This year one of my top health goals is to eat more local foods. A key component of this is local MEAT. A few years ago after a much research I realized I needed to eat grass-fed or pasture-raised meat (and eggs) or wild, as I come from a family of hunters (and hunt myself), venison stocked in the freezer is a beautiful site. Why? I’d like to take Sunday’s to talk food a little bit. What my food goals are. Why have I chosen them? What do they do for me? How do they make me better? How do they make me healthier? Let’s dive in!
Not all beef is created equally and it is a shame that red meat has gotten such a bad rap because it has such wonderful health benefits and it is something that I look forward to eating every day. Like most things natural, we came along and messed up the cow. Not only did we jack up their stomachs by feeding them grains that they were not meant to digest, but we cramped them together in feedlots so their short lives are filled with hormone and antibiotic injections before we ship them off for slaughter. Not only does this sound inhumane, but it has completely altered the health and quality of the meat, therefore altering OUR health as well. As we’ll look at, it’s not just cows, but actually all meat sources in the US where we have a problem. Our ancestors grew strong and lived relatively disease-free lives roaming the country feasting on the wild game, enjoying not only the muscle meat, but the nutritious organs and bones. So where did we go wrong? We’ll get into this more later, but ultimately the Agricultural Revolution and later the all-consuming thought of making a dollar detoured us from our robust fitness and health. Cows are ruminants: four-legged mammals with an even number of toes, who graze on greenery. They have four stomachs that are designed to help them break down plants (got that plants not grains). As we started producing and grains, we started feeding them to our food sources as well, plus we noticed that the cattle fattened up quicker if we fed them grain (and in some reports some feedlots have actually fed cattle ‘by-product foodstuffs‘ which include: candy, such as lemon drops and gummy bears; bakery waste like stale bread, old pasta, and potato waste like French fries and potato chips), rather than letting them grow naturally by grazing on grass. Eventually we created a supercow, if you will, with enlarged pituitary glands that we injected hormones and antibiotics into. We could breed them like crazy, cram them together in stalls, get more milk that was tainted so that we have to pasteurize it (therefore, removing the nutrients and creating useless milk filled with sugar and not healthy fat), and then slaughter them, selling the public a weak version of a great food source. This traditional grocery store meat pales in comparison to the natural grass-fed meat of yester year. Let’s look at what gives grass-fed the advantage (or in the case of chickens and hogs- pasture-raised):
· It’s lower in fat (so if you ate a 6 oz steak for dinner every night for a year and just switched your source you’d save 17,733 calories) therefore, it’s better for your waistline.
· It is higher in omega-3 to omega-6 (numbers are especially impressive for pastured eggs compared to factory eggs). Don’t forget we want an even number here, but most Americans ratios are so skewed that are diets are screaming for more omega-3.
· Greater levels of antioxidants like vitamin E and C, and beta-carotene
· Higher levels of CLA. This has been linked with decreased risk of cancer and heart disease.
· Eggs (one of the few food sources) have been shown to have 3-6 times the vitamin D concentration of factory eggs. Notice the difference in the brigher pastured egg compared to the grocery store egg.
· Higher in B12, folic acid, thiamin, riboflavin, calcium, magnesium and potassium, vaccenic acid (which can be made into CLA)
· Grass-fed sheep have been shown to have double the amount of lutein (which deficiencies are linked to macular degeneration).
Those are just the health benefits too, grass-fed is actually better for the environment too! What are the Green benefits of grass-fed:
· Grazing helps to maintain landscape. If animals are properly rotated they actually help the grass spread and grown quicker.
· It promotes sustainable agriculture. A sad statistic is that 60% of corn and 50% of grains grown are fed to cattle. So half of all those crops you see are going to feed animals that aren’t designed or meant to eat them (and neither are we for that matter). Imagine how much better it would be to pass through fields of green rather than stalks of corn. I’m from Indiana, so I get my fair share of corn and soy fields. I’d take the green pastures with the happy cows any day.
· Healthier animals: This would also promote wildlife. More animals live in the grasslands (fox, coyote, badger, monarch butterfly, eagle, deer, bison, prairie chicken, etc.) than in the mice and rat ridden grain fields.
· Cleaner water: manure can run into lakes and rivers, killers tons of fish. Plus the ammonia in the manure can cause acid rain.
· Prevents soil erosion
Ok, so grass-fed animals are not only good for the animals themselves, but better for our health and the environment! Why are we wasting our time and energy with these grain-fed inhumane feedlots? Well, money of course the government and the companies controlling the food industry are mightier than the small town farmer trying to raise grass-fed animals. It’s cheaper and more efficient to produce meat and dairy products this way. The demand for grass-fed needs to go up (which it has been). It is a little pricier, but look at the benefits that you’re getting. It’s about your future. I’d rather pay out and invest in my health now, rather than dishing out and feeding the pharmaceutical and health care pockets later on in life. Find a reliable farmer. Eatwild.com is a great search engine, where you can search by state. Right now is a great time too, to make relationships with farmers, because there are so many farmers markets. Indianapolis is overflowing with markets, and in Terre Haute we have one open every Saturday from 8-12 in the Summer and the first Saturday every month inside Clabber Girl from 9 to 1 pm, where there are three grass-fed farm stands (L&A and Royer Farms and the Swiss Connection-a raw dairy farm too!). Find a farm, form a relationship and get the product you need. I’ve met my local farmer, have you? Often times farms will offer 1/2 or whole animals as well, so you can get a longer supply of meat (just freeze and pull out when you need more or collaborate with your neighbors to buy one together). If you can’t find a local farmer or if they’re low on supplies grasslandbeef.com is another site that you can visit to purchase a myriad of grass-fed products (jerky, organs, bison, rabbit, lamb, chicken, beef, fat, etc). I don’t know about you, but after learning more about grass-fed I have a really hard time ever buying grocery store meat. I view grass-fed as a necessity and one of the best choices that I can make, not just for me, but the animals and the environment.