Is Grass Fed Beef Worth The Price Tag?

is-grassfed-beef-worth-the-price-tag

When you walk into a grocery store for beef cuts, you might notice that the grass-fed selection is promising you a healthier reward than the conventional. There might even be a sign to mark the grass-fed beef as separate from the rest, but the grass-fed beef is at least a couple dollars more than the conventional. Can you really trust the health claims? Is grass-fed beef worth the price tag? For the past few decades, there has been a major decline in beef sales in America. Fueled by health statistics and ethical conundrums, it’s easy to see why. In 2013, the European Prospective into Cancer and Nutrition released a study that advocated for a decrease in red meat consumption<sup>1</sup>. They were just one voice among many in the health field suggesting to the public to leave beef off of our plates. This advice started in the 90s, and to this day cutting out meat is a top recommendation for people suffering from chronic health conditions like heart disease and cancer. However, all of this data has been led astray by assuming that all beef is created equal, and that is just not the case. When it comes to buying beef, getting grass-fed makes all the difference. <h4><p style="color: rgba(20, 117, 135, 1)">Grain-Fed Beef vs. Grass-Fed Beef</p></h4> <div class="row mb-4"> <div class="col-12 col-md-5 push-md-7 align-self-center"> <img style="padding-bottom: 15px;" class="img-fluid" src="https://s3.us-east-2.amazonaws.com/wm-wmade-static-media/media/public/Assets/images/thomas-quaritsch-768883-unsplash.jpg" alt="Thomas-quaritsch"> </div> <div class="col-12 col-md-7 pull-md-5"> Beef comes from beef cattle―female cows and castrated males to be exact. Cattle are considered <i>ungulates</i>, a class known for their hooved feet and specialized stomach systems. Beef cattle differ from their dairy counterparts in that they are bred to put on weight more readily; however, both types of cattle evolved to eat the same feed: grasses. </div> </div> Cattle have a special digestive system comprised of four different types of stomachs and a method of regurgitating their food that developed to help break down tough roughage. Cattle thrive off of roughage, also known as fiber, found most heavily in the types of grasses you’d see out in a pasture. To the human stomach, these grasses contain too much fiber to the point where it’s indigestible, and while most grains contain a lot of fiber on their own, the amount of fiber found in grains is nothing compared to what a cow’s stomach is designed to handle. A cow’s complex digestive system finds grains too easy to break down. What commonly happens to cows raised on grain is their <i>rumen</i> overferments the grains. The rumen is the largest of the cow’s stomachs, designed to ferment and break down tough grasses. There are microbes in the rumen that work specifically to ferment tough grasses. They have a field day eating up all of the carbohydrates found in grain feed. This over fermentation makes the cow sick and can stunt their growth as it fails to provide the nutrients they need to thrive. This is why it is common agricultural practice for grain-fed cattle to be routinely administered antibiotics and growth hormones. This practice not only helps them survive until slaughter but also helps them mature and pack on weight on a diet that would otherwise leave them stunted and sickly. You will be hard pressed to find grain-fed beef that isn’t raised with antibiotics and hormones, as the two go hand in hand. <div class="row mb-4"> <div class="col-12 col-md-5 push-md-7 align-self-center"> <img style="padding-bottom: 15px;" class="img-fluid" src="https://s3.us-east-2.amazonaws.com/wm-wmade-static-media/media/public/Assets/images/amber-kipp-1242870-unsplash.jpg" alt="Amber-kipp"> </div> <div class="col-12 col-md-7 pull-md-5"> In truth, the term “grain-fed beef” is a broad term that simply means the cattle weren’t raised on grass. To make matters worse, the grain feed most conventional cattle are fed is far from a wholesome grain. In 2003, there was a massive outbreak of an illness called <i>mad cow disease</i><sup>2</sup>. The disease turned up in the grain-fed beef supply because the common practice at the time was to mix grain feed with the unsold “waste” parts of previously slaughtered cows. Apart from the barbarity of the practice, it was also horribly problematic because cows cannot digest meat. If this situation has you feeling sick to your stomach, don’t worry; after the big outbreak in 