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Driving to the family farm a few weeks ago, everyone felt hungry. Of course, the supreme topic of conversation when you’re confined to a car on the interstate for two hours is food, right? Wrong! :)
The true indicator that we were genuinely hungry is no one mentioned desserts like this red velvet cake. We described our favorite real foods. With summer officially here, we agreed thick juicy burgers hot off the grill (on a gluten-free bun, of course) fit the bill.
With plenty of grass-fed ground beef in the freezer, fresh tomatoes ripening on the window sill, leafy greens in the crisper, and bacon in the fridge (you can get free bacon here – more details at the end of the post), dinner was an easy decision.
What isn’t always easy to decide is the type of meat to feed your family. There’s so much headline hype about meat these days, it’s challenging to discern fact from fiction. As a former research scientist, I need facts before making an informed decision.
Just like you with your family, it’s important to me that I’m preparing foods my family loves and foods that nourish (and do not cause harm to) our bodies.
After reading stacks of articles from scientific journals and listening to experts on the topic, it made sense for my family to switch to grass-fed beef. I want to share some of what I’ve learned so you can use the information to make the best decision for your family on what type of beef you eat.
Grass-fed versus Conventional Beef
Grass-fed is pretty straightforward: Cows are pastured and fed a grass-based (forage) diet their entire life.
Conventional beef is the product we are most familiar with in the United States, as it accounts for nearly 90% of all beef sold in America.
Conventional beef cows graze on grass in the pasture for about the first year of life, then move to feed yards to spend the remaining time of their life (from 120 to 200 days). In feed lots, cows eat a grain-based diet that consists mainly of corn (along with soy and other grains). In addition to supplemental nutrients, conventional beef cows receive antibiotics and growth hormones.
According to Wyoming Beef’s Conventional Beef Fact Sheet, antibiotics and hormones are “judiciously used” with antibiotics used to “treat, control and prevent disease”. The organization adds that growth hormones used in conventional beef production are “approved by the Food and Drug Administration”.
At this point, you either think conventional beef sounds fine (after all the FDA approves everything that’s going on with it), or you want to know more about grass-fed beef because you’re not ready to drop your health into the hands of the FDA (good thinking, especially since they’ve led us astray on more than one harmful food additive over the years).
Before making the switch, I needed to understand the facts about the composition of grass-fed versus conventional beef . After all, most of us have a budget and there are additional costs involved with a more carefully crafted product. Spending extra is acceptable when there is a true added benefit, but no one wants to throw money away based on hearsay and hype. To determine if it’s worth it for our budget and for our health, let’s look at some basics about grass-fed beef versus conventional beef.
As mentioned earlier, grass-fed cattle are raised in the pasture eating grass their entire life. That means less crowding and less stress on animals. Conventional beef cows are crowded and packed into feed lots. The conditions are stressful on the animal and less sanitary overall.
According to a Consumer Reports article about beef safety, in addition to the grain-based diet of conventional beef, cows may be fed other “foods” to fatten them up.
From the article:
“They include candy (such as gummy bears, lemon drops, and chocolate) to boost their sugar intake and plastic pellets to substitute for the fiber they would otherwise get from grass. Cattle feed can also contain parts of slaughtered hogs and chickens that are not used in food production, and dried manure and litter from chicken barns.”
My first undergraduate degree was in pre-veterinary medicine, so I have knowledge of how traditional livestock are raised. I’m aware of feeding not-so-obvious foods like potato chips and orange peels to cattle, but I have never heard of feeding candy or plastic pellets, not to mention those “other parts”.
Just like the foods we eat each day, the foods a cow eats each day contributes to the animal’s overall health. Junk and non-food items fed to livestock are not beneficial to the animal’s overall health. There are also concerns about the genetically modified grains used in the normal ration conventional cows consume. Many of us do not want junk ingredients going into the animals that we will someday consume. As they say, junk in means junk out.
We know from science and agencies like the CDC that the routine use of antibiotics in farming contributes to the rise of antibiotic-resistant bacteria.
This is a public health threat that can be lessened by consuming antibiotic-free meats. While grass-fed animals can be given antibiotics if needed, the nature of the production process greatly reduces the need for antibiotics in those populations. For my family, based on what I have learned on this topic, it is best to choose antibiotic free meats, which is why we opt for Butcher Box meats. Also, keep in mind that with organic grass-fed beef, antibiotics are never administered to those animals.
