Red meat has taken a lot of hits over the years. Once the obvious cornerstone to a nutritious diet, red meat finds itself stuck in an uphill battle for relevancy. This is largely due to the system from which most Americans by their meat. The factory farm system is riddled with safety issues, both to the animals and the workers. Animals are exposed to massive amounts of antibiotics. Eric Schlosser’s “Fast Food Nation” and the documentary, “Food Inc.” are damning illustrations of a food industry that feeds the public burgers contaminated with poop and cows with large visible holes, surgically implanted holes. There is a way to eat beef humanely and reap the benefits of a forgotten superfood, and that’s through the consumption of grass-fed beef.
According to an article in The Nutrition Journal aside from being significant source of the macro-nutrient protein, “red meat, regardless of feeding regimen, is nutrient dense and regarded as an important source of essential amino acids, vitamins A, B6, B12, D, E, and minerals, including iron, zinc and selenium.” This means even factory farmed meat has its benefits. If you’re worried about contaminants, Dallas and Melissa Hartwig, authors of It Starts With Food, recommend sticking to leaner cuts of meat, as poisons collect in the fattier portions.
However, this shortcut shouldn’t stop one from investing in grass-fed beef. Grass-fed cows are different from their grain fed counterparts in several ways. One, they subsist on grass diets (obviously). Two, a grass-diet changes the chemical and nutritional profile of the cow. Three, by virtue of its grass fed diet, which requires the cow to be free to roam, the animal cannot be part of the claustrophobic factory farming system. As ethical choice this makes grass-fed meat a superior choice.
How though, does the change in diet make grass-fed meat a superior choice to its grain-fed counterpart? For starters, the aforementioned Nutrition article states grass-fed meat “contains elevated concentrations of stearic acid…the only saturated fatty acid with a net neutral impact on serum cholesterol,” so grass-fed meat shouldn’t concern anyone monitoring their cholesterol levels. More importantly, grass fed is a significant source of Omega-3 fatty acids. Ideally, “a healthy diet should consist of roughly one to four times more omega-6 fatty acids than omega-3 fatty acids.” Notice the article isn’t saying that either fatty acid is inherently good or bad. Instead it’s saying both are needed in a specific ratio. They’re two objects on a scale, and one should aspire to have them achieve equilibrium. However, the article goes on to state that on average, “the typical American diet” has roughly “11 to 30 times more omega-6 than omega-3 fatty acids.” This imbalance has been linked to a variety of “inflammatory disorders in the United States.” Grass fed meat provides a means by which to restore balance to this lopsided ratio. Also, nutrition expert, Kris Gunnars, states that grass-fed beef contains twice the CLA as grain-fed beef. This fatty acid is associated with improved body fat composition. Lastly, he states grass-fed meat is abundant source of Vitamin A, Vitamin E, potassium, iron, and zinc.
Red meat has fallen on hard times, but that doesn’t mean you have to adopt a vegetarian or vegan diet. Meat is still healthy, but like many foods, super or otherwise, the source does matter. Grass-fed meat establishes a path for the conscientious meat eater.
Written By David Arroyo