Grilling season is officially upon us! Time for barbeques, cookouts, graduation parties, and potlucks galore! Red meat, beef in particular, is a popular protein choice among Americans and enjoyed in its many forms; burgers, steaks, kabobs, etc. Sure, all beef tastes pretty darn good, but is it good for us? Compared to its leaner protein counterparts, fish and poultry, beef tends to get a bad rap. What if I told you that beef can actually be a part of a balanced and nourishing diet? Is it possible for this beloved protein to not only be tasty but nutritious as well? My answer is a resounding yes! However, there are two things you’ll need to pay close attention to; is your beef grass-fed and is it organic?
The diet and lifestyle of cattle are a major determining factors in the nutritional value of their meat. Many people have a basic understanding that it is “better” to avoid conventionally raised and inorganic beef, but may not know the exact reason why. Until they are informed and persuaded otherwise, many stick with whatever beef is selling at the lower price. Since organic foods tend to be more expensive, the price may end up being the limiting factor. Unfortunately, when it comes to beef, lower price equates to lower quality. The reason for this post is to persuade you to be more selective when choosing the kind of beef you bring home and throw on that grill.
Let’s begin at square one with the term “organic.” What does it mean when beef is labeled organic? Simply put, meat labeled “organic” means the animals were not genetically engineered in any way, they were not treated with antibiotics or hormones, and fed only organic food sources; meaning free from fertilizers, pesticides, herbicides, etc. In addition, the treatment of the animals reflects their natural behaviors – such as having access to the pastures where they can roam and feed1. It is also good to know that grass-fed or pasture-raised does not mean the same as organic. Cattle could be pasture-raised and grass-fed but if they are not also labeled organic, they could be eating grass, shrubs, and plants treated with pesticides, herbicides, fertilizers, etc. It is best to find the labeling that states 100% grass-fed and certified organic.
Not only is it key the cattle have access to food that is free of chemicals, but the type of food they eat matters just as much. Conventionally raised cattle are taken to feed-lots or “concentrated animal feeding operations” (CAFO) after they are weaned from their mother’s milk. CAFOs are not the most sanitary environments; they are large buildings with cement flooring, and very limited space for movement relative to the number of cows living there. To survive these unwholesome conditions, the cattle are regularly given antibiotics to prevent bacterial infections. Cattle raised in CAFOs consume mainly non-organic, GMO grains (soy, corn, etc.) and even processed foods like… candy! Yes, that’s right, I said candy. Why? Because candy is cheap and able to quickly fatten the livestock. Yikes. These animals are also frequently given hormones to expedite the growth process further and fatten them up much faster than nature intended2. Does having the knowledge that standard beef once consumed a diet high in sugar and chemicals give you any motive to switch? Not yet? Read on to learn why choosing the right beef is a smart and healthy idea!
Nutrient dense diets for cows matters just like it does for you and I. Do you really want to eat beef from a sick cow? The food that cattle feed on greatly alters the amount and types of nutrients found within their meat. Organic, grass-fed beef have lower amounts of saturated and monounsaturated fatty acids, lower cholesterol content, and much higher amounts of omega-3 fatty acids and conjugated linoleic acid. Why does this matter? These types of fats can promote heart health, help reduce cancer risk, and support regulation of stable blood sugars3.
In addition, cows that consume conventional grain-dominant diets possess a more acidic and pathogenic environment inside their gastrointestinal tracts. Cows that feed mainly on grass and plants, as nature intended, are much less likely to have GI tracts conducive for the growth of dangerous bacteria, like E. coli and MRSA (methicillin-resistant staphylococcus aureus). Therefore, conventionally raised cattle need copious amounts of medicine; not only to survive their poor and unhygienic living conditions, but also to depress the growth of bacteria inside their guts3.
Hopefully I have fully convinced you to pay the few extra dollars to spring for the higher quality, more nutrient dense, and safer beef for your next cookout. I did? Great! The next question is where can you find this much preferred grass-fed, organic beef? The optimal source would be from a local farmer’s market or butcher. Developing a personal relationship with local farmers and butchers allows you to ask specific questions regarding the animals or plants you intend to buy. The second best option would be to visit your local health-food store and practice your newly acquired label reading skills! Either way, it is always a good idea to continue educating yourself on what it is that you are putting into your body and ask yourself this question; is it preventing or promoting disease?
1. McEvoy, M. (2016, July 22). Understanding the USDA Organic Label. Retrieved from https://www.usda.gov/media/blog/2016/07/22/understanding-usda-organic-label
2. Gunnars, K. (2013, Aug 13). Grass-Fed vs Grain-Fed Beef – What’s The Difference? Retrieved from https://authoritynutrition.com/grass-fed-vs-grain-fed-beef/
3. 6 Grass-Fed Beef Nutrition Benefits (Nos. 1 & 2 Are Life-Savers). Retrieved from https://draxe.com/grass-fed-beef-nutrition/.