Ever wondered why grass-fed beef is healthier? It’s more than just how the cows are raised. Let’s take a look!
When it comes to eating healthy, you’ve probably heard the old saying ‘you are what you eat’. But what about what your food ate?
We’re aware of the devastating effects an unnatural diet has on human health (the Standard American Diet is a testament to this!), and the same goes for the animals with whom we share this planet. Put simply, eating an unnatural diet makes us fat, sick and unhealthy – and other animals are no exception.
You Are What Your Food Ate
It’s not surprising then, that the meat from cattle allowed to graze on their natural diet (grass!) is far superior nutritionally to those raised in feedlots. From the soil and sunlight that nourishes the grass, to the cow that eats it, to us. There is a wisdom in nature that connects us all and creates perfect balance.
When we try to outsmart this wisdom, things go terribly wrong.
One example of this is grain-fed cattle. Essentially, feedlots began as a cheap way to quickly fatten up livestock for market (need another reason to ditch the grain?). Not only is this practice environmentally unsustainable and unkind (denying the animals of room to move freely), but it also causes health issues for the cattle – as they were not designed to digest grain.
For one, a diet of grain acidifies the contents of the rumen (one of the stomach chambers) diminishing healthy bacteria and creating an environment where E. coli can flourish – yikes! This change in pH and shift in bacteria is also thought to reduce production of conjugated linoleic acid (“CLA”) – but we’ll get to that later!
Of course, this isn’t just a problem for the cows. We are all connected. Cattle raised on a grain-fed diet produce nutritionally inferior meat and dairy products, and by choosing grain-fed we do ourselves (the animals, and the planet) a disservice.
The Nutrition of Grass-Fed Beef
Let’s take a closer look into the nutritional benefits of grass-fed meat:
Omega 3:6 ratio: Grass-fed beef has a significantly higher concentration of omega 3’s and a more favourable omega 3:6 ratio. In fact, studies show that as grain is increased in the animal’s diet there is a linear decrease in omega 3! So what’s the big deal? You may have heard of the importance of your omega-3:6 ratio. In a nutshell, omega 3’s have anti-inflammatory activity, while omega 6’s can produce inflammation. In the right ratios, all is well within the body. Unfortunately, our modern diet exposes us to extremely high amounts of omega 6, tipping the balance towards excess inflammation and disease. Grass-fed beef is a better option to help maintain a healthy balance of omega 3 to 6.
Conjugated linoleic acid: Grass-fed ruminants produce 2-3x more CLA (1). CLA is an incredibly beneficial fatty acid found to reduce risk of certain cancers, heart disease and diabetes. CLA is also a well known sports supplement, used for supporting weight management by reducing body fat and improving lean mass (2).
Fat Soluble Vitamins: Cattle raised on grass obtain higher levels of beta-carotene from plants (anywhere from 1.5 to 10x higher than grain fed). Beta-carotene is an important precursor of vitamin A (essential for healthy skin!). For this reason, the fat will be yellow on grass-fed beef. Vitamin K2 is also found in meat and dairy products from animals raised on grass.
Trace Minerals: Depending on the mineral content of the soil, grass-fed beef may contain higher levels of calcium and potassium (3).
Labels: How To Read Between the Lines
When buying grass-fed beef, don’t be fooled!
Where possible, purchase meat that has been grass-fed AND grass-finished. This means that the animal was allowed to graze on pasture throughout its entire lifetime. Otherwise, the feed may have been a combination of grain and pasture. To understand why the difference matters, recall that as grain is increased in the diet, there is a linear decrease in omega 3! Even a short period of time on a grain-based diet alter the quality of the meat.
While you’re there, also look for certified organic and free-range. Though organic certification does not necessarily guarantee grass-fed, this does ensure that the animals haven’t been treated with antibiotics or hormones and generally sets higher standard for animal welfare (for more info, check the details of the organic certification body in your country).