Exploring grass-fed dairy; choline supplements

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Q: Are grass-fed dairy products a good choice?

A: Dairy products labeled as "grassfed" market their products as coming from cows exclusively fed grass instead of the grain rations that conventionally-raised cows typically consume. But what does this term really mean? In 2016, the USDA withdrew support for grass-fed marketing claims, thus they no longer have an official definition of the term "grassfed."

In an attempt to gain some consensus on the term, the American Grassfed Association (AGA) created a certification process for grass-fed labeling. The AGA standards support family farms and incorporate such qualities as a diet of only grass and forage, access to open pasture, better animal health and welfare, no administration of antibiotics and hormones, and production of nutritious and healthy meats. The standards are verified by an independent, third-party, on-farm yearly audit, and only farms certified in accordance with AGA principles may use the logo.

Although more research is needed, there is some evidence that grass-fed dairy may contain more vitamins, antioxidants, conjugated linoleic acid, and omega-3 fatty acids than milk from grain-fed cows, and that it may offer health benefits. However, grass-fed dairy products, such as milk, meat, yogurt and cheese, are pricier than products from conventional cows. --Kaley Todd, M.S., R.D.

Q: Should I supplement my diet with choline?

A; Some nutrients are essential, which means the body cannot make them or cannot make them in sufficient amounts to satisfy needs. Choline is a nutrient that falls into both categories: Even though the body can synthesize it, consuming choline-rich foods is a good idea. The best choline sources include foods that many people avoid or eat in small quantities because of health concerns, like egg yolks and meats, but choline can also be found in fish, legumes, dairy, poultry, mushrooms and cruciferous vegetables.

Choline is a component of the neurotransmitter acetylcholine and is important for brain development in the fetus, as well as metabolism. Intake from food combined with normal synthesis should provide adequate choline, but for some people who have difficulty consuming adequate sources of this nutrient, supplementing might be a good idea. The issue is making sure to avoid excessive intake from supplements, which has been associated with vomiting, excessive sweating, low blood pressure and liver toxicity. Much of the research conducted on choline and reduced risk of Alzheimer's disease, heart disease, and other conditions has been inconclusive. Focus on a balanced diet that includes a variety of nutrient-rich foods to meet needs. --Sharon Salomon, M.S., R.D.

(Reprinted with permission from Environmental Nutrition, a monthly publication of Belvoir Media Group, LLC. 800-829-5384. www.EnvironmentalNutrition.com.)

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