Why Grass Fed Beef is Better for Your HealthMay 27th, 2009
Despite the fact that humans have evolved on red meat, it’s been unduly regarded as an unhealthy food. While some of this is based on misconception, the health benefits of red meat truly depend on the livestock it comes from and how they’re raised.
As the most popular and widely available type of red meat, beef has been targeted with much of the criticism. While the beef from conventionally raised cattle deserves some of this criticism, grass fed beef is an excellent source of nutrition that promotes good health.
Dispelling a Big Fat Myth
Many of the claims against beef are based on the theory that it causes heart disease because of the cholesterol and saturated fat that it contains. However, there is plenty of convincing information suggesting that saturated fat and dietary cholesterol do not cause heart disease. In fact, they’re both essential to our health. Cholesterol is a precursor to important hormones, bile salts needed for digestion, and the vitamin D we produce from sun exposure. It’s also a powerful antioxidant, is crucial for proper brain and nervous system function, and along with saturated fat, is an important component of healthy, strong and well functioning cell membranes.
Cows Don’t Eat Grain
Cows don’t eat grain, and they don’t eat sawdust, newspaper, cardboard or dead animal carcass either, but this is what some farmers feed them anyway. Cows naturally eat grass, but many farmers have become too greedy to provide their cattle with pastures for them to graze on. Instead, they feed them grains and other fillers to fatten them up because it’s easier and more profitable.
Because cattle haven’t evolved to eat grain, they often become sick from relying on it as the staple of their diet. To compensate for this, farmers feed their cattle antibiotics on a regular basis. In addition, the feed they use is often derived from low quality grains that were grown with pesticides and contaminated by mold growth. Based on these factors, the regular beef sold at supermarkets is likely to have come from a sick animal and be contaminated with toxins. In contrast to grass fed beef, this low quality meat is a legitimate health concern.
When it Comes to Beef, Organic Isn’t Enough
Some farmers are conscientious enough to raise their cattle organically, but still choose to feed them grain. While this is a step in the right direction and eliminates the chemical toxins, it still produces beef that’s nutritionally inferior. Unfortunately, raising livestock organically doesn’t always imply that the animals are fed their natural diets.
Why Grass Fed Beef is Better
Common sense should tell us that an animal who eats it’s natural diet will be more healthy and resistant to sickness and disease. Logically, it should follow that the meat from this animal will be more nutritious and more similar to the meat that we’ve evolved on. Personally, this is the only justification I need to spend the extra money on grass fed beef, but I know not everyone is that willing. The following reasons will hopefully provide the rest of the justification that you need.
Less Chance of Infection
Many people associate lightly cooked beef with the risk of contracting mad cow disease or becoming infected with E. coli, salmonella, or parasites. Cattle raised on their natural diet of grass have superior health and are far less susceptible to these infections. As such, it’s much less likely that these infections will be passed on to you through the consumption of their meat. Based on this, I confidently eat grass fed beef barely cooked because I think it’s much more nutritious and flavorful this way.
The omega-3 and omega-6 essential fatty acids are gaining considerable attention, and rightly so because they’re essential to our health and can only be obtained through diet. Although we’ve historically required a roughly equivalent amount of these fatty acids, the modern diet is quite high in omega-6 and low in omega-3. This imbalance can cause brain malfunction, heart disease, cancer and many other significant health problems.
Grain fed cattle produce beef that is high in omega-6 fatty acids and contributes to the imbalance that most of us already have. As nature intended, grass fed beef contains a much higher percentage of omega-3 fatty acids, and as a result, is far more conducive to proper function and optimal health.
Conjugated Linoleic Acid, often referred to as CLA, is another fatty acid that’s found in grass fed beef at much higher levels. It’s a potent antioxidant and has been found to promote muscle development and reduce production of body fat.
Vitamin A is an important antioxidant, is essential for digestion of protein, bone development, reproduction and vision. Vitamin A can be produced in the human body from beta carotene which is more abundant in grass fed beef.
Vitamin E is another important vitamin that’s also a strong antioxidant that resists the effects of aging and promotes proper circulation and tissue repair. As with beta carotene, grass fed beef contains much higher levels of vitamin E.
Although taste is a highly subjective matter, a large majority of people who try grass fed beef attest to it’s exceptional flavor. Personally, I never liked beef much until I started eating grass fed beef. It’s now one of my favorite foods and I look forward to a rare and juicy steak just as much as I used to look forward to the unhealthy processed foods that many of us often crave.
Better Treatment of Animals
In some regards, it’s hard to consider any type of livestock farming as humane, but as someone who truly believes in the need for animal protein to promote and sustain good health, I regard it as a necessary evil.
Not all farmers engage in the cruel treatment commonly found with factory farming. When you buy grass fed beef, it’s very likely that it’s from a farmer who cares for his livestock and raises them with the respect and comfort that they deserve. If this is important to you, then I suggest you do some research and buy from a farmer who agrees with your moral standards. Many small farmers are friendly people who would be happy to discuss this with you.
The Benefits We Have Yet to Discover
We’re simply don’t know everything there is to know about each and every way that our health depends on food. The advantages previously mentioned are what we already know about grass fed beef and there are likely many more benefits that we have yet to discover.
What we do know is that cows naturally eat grass, and eating meat from animals that consume their natural diet gives us the best chance of meeting the nutritional requirements that nature has set for us. Without this foundation, maintaining good health will always be a shot in the dark.
Where to Buy Grass Fed Beef
If you want to be as environmentally friendly as possible and know as much as you can about the source of your food, your best option is to buy from a local farmer. You can visit EatWild.com to find a list of farmers in your state that sell grass fed beef, or you can visit LocalHarvest.org to find farmers markets which local farmers commonly sell at.
If you’re not fortunate enough to find a local farmer you trust or if you prefer the convenience of ordering online, two excellent places that will ship grass fed beef to your doorstep if you live in the United States are U.S. Wellness Meats and Blackwing Quality Meats.
Finally, if you can’t afford the extra expense of grass fed beef, consider buying in bulk and splitting the purchase with friends or storing it in a chest freezer. Many farmers sell beef by the quarter or side which can range from 90 pounds to over 200 pounds. When you buy in such a large quantity, the price tends to average around $5 or $6 per pound which is excellent for grass fed beef. Although your order may include a lot of ground beef, you’ll also get premium cuts that typically sell for $10 or $20 per pound.
This article is part of Real Food Wednesdays