This is another reason we choose Butcher Box for worry-free meats – they never use meat administered antibiotics or hormones.
Growth hormones used in conventional beef production lead to unnatural growth patterns. For example, White Oak Pastures, a large family farm cited in the Consumer Reports article linked above, states that conventional cattle can reach a weight of 1,200 pounds in 16 to 18 months, while their grass-fed cows take 20 to 22 months to reach 1,100 pounds.
Just like chemical fertilizers used to “push” fruits and vegetables to grow to unnaturally large sizes in too short a time, conventional beef is pushed to grow big fast to meet the demand for product. If you’re like me, you opt for quality over quantity every time.
Keep in mind, this is a brief overview of the points that first piqued my interest in further researching the topic. There is so much more to discuss on the benefits of grass-fed over conventional beef. But now, let me touch on the top health benefits that sealed the deal for my family.
Why We Switched to Grass-Fed Beef
Rekha Mankad, M.D. of the Mayo Clinic shares a bit about grass-fed beef and reports it “may have some heart-health benefits that other types of beef don’t have”, such as:
- Less overall fat
- More omega-3 fatty acids
- More conjugated linoleic acid
- More antioxidant vitamins (like vitamin E)
Let’s touch on each one briefly.
Less overall fat
Dietary differences between grass-fed and conventional beef results in a different overall muscle composition and fat profile. Artemis P. Simopoulos, MD, FACN, an endocrinologist; founder and president of the Center for Genetics, Nutrition and Health, states, “animals in the wild that eat grass have more meat, less fat, less saturated fat, and more heart-healthy polyunsaturated fatty acids. And they have, particularly, a higher amount of omega-3 fatty acids.”
More omega-3 fatty acids
Omega-3 fatty acids (FAs) are essential FAs humans must have but that our bodies do not manufacture. We must get these FAs from foods we eat. For example, foods like salmon, halibut, plants like flax, nuts and coconut contain omega-3 FAs.
We often hear about omega-3s in terms of another essential FA, omega-6. The body requires both, as both are critical for proper brain growth and development, we run into issues when there is an excess of omega-6 in the diet. While omega-3 FAs reduce inflammation (and the risk of inflammatory-related diseases like cancer), certain omega-6 FAs can promote inflammation.
According to the University of Maryland Medical Center researchers, “the typical American diet tends to contain 14 to 25 times more omega-6 fatty acids than omega-3 fatty acids.” Clearly, this is a negative health risk, especially for those of us with autoimmune disease (i.e., celiac, diabetes, arthritis, thyroid disease, etc.).
One way excess omega-6 FAs creep into the modern American diet is via conventional beef. According to research, grass-fed beef contains higher concentrations of omega-3 FAs compared to conventional grain-fed beef. This results in a more favorable omega-6 to omega-3 FA profile.
Conjugated Linoleic Acid (CLA)
CLA is a polyunsaturated FA containing concentrated antioxidants believed to lower the risk of serious diseases like heart disease and certain types of cancer, improve immune function and limit food allergy reactions. The most significant dietary sources of CLA are dairy products and beef.
Research indicates grass-fed beef consistently contains two to three times the amount of CLA relative to grain-fed beef.
More antioxidant vitamins
We are all familiar with the critical role antioxidants play in our health. Grass-fed beef is repeatedly shown to contain higher concentrations of these beneficial components. This is demonstrated in research by biochemical means as well as natural markers such as more yellow fat color, overall beef quality and meat flavor.
Now, that’s quite a bit of information about beef, but it gives you a glimpse into what I do when I’m making decisions for my family and the food choices we make. Remember, food is our greatest preventative “medicine”. I always say I’d rather pay a little more at the checkout now buying quality food than pay more later at the doctor’s office because I cut corners when I knew better.
If you’re thinking of making a switch to grass-fed beef and healthier meat and poultry in general, I encourage you to give Butcher Box a try.
We’ve been so happy with the products we’ve tried and right now, you can get a great bonus: FREE BACON + $10 OFF your first box!
Just click here and get your first box on its way and my friends at Butcher Box will toss in a free 10-ounce package of Whole30 approved, uncured, no sugar added bacon! Use code glutenfreegigi and get $10 off your box!
Once you try it, you’ll see the difference in how the meat tastes and how you feel after eating it.
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