The Shocking Benefits of Grass-Fed Beef Vs. Conventional
Let’s start with the bad news: that beautifully marbled fatty steak you’ve grown to love actually might not be as good for you, the animal, or the environment as you might have hoped. In truth, that marbling is an indication that you’re about to consume a sick and diabetic cow.
But the good news is, there’s a healthy and sustainable alternative that is becoming more widely available - and no, I am NOT talking about Beyond Meat (this product is yet another example of non organic ultra-processed big food)!
I’m referring here to grass-fed & grass-finished beef!
If grass-fed is so much healthier for you and the environment, you may be asking “so, why isn’t all beef in the U.S. and Canada grass-fed?” Well, farmers that are aiming purely for high yield from cattle turn to corn and soy because they fatten up an animal at a much faster rate. Additionally, feedlots provide a way for a farmer to utilize less space per animal. Simply put, large grass pastures means more expense and more labour.
However, the benefits from grass-fed beef are becoming more widely known and they're hard to ignore. Here are some shocking benefits of grass fed vs. conventional beef.
Healthier Earth: Grass-Fed Beef Vs. Conventional
Let’s start at the beginning. Typically, calves start out on their mother’s milk and are free to roam in their environments, eating grass and other shrubs available to them until around 7 months of age. At this point, conventionally raised cattle are then moved to feedlots, known as Concentrated Animal Feeding Operations (CAFOs), where they eat a diet of primarily two things: corn and soy. Yes - two of the most highly genetically modified foods around!
This grain feed has to be trucked in from elsewhere, commonly at very long distances, contributing to greenhouse gases in the atmosphere. This mono-diet of grain (and lack of exercise) ensures the cows will fatten up very quickly but can lead to a number of health problems that have to be controlled with antibiotics.
On the other hand, the foraging that occurs when raising grass-fed cattle actually benefits the environment in several ways. Foraging livestock helps to maintain native grasslands and return overgrazed or unhealthy land back to a healthy state.
Now, let’s talk about poop. As much as we would like to avoid the subject when talking about the foods we eat, manure from cattle is an important fertilizer to maintain proper nitrogen content for healthy soil that can adequately support vegetation.
When cattle eat a lot of plant material, the quality of their manure as fertilizer increases and the natural cycle is restored. A properly maintained pasture where cattle are rotated regularly will promote biodiversity, control weeds, and ensure the grass growing back is nutritious and has high mineral content.
Pigs prepare the soil and sheep excrete onto the soil. This, in turn, inoculates the earth with diverse bacteria. If this cycle is tampered with, there is a lack in soil integrity.
Higher in Omega Fats
The old saying “you are what you eat” has never been more true.
Grass-fed cattle are usually free to roam on pasture, eating grass and shrubs that are native to their environment - just as nature intended. This in not only beneficial to the environment by pruning plants and spreading seeds, but it’s also beneficial to the cattle, as no antibiotics or growth hormones are needed.
The way cows are fed has a massive effect on the chemical and nutritional makeup of the beef that they produce, and therefore, what you consume. Makes sense, right?
The beef produced from grass-fed cattle is lower in overall fat and calorie content. The percentage of fat that is present has a yellowish appearance, due to to the presence of carotenoids, a healthful compound high in antioxidants that are deposited in fat from plant material being ingested.
Grass-fed beef is lean and tender with a much higher omega-3 and omega-6 fatty acid content per ounce. It is also much higher in vitamins such as Vitamin A and E, which is important for healthy immune and brain function in humans.
Omega-3s, in particular, benefit so many things from alleviating depression, decreasing the risk of heart disease, improving eye health, fighting inflammation, promoting healthy sleep, strengthening bones, and much more.
Conventional beef, on the contrary, is lacking these valuable nutrients. Instead, because the animals are fed GMO corn and soy, that is what their meat is comprised of. The debate about the safety of GMO foods is a hot topic (and one bigger than this article can support), however let me leave you with some food for thought (pardon the pun). If the genes of seeds and plants have been modified by scientists, whether through radiation or chemical additives, can we say with certainty that consuming them won’t affect us?
There’s no telling just what long-term effects eating GMO foods will have on our planet and our bodies. I don’t know about you, but I’d rather not find out!
Free of Antibiotics
Antibiotic use in cattle has also become a much-debated topic in recent years and studies are showing its negative health effects on humans that consume beef treated with it.
