Sourcing Healthy, Grass-Fed Meats

Meat and dairy products are among the most important products to buy organic and grass-fed. They can get expensive, but as you discover the truth behind how they are raised, paying a little more for healthy meat won’t be so shocking. And you just might enjoy it a little more and have a little more gratitude for it, and you might eat less of it, which is probably not such a bad thing. As a matter of fact I encourage you to eliminate meat at least one time per week. It is easier on your pocket book and helps reduce green house gasses.

Conventionally raised animals are kept under very stressful conditions, in pens, and injected with large quantities of hormones and antibiotics. They’re fed an unhealthful diet of grains, junk foods and animal byproducts which turn them into meat eaters -akin, in some cases, to eating their own family members (a form of cannibalism). This can make them incredibly sick. Cattle are, by nature, herbivores or vegetarians, and their stomachs aren’t designed to process meat and other junk foods.

Cattle are designed by Mother Nature to be grass fed their whole life and not finished on grains. Even certified organic beef can be finished on organic grains, which is why it is important to get to know your source and uncover if the animal was truly grass fed from birth to market. All it takes is asking a couple simple questions, which we will cover. Grass-fed animals live such a healthy low-stress life it is rare they are treated with antibiotics or other drugs.

Animals that are pastured and grass fed from birth to market, are bottom line: healthier for you. Grass fed meat that comes from ruminant chewing animals like beef, bison, lamb and goats has less fat, cholesterol and calories. They have more vitamin E, C, beta-carotene and health promoting fats like omega-3 fatty acids and a good fat known as conjugated linoleic acid known as CLA. Research is now showing that lean grass fed meat actually lowers your “bad” or LDL cholesterol levels. Meat that that is conventionally raised in large feed lots, is higher in fats, and saturated fats that are linked to heart disease, and calories. If you eat the average amount of beef that a normal person eats per year, (66.5 pounds a year), simply switching to lean grassfed beef will save you 17,733 calories a year-without requiring any self discipline or change in your eating habits.

When ruminant or cud chewing animals are grass fed or pastured from birth to market, their food products contain three to five times more CLA than those that come from animals that are fed conventional diets. In other studies, when cattle were fed a hay diet that was machine harvested, and came from the same field where they ate the fresh grass, the cows produced significantly less CLA. The healthiest type of meat and dairy products that come from ruminant chewing animals are, simply put, grass fed from birth to market.

Research is showing that CLA might be a potent defender against cancer. Lab animals with tumor growths were given a very small dose of CLA, 0.1 percent of total calories, and their tumor growth was drastically reduced. New evidence now supports that CLA may also reduce cancer risk in humans. Dr. Tilak Dhiman, of Utah State University, research shows that CLA can reduce or slow some types of cancer, heart disease, and appears to help reduce body fat and increase muscle mass. Dr. Dhiman’s work speculates that you may be able reduce your risk of cancer simply by consuming one glass of whole milk, one once of cheese, and one serving of meat per day, all from grass fed ruminants of course. If you ate grain fed products you would have to eat five times that amount. In a study done in Finland, women with diets high in CLA had a 60 percent lower risk of breast cancer then women who had the lowest levels. Simply switching to grass fed meat and dairy products puts women in the lowest category of risk.

Grassfed meat and dairy can be up to four times higher in the potent antioxidant Vitamin E. This powerful vitamin has been associated with lowering the risk of heart disease and cancer.

There is another good reason to eat grass-fed beef. Pastured cattle are cleaner at the time of slaughter. E. coli contamination usually takes place in the processing plant when fecal matter from the animal comes in contact with meat. The less fecal matter on an animal when it enters the processing plant, the less likely the meat will become contaminated.

In fact it is hard to remove the contaminated fecal matter from cattle because they stand in it and dirt all day long. In a Meat Marketing and Technology magazine article, the associate editor stated that pasture-raised animals are easier to clean “because they come from small herds raised in relatively clean pastures.” He said the majority U.S. cattle, “are raised in far larger numbers in congested and typically less sanitary feed lots.”

There is research that shows that choosing products from grass-fed animals may lower your risk of food borne illnesses, like campylobacter, E. coli. Why? Research done by Russell and Diez-Gonzalez at Cornell University in the late 1990s verified that cattle fed a grass and hay diet had far fewer E. coli than when they were fed a standard feedlot grain based diet.

The two researchers conducted another study showing that E. coli from grass-fed cattle is more likely to be killed by the natural acidity of the human digestive tract and therefore might be less likely to survive and make us ill. The reason for the greater persistence of E. coli from grain-fed cattle, the researchers speculated, is that feeding grain to cattle makes their digestive tracts abnormally acidic. Over time, the E. coli in their systems become acclimated to this acid environment. When we ingest them, a high percentage will survive the acid shock of our digestive juices. By contrast, few E. coli from grass-fed cattle will survive because they have not become acid-resistant.

Other researchers have investigated this causal connection between cattle feed and E. coli. Some have confirmed the findings like a study revealed in the Nebraska Beef Report and others have rejected them.
A study done in 2000 by the USDA Meat and Animal Research Center in Lincoln, Nebraska supports Cornell’s findings. The Nebraska researchers began their research by searching for alternative feeding methods to fight the acid-resistant E. coli, stating that hay feeding “is not a practical approach for cattle feeders” (Did anyone stop to think about what’s practical and healthy for the animal and the human population?).

Needless to say their experimental approaches were met with defeat. It looks like you can’t fool mother nature after all. When they put the animals back on a hay diet, they achieved their desired result. The researchers concluded: “This study confirms Diez-Gonzalez (1998) report that feeding hay for a short duration can reduce acid-resistant E. coli populations.”

More reading about our beef supply:

What’s the Beef? Is the USDA Doing Enough to Control an Outbreak of Mad Cow Disease?
Eat Smart, Eat More Organic Food to Save the World
Welcome to My Diner!
British Police Investigating “Mislabeled” Organic Meat
Ground Beef “Still a Gamble”

Organic Beef Recipes:

Osso Buco Served with Wild Mushroom Risotto
Organic Beef Stew a la Bourguignon
Blue Cheese Cabernet Organic Hamburgers

[1]Davidson, M. H., D. Hunninghake, et al. (1999). “Comparison of the effects of lean red meat vs lean white meat on serum lipid levels among free-living persons with hypercholesterolemia: a long-term, randomized clinical trial.” Arch Intern Med 159(12):
[2] Robinson, Jo
[3] Dhiman, T. R., G. R. Anand, et al. (1999). “Conjugated linoleic acid content of milk from cows fed different diets.” J Dairy Sci 82(10): 2146-56.
[4] Harris, Lynette CLA: The Modern Food Chain’s Weak Link
[5] Robinson, Jo –
[6] Aro, A., S. Mannisto, I. Salminen, M. L. Ovaskainen, V. Kataja, and M. Uusitupa. “Inverse Association between Dietary and Serum Conjugated Linoleic Acid and Risk of Breast Cancer in Postmenopausal Women.” Nutr Cancer 38, no. 2 (2000): 151-7.
[7]Lipsky, Joshua. “The Future of Food Safety,” by Meat Marketing and Technology, April 2001.
[8 10]Russell and Diez-Gonzalez (Microbes Infect 2, No. 1 (2000): 45-53.)
[10]Klopfenstein, Tony Scott, T., et al “Influence of Diet on Total and Acid Resistant E. coli and Colonic pH.”.” 2000 Nebraska Beef Report, pages 39-41.

Laura is a trained chef with roots in the organic food movement and brings intelligence, intoxicating energy and girl-next-door... More about Laura Klein, Chef & Wellness Expert