“Excuse me, sir, but can you please tell me what kind of diet my beef consumed?”
What Is Conventional, Store-Bought Meat? Do We Really Need To Care?
It’s often thought of as pompous to ask what your food ate while it was living. Some butchers, waiters, and friends may secretly roll their eyes in contempt or scoff at the question. However, that doesn’t mean you should ever stop asking it. Don’t let what others do guide what you do. Make all decisions (especially health-related ones) based on good reason and good science and question notions and claims that sound incredulous. Hopefully, you are asking the question because you’ve heard grass fed is better. After reading this, you’ll know the reasons why.
GRASS FED – GRASS FINISHED – ORGANIC – CAGE FREE – FREE RANGE – PASTURED
Upon entering the store, it’s so difficult to decipher labels (and determine what to buy) … it’s crazy to imagine there was once a time when NO labels were needed, for all animals were grass fed, free range , and pastured. Today, however, if a package doesn’t have a specific label on it, consider it conventionally-raised in a factory farm and fed an unnatural diet.
Quantity Over Quality Equals Profit.
When bigger businesses starting taking over the animal farming industry, they turned it into a factory output with faster production, fatter animals, and cheaper methods. In order to do this, the overall health of the animals and nutrient content of their meat plummeted. These factory farmed, conventionally raised animals live in very crowded, dirty spaces, where there is no room to move. In these cramped living conditions full of feces, harmful invaders spread rapidly from animal to animal, making routinely antibiotics and medications a necessity.
You Are What Your Food Eats
Conventionally-raised animals are not free to instinctively choose what they eat off the land; instead, they are lot fed a diet (completely foreign to their natural one) consisting solely of grains, corn and soy (yup, the very inflammatory things in which most of us are trying to avoid). They are then supplemented with a variety of “creative” and seemingly inedible food waste by-products.
This unhealthy diet does not proficiently assimilate in their digestive systems, either, thus leading to many gastric problems (including the release of CO gases) and the need for E.coli antibiotics. The harmful grain-based diet also causes the animals to store copious amounts of omega-6 laden fat (omega 6 is in excess in our diet and leads to inflammation). Inflammation is the cause of almost all modern diseases, like heart disease, digestive problems, obesity, stress and diabetes. Sadly, because more visible fat on meat means more money for the business owner, the animals are also pumped with hormones to increase these fatty deposits even further.
What Does Grass Fed Really Mean? Why We Really Need To Care
Left to their own devices, cows naturally graze along pastures and choose what they want to eat, which turns out to be nutrient-dense grasses, clovers, shrubs, and wild plants (definitely not man made milled grains, corn, and soy). What is more, their bodies were designed for this. They have the internal bio-mechanisms (four stomachs) to break down these nutrient-rich greens to extract all the health benefits (including omega-3, trace minerals, vitamins, like B vitamins, vitamin E, vitamin K, antioxidants, conjugated linoleic acid-CLA, and trans vaccenic acid-TVA). CLA and TVA are types of naturally occurring trans-fatty acids that improve brain function, causes weight loss, improve immune function and inflammation, and reduces your risk of cardiovascular diseases and cancer. Human are not capable of digesting grasses and absorbing these nutrients directly. We are, however, capable of consuming the animals who do. Therefore by consuming grass-fed cows, all this nutritional goodness is passed on to us.
Grass-eating cows are not given antibiotics or growth hormones and are not raised in confinement; instead, they graze and forage on whatever they’d like to eat. Grass eating cows also have much more omega-3 fats (the fats that are essential for nerve tissue, stress, reducing inflammation, aiding recovery, and numerous other metabolic processes) and much less omega-6 fats. Thus, eating all of the meat (including the fat) is quite beneficial in a grass fed cow.
Conventional beef is factory farmed. It is the unlabeled meat and comprises about 95% of the beef in the U.S. (Where here in Costa Rica it is about the exact opposite….one of the many reason I love living here).
Organic means that the animals are not given growth hormone BUT are still fed a conventional diet of “organic” corn, soy, wheat.
GRASS FED (often means GRAIN FINISHED)
Unfortunately, when you pick up some meat labeled “grass-fed,” you may not get for what you think. Today, the term “grass-fed” now includes animals that have only grazed on grass for a minimum of 140 days prior to slaughter, but were then transferred to a commercial feedlot to eat grains, corn, soy, etc. If the label doesn’t specify it was “grass finished” chances are that it was fed grains.
GRASS FED, GRASS FINISHED
These are animals that are grass fed and grass finished all the way up to slaughter, eating grass, shrubs and plants for their whole life.
Cage free means that the animal in not enclosed in a box. However, they can still be confined to a small building.
Free range means the animal is allowed an open door for at least part of the day. It does not mean their diets change. Sure, they may be able to eat some greens or grubs (if they can find any within the allotted time in the open location, which may be very small); however, they are still majorly grain-fed.
This means the animal is raised in an open pasture with access to the outside greenery goodness with grasses and bugs.
Choose grass-fed, grass-finished, pasture-raised animals that eat grass, insects and wild plants. You are what your food eats!
The nutritional profile and fat composition of beef from a conventionally fed cow and a cow eating grass is completely different. Research and studies reveals consuming grass-eating animals is superior (in vitamins, minerals, and fatty acid content) to conventionally-fed animals, and even the slightest few weeks of feeding grain to these animals will destroy many valuable vitamins. Therefore, you will also want to avoid grass-fed, grain-finished animals as well.
What To Do If You’re Broke Or Can’t Find Grass Fed Options?
Let’s face it, grass-fed meats are usually not cheap and are viewed as a luxury item in most parts. Here are some tips for affording the higher quality grass fed options while on a budget (many of these options deliver!)
- Hit up your local farmer’s market, coop, and support them!
- Online grass fed farmers will often run coupons; stock your freezer up!
- Check for sales on grass-fed meats at local stores, buy in bulk and freeze
- Invest in a deep freeze and buy a half cow for a lot cheaper than supermarket prices. It will typically come cut and wrapped.
- Move to Costa Rica, where all the meat is grass-fed. 🙂
Always keep in mind that you can’t beat the nutrients, minerals, vitamins, and fatty acids you are gaining from grass fed animals. Plus, you are improving the environment, the animals’ living conditions, and helping to support your local farmers. Not to mention, you and your family’s health will reap all the benefits too!
If you are just absolutely unable to afford grass fed meats or simply cannot find it, don’t beat yourself up. Buy what conventionally-fed meats you can and be sure to trim the fat off (for these fats consist highly of omega-6).
You can also go for the cheapest cuts of meat and slow cook them, stew them, or pressure cook them (again, trim fat first). In addition, be sure to supplement your diet with a quality multivitamin and get plenty of omega-3 (whether from cold water fish or supplements).
~Hopefully this article will help to give you the tools to support your grass fed decision with a proper explanation to your scoffers.
This Video is from the author of The Vegetarian Myth, Lierre Keith. It is a book that inspired me (especially having been a vegan for a part of my earlier life). You can pick it up on amazon here.