The consumption of these low-dose antibiotics by humans is, in part, why we are becoming more and more resistant to antibiotic treatment. So much so, that if illness strikes and prescription antibiotics are needed, their efficacy is not guaranteed. In addition, widespread consumption of antibiotics is detrimental to our gut flora. And anything that damages our gut flora damages our brain.
So why do farmers feed cattle antibiotics in the first place? Because the animals are typically crammed into spaces not designed to hold that many animals. Living conditions can be harsh and disease can spread quickly. To preserve his investment and get the greatest profit possible, a farmer will add antibiotics to his lot’s feed. Antibiotics are also useful to combat the inflammation and abscesses cattle get from eating grain.
Grass-fed cattle, on the other hand, are not faced with the same living conditions, so do not need antibiotics for issues faced by conventional cattle. This is another reason why grass-fed beef ensures the health of the animal, as they are eating their natural diet in their natural habitat.
It's also more cost effective for the farmer who enjoys healthier livestock fed more natural feed, living a more natural life, that is not getting sick as often. In turn, this also benefits the farmer who raises grass-fed cattle.
Better for the Farmer
Cows need antibiotics and growth stimulants when fed supplemental feed such as soy and corn. This comes as an added cost to the farmer. Additionally, the fuel prices to transport the soy and corn long distances will ultimately cut down on the rancher’s profit.
The resulting meat will have more fat that needs to be trimmed away and will yield a sub-par quality product for the customer and less yield for the rancher per animal.
While raising grass-fed beef can be more expensive for the farmer initially, it also fetches a higher price per pound that an increasing sector of the market is willing to pay for (20-60% more).
Grass-fed farmers are also insulated from spikes in the price for grain feed or fertilizer since they rely entirely on the health of their own pastures and their built-in natural fertilizer system.
Overall, grass-fed farmers have a greater range of economic freedom and are less at-the-whim of the industry on the whole.
The Ethical Debate
From a purely ethical standpoint, many concerned consumers argue that the quality of life for cattle in a feedlot is significantly lower than that of cattle free to roam on a natural, grass-fed diet.
This is due to cramming and eating an unnatural diet that fattens them up too quickly and leads to a number of health problems. The cattle in a feedlot are not allowed to roam and graze as they naturally would, leading to poor quality of life for the animal and generating a poor quality of meat for consumption.
Some concerned consumers go so far as to swear off meat for good - primarily for these reasons.
Though many people would benefit from eating more plant-based nutrition, swearing off meat entirely due to feedlot horrors, may not necessarily be the right decision either.
Grass-fed beef, on the other hand, is free to live a much more natural lifestyle that is closer to how they would live without human intervention. Their diet is healthier, and they tend to experience less stress and disease on the whole. Because of this, the meat they produce is far healthier and contains more nutrients than conventional.
In the debate over grass-fed vs. conventional beef, there's a clear winner. In terms of death per calorie, a diet from grass-fed and pastured animals is very low, less than that of a vegan diet, and substantially less than the Standard American Diet.
When large combines and commercial farm equipment are used in industrial farming this form of mono-culture disrupts and destroys hundreds of square miles of land. This indiscriminately causes the death and destruction of animals, bugs and insects while subsequently destroying the very land that is being “farmed” in the first place - and for what?
For low density unhealthy GMO laden food stuffs.
Lastly, greenhouse gas emissions from cattle are not the same as emissions from fracking or other forms of carbon created by technology. Cow’s are part of our natural environment. Fracking is not.
Grass-fed beef, while it may be slightly higher priced for the consumer and more labor-intensive for the farmer, has benefits that far outweigh the drawbacks.
Many argue that we should ideally be eating less meat of higher quality to benefit the earth and benefit the animals we raise. Not only is grass-fed beef better for your health, but it’s also better for everyone involved (cattle included).
But if you do make the choice for yourself and your family to give up meat, it’s important that you educate yourself on the topic and do it right. For some, eating a completely plant-based diet is associated with better health, but for others, deficiencies or other problems may result if they are not careful.
Whether you’re carnivore, vegan, vegetarian, paleo, or keto, I’d love to help you create the healthiest eating plan for you and your unique biological needs. I can also help you get the most out of the nutrients you eat, make sure your diet is well-balanced, and help you discover if grass-fed meat is the best choice for you.
Have more burning nutritional questions? Feel free to reach out!
As always, I welcome your thoughts and value your feedback. Let me know what you think by dropping me a line or commenting below.
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