Tuesday, April 27, 2010

Happy Cows: The Case for Grass-Fed Beef

      As part of my endeavor to really start cleaning up my diet, I've recently made the switch from regular, grain-fed beef to the better-for-you, organic, grass-fed kind. I know it's healthy because everyone tells me it is, and right now it seems to be a pretty big thing. I mean, who doesn't love a happy cow?

     But what is the real deal with grass-fed beef, anyway?

    Well, for one, it's lean, containing significantly less fat and saturated fat than regular beef.  In fact, it can contain as little fat as a piece of skinless chicken. This means it's also lower in calories, which is great news for steak-lovers who are trying to lose weight. Eat a 6oz portion of grass-fed beef instead of a 6oz portion of grain-fed beef and you will save yourself around 100 calories. Beef this lean has even been shown to help reduce LDL ("bad") cholesterol.

     Grass-fed beef also contains more omega-3's than grain-fed beef, which are necessary for many of your heart and brain functions, in addition to reducing inflammation. It's important to note that grass-fed beef contains a more ideal balance of omega-6's and omega-3's than grain-fed beef (1:1 for grass-fed vs. 6:1 for grain-fed).

     So what does that mean?

     Well, back in the day (before the Agricultural Revolution, 40,000+ years ago), our hunter-gatherer ancestors evolved with a diet that with an omega-6/omega-3 ratio of around 1:1. This continued for quite awhile (a reeeeeally long while), until about roughly 150 years ago when the balance of these fatty acids was thrown completely out of whack. The typical modern Western diet often shows an omega-6/omega-3 profile closer to 10-20:1, rather than the more ideal 1-4:1. Now, while omega-6's are necessary for a lot of body functions, a grossly unbalanced omega-3/omega-6 ratio is a recipe for a plethora of autoimmune diseases, as certain omega-6's work inside the body promoting inflammation. Some of that inflammation is good, and a vital part of the body's ability to heal and repair itself.  However, too much inflammation is bad news. Anti-inflammatory omega-3's keep the omega-6's in check, and when in balance, they work together to prevent heart disease, hypertension, type-2 diabetes, arthritis and inflammatory diseases like Crohn's and psoriasis, other autoimmune diseases, and cancer. (If you really want to dig into all of this, here is the article, entitled "Omega-3/Omega-6 Essential Fatty Acid Ratio and Chronic Diseases.")

     But, wait! There's more!

    -Grass-fed beef also contains conjugated linoleic acid (CLA), another fatty acid, which has also been shown to reduce cancer risk in humans. In laboratory animals, diets with CLA levels as little as .05% reduced the total number of mammary tumors by 32%. The results are similar with humans: One study found that women with higher levels of CLA in their diet had a 60% lower chance of breast cancer than women who weren't getting as much. CLA has also been shown to lower LDL cholesterol, helping to reverse the symptoms of artherosclerosis, in addition to staving off the onset of diabetes. It also works to reduce adipose (fat) tissue and increase lean muscle mass.  So how much CLA does grass-fed beef contain? Roughly 2-4x the amount found in grain-fed beef. (This information can all be found this very good article about the enhanced nutrient content of grass-fed beef.)

     -Grass-fed beef also has more:
  •  Beta-Carotene - Antioxidant vitamin that is needed for healthy vision, bone growth, skin health, and the production of white blood cells. Grass-fed beef contains about 2x as much beta-carotene as grain-fed beef.
  • Vitamin E - Another powerful antioxidant vitamin that protects cells from free radicals, helping to reduce the risk of coronary heart disease, cancer, and inflammatory diseases. Grass fed beef contains about 3x the amount as grain-fed beef.
       Plus! It also contains more:
      (Am I starting to sound like an infomercial yet?)
  • Vitamin C - Another powerful antioxidant vitamin needed to help grow and heal all parts of the body. Also helps the body absorb iron, which is needed to make red blood cells.
  • B-vitamins thiamin and riboflavin (good for energy, forming red blood cells), calcium (good for strong bones/teeth), potassium (electrolyte balance), and magnesium (muscle, nerve, and heart function, supports healthy immune system, and bone strength).

     Aside from all of the nutritional benefits, there's another, much darker side to this situation. 

     Look, I enjoy eating animals as much as any other meat-lover..but I don't want to eat some miserable, stressed out, sad cow that was pretty much tortured its entire life, either. If you watch movies like Food, Inc. (which can be watched for free here until April 30th), or even the short, flash cartoon "The Meatrix," you get a better idea of what some of these animals are put through before they show up on your plate. Aside from the terrible living conditions, common "by-product feed-stuffs" can be anything from garbage to candy..to parts from other dead cows and chicken poop. Ever heard of Mad Cow Disease? Yeah. Well, it's spread when a cow eats the brain or bone meal from a dead cow with this disease. It can then pass it on to humans.

     Grain-feeding also promotes the growth of E. coli in cattle, another super fun (horrible) thing that they can pass onto us.  Grass-fed cows are far less likely to be stricken with this dirty poop disease.

    Not to mention the fact that grass-fed cows spend their lives hanging out in a field, munching on grass, the way nature intended.

   Recently, Time Magazine reported that eating grass-fed beef might even be able to help with the climate change and global warming. They even show a neat pictorial representation of the differences in environmental impact with grain-fed and grass-fed cows, found here.

    Add to ALL of this the amount of  the hormones and antibiotics that grain-fed cows are pumped full of (the list goes on and on), which get stored in that awesome marbling that everyone loves, it just doesn't make much sense to continue eating grain-fed meat.

    Still want to know more?

    In addition to the links above, here are some excellent sources I used to find most of this info:

 Annnd..when all else fails, there's always Google Scholar.

1 comment:

Nathan said...

Another article for you on Omega 3s: http://tinyurl.com/yz9x5hj

"The One That Got Away"

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