Since the 1950’s Americans have been getting an official message from government & academia that animal foods (saturated fat & cholesterol) are bad for us and man made, processed foods (oils & grains in particular) are good. In recent years red meat has gained a real bad rap - from increased risk of mortality from heart disease and cancer to environmental destruction.
This is due in large part to two studies, one released in 2006 by the UN Food and Agriculture Organization, which attributed 18% of the world’s man-made greenhouse grass emissions to livestock and the other a survey released in 2009, which according to the Washington Post, followed more than 500,000 middle-aged and elderly Americans and found those who ate approximately four ounces of red meat a day were 30 percent more likely to die during the 10 years they were followed, mostly from heart disease and cancer.
Information like this has led many Americans to believe all red meat is bad for them and for the environment, when in fact, there is a significant difference when factory farmed beef is compared to more naturally raised grass-fed beef. They are not the same food, not the same product, not produced the same way meaning they don’t have the same consequence on the environment and they do not produce the same results in human health. To miss this critical difference may be one of the biggest mistakes we make as a society today.
For example, a nutritional analysis shows a six-ounce steak of grain-fed beef has, on average, 100 total calories more than a six-ounce steak of grass-fed beef. The steak produced by a factory farm raised cow is also higher in total fat content.
Grain-fed beef not only has a greater number of calories and fat, it also has fewer beneficial nutrients. It is lower in calcium, magnesium, and potassium, as well as in B, A and E vitamins. These essential minerals and vitamins help the body maintain a healthy weight and hormonal balance, promote heart health and help lower blood pressure; an improper balance may result in low energy levels, irregular digestion and unhealthy skin, teeth, nails and hair. It’s also lower in conjugated linoleic acid (CLA), which helps prevent cancer and has antioxidant qualities.
Furthermore, omega-3s form in the chloroplasts of green leaves, so more than half of the total fatty acids in grass are these “good fats.” So grass fed cows are consuming a higher level of omega-3s, and grass-fed meat may be 2-4 times higher in these good fats then grain-fed meat. This allows for a far superior omega 6:3 fatty acid ratio.
In addition to the dietary advantages of grass-fed beef over grain-fed beef, there are a number of disease management benefits.
Factory-farmed cows are fed a number of antibiotics along with their unnatural grain diet to fight disease. As in humans, the overuse of antibiotics in cattle has led to an increased number of antibiotic-resistant diseases.
Bacteria that survive in an antibiotic-laden system will be more difficult to eradicate and potentially more dangerous than those that originate naturally in a free-range, antibiotic-free farming system. Pasture-raised cattle are better able to develop naturally strong immune systems.
Some research indicates that this may be particularly true for E. Coli. A grain-based diet may cause a cow’s stomach to have a more acidic pH balance. Evidence suggests that over time E. Coli bacteria are able to adapt to this higher acidity. These resistant E. Coli bacteria are then found in the meat of these cows. After being consumed, the bacteria are better able to survive the acidic contents of the human stomach, which increases the chances of the consumer becoming ill.
The way our livestock are fed directly affects the nutritional benefits they offer us as consumers. Factory raised cows that eat antibiotic laden grain offer significantly fewer nutritional benefits than pasture-raised, grass-fed cows. Furthermore, there is growing evidence that they may actually increase your chances of becoming seriously ill. Grass-fed cows, by contrast, offer beneficial to human health, wellness, longevity and disease management.
Note, however, that “Organic” does not necessarily mean ‘grass-fed.’ Whole Foods and other gourmet grocery stores offer meat that claims to be organic, which typically means the cows were fed with organic grain and is only slightly better than other commercial-grade, factory-farm beef.
Solution – Instead of eliminating meat from your diet, you could become more educated and conscious about how the meat you eat is produced.Get your food from the farmer’s market, not a health food store. Know your farmers market and talk to the farmers. Get to know them and try their food. Choose grass fed & pastured meats over commercial and organic.
Not everyone has the same choices and opportunities as those of us in developed nations, especially New York/New England where we have an abundance of green markets, I’m well aware of that. I will handle this issue in another article. In the meanwhile, choose grass fed meats whenever possible.
Links for Grass Fed & Pasture Raised Meats:
Got links? Please post them in the comments below so I can add to this list. Thanks!
“Livestock Impacts on the Environment.” Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations, Agriculture and Consumer Protection Department, www.fao.org, 2006.
Stein, Rob. “Daily Red Meat Raises Chances of Dying Early.” The Washington Post, March 24, 2009.
“Health Benefits of Grass-fed Products.” Eat Wild, www.eatwild.com, © 2002-2010.
Cordain, Loren Ph.D. Nutritional Differences between Grass and Grain Fed Beef: Health Implication, © Copyright Loren Cordain Fort Collins, CO
Warnert, Jeannette “New Website Outlines Health Benefits of Grass-fed Beef.” University of California Agriculture and Natural Resources News and Information Outreach: Governmental and External Relations, November 25, 2003.
“Health Benefits of Grass-fed Products.” (see above).
Cordain (see above).
Mercola, Joseph Dr. “Banned in 160 Nations … Yet the U.S. FDA Regards it as Safe?”
“Grass-fed Products are Clean and Safe.” Eat Wild, www.eatwild.com, © 2002-2010.
Mercola, Joseph Dr., “Where’s the Real Beef?”