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Man has been consuming meat for thousands of years. However, in the 1950’s, as heart disease was on the rise in America, a theory was proposed claiming saturated fat as the culprit. Although the study prompting that theory was massively flawed and lacked support from many in the field, the proclamation was sent forward and the country was warned against the health hazards of eating meat, which contained saturated fat.
With the question still looming as to why many other countries who do eat meat and saturated fat do not have the same rates of heart disease as Americans, perhaps we have been going about this all wrong. It’s not meat overall that is the culprit… it is what is being done to the meat that should concern us. We have been led to believe that no matter what an animal is fed, the nutritional value of its products stays the same. Not so! An animal’s diet has a huge effect on its products that we consume.
Today the vast majority of farming methods include, not only CAFO’s (Concentrated Animal Feeding Operations) where animals are raised in crowded, filthy conditions, but also the practice of pumping them full of hormones and antibiotics to fatten them up. An incredible eighty percent of antibiotics sold in the U.S. today are used on livestock. In addition, much of their unnatural diets consist of oftentimes genetically-modified (GM) grains containing heavy amounts of pesticides. The use of grains in ruminants creates a very acidic environment in the intestinal tract, which allows for the growth of dangerous bacteria like E. Coli.
On the other hand, raising animals naturally by allowing them to roam and graze off the grasses of the land, produces a significantly different, healthy product. Essential Fatty Acids (EFAs) are extremely important fats that the body cannot produce on its own. Omega-3s and omega-6s are EFAs. We must gain them through our diet. Grass-fed animals have a much higher level of omega-3 (anti-inflammatory, alpha-linoleic acid or ALA) than grain-fed animals, which contain a high content of omega 6 (inflammatory, linoleic acid). The reason for this difference lies in the chloroplasts of the green leaves of plants. Sixty percent of the fat content of grasses are a type of omega-3. This is very important, considering that inflammation is the hallmark of all disease.
This is not to say that omega-6s are not important. They play an important role in the body. The problem is that the ratio of omega-6 to omega-3 in the average American diet is around 50:1, instead of the optimal healthy range of 4:1. When cattle are not grass-fed and are fattened on grain, they lose their valuable store of ALA, EPA AND DHA (all omega-3s), which increase this ratio.
Yet another significant nutrient in grass-fed beef is a polyunsaturated fatty acid called CLA or “conjugated linoleic acid.” The milk and meat from grass-fed, pastured ruminants are the richest known source of CLA, which is a potent defense against cancer. In fact, their milk and meat have five times the CLA of conventionally-raised animals.
CLA also appears to play a role in the regulation of body fat. According to the Pennington Biomedical Research Center, CLA aids the body by using stored body fat for energy and helps prevent metabolism from slowing down when dieting. This is beneficial, as the reduction of the metabolic rate can lead to subsequent weight gain. The same study showed that, not only did CLA help prevent the plaque and lipid buildup in arteries that lead to heart disease, but also acted as an antioxidant and helped lower blood pressure.
Maintaining a healthy weight is always of most importance in avoiding many adverse health conditions. Regulating carbohydrate intake and eating healthy fats are paramount in helping to achieve any weight loss goals. Healthy fats tell our brain that we are satisfied, along with many other benefits. CLA is a healthy fat that aids in this process by reducing hunger via a hormone known as Ghrelin - or the “hunger hormone.” Its job is to travel to the brain to tell us when we are hungry. CLA helps control ghrelin, thus controlling hunger.
There are also a fair amount of studies linking the benefits of CLA on diabetes. In one such study, Penn State researchers showed how CLA activated proteins that enhance glucose metabolism by improving insulin performance, much like diabetes medications.
In addition, multiple animal studies have touted the ability of CLA to inhibit cancer cell growth. Although it is not fully understood, CLA is thought to affect prostaglandins that regulate cell function. As if these effects weren’t enough, the European Journal of Clinical Nutrition concluded that the effects of dietary CLA, “a fatty acid naturally found in dairy and meat products, can beneficially affect immune function in healthy human volunteers." This is great news, considering a healthy immune system is paramount in fighting cancer.
Where do I buy Grass-Fed Beef?
There are a few things to remember when purchasing grass-fed beef. Organic is always going to be better than conventionally-grown beef, however, that does not mean the beef is grass-fed. While organic beef has a higher quality of nutrition, it does not guarantee the animals have lived in a natural environment. Marketing of beef and labeling definitions can be very confusing, if not misleading. To make it easy, pay no attention to the terms “natural” and “pastured.” Labeling laws have totally “butchered” these terms to be meaningless.
Even when shopping for grass-fed beef, be sure it says 100% grass-fed, not just grass-fed! Cows can be fed grass for even a small amount of time, eat mostly grains, etc., and still be called grass-fed.
While 100% grass-fed beef is becoming more and more popular and its availability increasing, small local farms in your area are your best resources for quality grass-fed meats.
Two local farms in our area that we buy beef from are Mountain Run Farm in Sedalia, VA, and Our Father’s Farm in Gretna, VA. Both provide high-quality products and raise their animals ethically and responsibly. We like to buy our meat in bulk to help with costs and to always have plenty on hand. Grass-fed beef... It's What's for Dinner!