is not much different from the 2010 guidelines, although the latest version did draw criticism from beef and pork producers, who said their products are healthier than the USDA suggests.

“Lean meat is red meat,” said Shalene McNeill, registered dietitian and nutrition scientist with the National Cattlemen’s Beef Association, in a news release. “Today’s beef supply is leaner than ever before, with more than 30 cuts of beef recognized as lean by government standards.”

The Northern San Joaquin Valley produces plenty of beef, some of it raised on ranches in the hills to the east and west, some of it from cows no longer needed on dairy farms.

The region also turns out vast amounts of chicken and turkey. Foster Farms, the largest player by far, has some items with added salt, but its main marketing push is for fresh, natural poultry.

The dairy industry has nonfat and low-fat milk, yogurt, ice cream and other products, along with items with reduced sugar.

Most of our tomatoes go to canneries rather than produce aisles, but the canners note that the process seals in nutrients. The same goes for peaches and apricots, which the USDA says are fine from a can when fresh fruit is out of season.

And don’t forget Rosarita refried beans, made in the same Oakdale cannery as Hunts tomato products. They are loaded with fiber (and could ease your guilt about the full-fat cheese you piled on the same plate).

The guidelines have a place for the almonds and walnuts that we grow in great volume here. They are considered a source of “good” fat, as well as several nutrients. And eggs, which had been thought to be a source of the “bad” kind of cholesterol, are treated kindly this time around.

We also, of course, make wine. The guidelines say moderate alcohol consumption can be healthy.

The proposal, drafted by a committee of experts, is undergoing public comment and could become final later this year.

It won mostly praise from the Center for Science in the Public Interest, which is critical of the meat industry.

“The committee has boldly stated that a sustainable diet, higher in plant-based foods and lower in animal-based foods, is better for both our health and the planet than the current American diet,” Executive Director Michael Jacobson said in a statement.

Have an idea for the Farm Beat? Contact John Holland at or (209) 578-2385.