2003, new rules and regulations were passed to ensure that nothing like mad cow disease could hurt the beef industry again. </div> </div> When you eat grain-fed cattle, you are getting more than just a dose of antibiotics and hormones, you are also getting all of the health disadvantages that modern medicine has come to associate with overconsumption of beef. Because the animal is so sick while it is alive, it does not produce healthy fats in its tissues. Instead, it makes <i>unsaturated fats</i>, which can raise your bad cholesterol levels and cause all sorts of heart conditions and inflammatory issues. Health officials aren’t misguided when they suggest diets contain less red meat; they’re just not taking into account unconventional beef. If it’s so harmful to both animal and consumer, why are cows raised this way? The answer lies in the price tag. Grain feed, especially the grain feed that is partially made from other cows, is very cheap to produce and therefore cheap for the conventional farmer to buy. Conventional beef doesn’t sell because eating sick cows is good for you, it sells because it can be marketed at such a low cost. Conventional meat is cheap to buy because that beef was cheap to produce. <h4><p style="color: rgba(20, 117, 135, 1)">Grass-Fed Beef and its Benefits</p></h4> Unlike grain-fed cows, grass-fed cows don’t suffer from the same diseases and growth problems―they’re healthy! Because the cow lived an appropriate and healthful life, the beef it makes is healthy, too. Grass-fed beef and meats are low in calories, high in micronutrients, electrolytes, and <i>saturated</i> fats, dubbed “healthy fats” for their anti-inflammatory effect. A lot of grass-fed beef’s health benefits come from its high saturated fat content. Saturated fat is something our bodies <i>crave</i>. Without saturated fat and the <i>essential fatty acids</i> found within those fats, our bodies would not be able to process all of the nutrition we consume, be able to produce hormones or regulate our blood pressure. Indeed, eating grass-fed beef has been linked to a lower risk of heart disease and better cholesterol numbers<sup>3</sup>. Grass-fed beef is also known for its high omega-3 profile<sup>4</sup>. Omega-3s are an essential fatty acid, a component of healthy fats that the human body cannot create on its own. These fats are astoundingly rare on the Standard American Diet (SAD), which, coincidentally includes grain-fed beef in high quantities. Omega-3s are necessary to: <div class="row mb-4"> <div class="col-12 col-md-5 push-md-7 align-self-center"> <img style="padding-bottom: 15px;" class="img-fluid" src="https://s3.us-east-2.amazonaws.com/wm-wmade-static-media/media/public/Assets/images/jez-timms-48940-unsplash-2.jpg" alt="Amber-kipp"> </div> <div class="col-12 col-md-7 pull-md-5"> <ul> <li>Fight inflammation</li> <li>Lower the risk of cardiovascular disease<sup>5</sup></li> <li>Heal our <i>microbiome</i>, the network of microbes living in our digestive tract that help us break down food<sup>6</sup></li> <li>Improve brain health, even going so far as to drastically stymie</li> <li>Alzheimer’s disease<sup>7</sup></li> </ul> </div> </div> It’s all good stuff! If you are on the ketogenic diet, grass-fed beef is well worth the price tag for the health benefits you’re looking for. Along with having a high saturated fat count, it’s also very low in carbohydrates. And being a type of meat, grass-fed beef is also packed full of all of the essential amino acids your body needs. By choosing grass-fed beef over grain-fed, you can give yourself a big leg up on your ketogenic journey. Your health receives a far greater investment in choosing grass-fed beef than your wallet has to pay for. <h4><p style="color: rgba(20, 117, 135, 1)">Different Types of Grass-Fed Beef</p></h4> Now that we’ve made a clear distinction between conventionally raised grain-fed beef and grass-fed beef, let’s make one point very clear about grass-fed beef: <i>it is not all organic</i>. Yes, you read that right. Although cattle raised on their natural diet are far healthier than those that aren’t, they can still be inorganic. Organic meats have to go through a lengthy certification process that requires every aspect of that animal’s upbringing to be chemical-free. The cows can’t walk through chemically treated pastures and have to be fed food that is also certified organic. These regulations mean wonderful things for your plate when you buy organic foods, but it also means that not all grass-fed beef farmers will meet the requirements. The