No diet has been more analyzed than the human diet. Yet health problems related to diet like obesity, diabetes and heart disease continue to plague Americans. Could the answer to solving the human diet dilemma start with pigs?
The answer is yes, according to meat scientist Dr. Eric Berg. Pigs are an excellent substitute for humans when studying nutrition. “Like humans, pigs are omnivores and their anatomy and physiology are very similar,” says Berg, a professor at North Dakota State University.
Pigs & Humans: Nutritional ties
Pigs and humans have comparable gastrointestinal systems, body composition and nutrient requirements. This makes them much better candidates for human nutrition testing than rats. It also may be better than using humans who confound research trials with diverse genetics, environments, ages, and the inability to follow strict diets.
So Berg has forged ahead on research using pigs to study American diets with some eye-opening results.
Berg is learning from his research that pigs do very poorly when fed a typical human diet that lacks balanced protein. In fact, pigs fed this diet were stunted and exhibited extra intramuscular fat compared to pigs fed a typical pig diet.
“We’ve known for 100 years that it is not just protein that’s important, but the amino acids that make up the protein,” Berg says. “Corn can be high in protein, but it is low in availability of essential amino acids. We would never just feed corn to pigs, but balance their diet with a legume like soybeans to balance essential amino acids and then add vitamins and minerals.”
Unfortunately, human nutrition lags behind animal nutrition. “We snack ourselves into non-nutrition,” Berg says. “We may have a whole-grain bagel for breakfast and then snack on something else for lunch. As a result, our diet is out of balance.”
The biggest source of balanced protein is meat, including red and processed meat, according to Berg. All the essential amino acids are contained in a serving of meat.
Another important issue Berg has addressed in his research is whether or not hormones in meat are causing girls to reach puberty earlier. He fed 4 dietary treatments to pre-pubertal female pigs consisting of a low estrogenic-base diet, a tofu diet, a diet containing beef from cattle that had received steroids to promote growth, and a fourth diet containing beef from cattle that had not received steroids. In summary, he found no difference in age to puberty between the treatments.
Berg is widely recognized for his meat research, which spans 26 years of work. Last year he was asked to testify at hearings for the USDA Dietary Guidelines Advisory committee at the National Institute of Health.
Berg will give a presentation about his research on Thursday, Feb. 25, in Larson Concert Hall at 7 p.m. The presentation is part of the South Dakota State University 2016 speaker series and is sponsored by the SDSU Swine Club.