certifications alone can cost a farmer a pretty penny, and some grass-fed farmers are still trying to compete with conventional beef pricing. <div class="row mb-4"> <div class="col-12 col-md-5 push-md-7 align-self-center"> <img style="padding-bottom: 15px;" class="img-fluid" src="https://s3.us-east-2.amazonaws.com/wm-wmade-static-media/media/public/Assets/images/luca-basili-751377-unsplash.jpg" alt="Luca-Basili"> </div> <div class="col-12 col-md-7 pull-md-5"> Additionally, when you buy grass-fed beef, there is a chance that the cow you are taking home with you was still raised on hormones and antibiotics. Some grass-fed beef is raised mainly indoors with hay or grass barrels present for constant feeding. If the cow’s home environment is unfavorable or stressful, they can become sick just as grain-fed cows do, and this requires medical intervention that ends up in your grocery cart. Buying organic grass-fed beef is a surefire way to know that your meat is chemical-, hormone-, and antibiotic-free. However, there is one more type of beef that is even cleaner and healthier than all the rest. </div> </div> <i>Organic pasture-raised</i> beef is considered to be the healthiest form of red meat on the market, and the price tag reflects that high quality. Pasture-raised cows are still fed grass, only they are required by law to spend a minimum amount of time each day out in the pasture where they have room to run around and be cows. Because of this lifestyle, this type of beef tends to be leaner. If you’re on the ketogenic diet, the leanness of pasture-raised beef shouldn’t scare you off, however. Pasture-raised beef holds more micronutrients and electrolytes than any other type as well as an ethical high ground that is unparalleled in the beef industry. <h4><p style="color: rgba(20, 117, 135, 1)">What to Look For at the Grocery</p></h4> <div class="row mb-4"> <div class="col-12 col-md-5 push-md-7 align-self-center"> <img style="padding-bottom: 15px;" class="img-fluid" src="https://s3.us-east-2.amazonaws.com/wm-wmade-static-media/media/public/Assets/images/lukas-budimaier-43828-unsplash.jpg" alt="Lukas-Budimaier"> </div> <div class="col-12 col-md-7 pull-md-5"> When you shop at the grocery store, there are a few labels you want to look for to determine if the meat you’re buying is really grass-fed. One is a sticker from the American Grassfed Association (AGA)<sup>8</sup>, which is considered the most trustworthy grass-fed beef organization. When you buy a product with this sticker, you know your meat isn’t bringing home antibiotics and mystery hormones. </div> </div> When we choose the food to put in our bodies we are investing in our health. Whether you are on the ketogenic diet or just want to have a better understanding of the food you eat, knowing the difference in farming practices can change everything! Between all of the harmful products and chemicals found in grain-fed beef and the clean and healthy benefits of grass-fed beef, it’s easy to see how you get what you pay for. Grass-fed beef may be pricier than grain-fed, but it’s not as expensive as pasture-raised, and with the right certifications, it can be just as healthy for you. With a higher price tag comes higher quality food, and higher quality food is exactly what a healthy body deserves. <h5><p style="color: #000000">Resources</p></h5> 1. <a target="_blank" href="https://bmcmedicine.biomedcentral.com/articles/10.1186/1741-7015-11-63">Meat consumption and mortality</a> 2. <a target="_blank" href="http://www.cnn.com/2003/HEALTH/12/23/madcow.chronology.reut/">The spread of mad cow disease</a> 3. <a target="_blank" href="https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4429457/">Pros and cons of CLA consumption</a> 4. <a target="_blank" href="https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/20219103">A review of fatty acid profiles and antioxidant content in grass-fed and grain-fed beef</a> 5. <a target="_blank" href="https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/28964873">Marine OMEGA-3 fatty acids in the prevention of cardiovascular disease</a> 6. <a target="_blank" href="https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/29215589">Impact of Omega-3 Fatty Acids on the Gut Microbiota</a> 7. <a target="_blank" href="https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/28466678">Omega-3 fatty acids' supplementation in Alzheimer's disease</a> 8. <a target="_blank" href="https://www.americangrassfed.org/">American Grassfed Research</a>

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