What’s old is new again. Across the U.S. farmers are turning back to a traditional method of cattle raising: feeding cows on natural organically-grown grassy pastures, like nature intended and has been the practice for thousands and thousands of years, instead of troughs filled with genetically-modified (GMOs) corn or grains.
Keep in mind, in this article, whenever we refer to grass-fed cows or beef, we are also including other grass-fed animals such as swine (pork), sheep (lamb), bison, dairy products (milk cows) and any wild game, in a list of healthy foods to eat. It also includes free-range, which is the proper term, poultry such as chicken, turkey, duck, and brown eggs (cage-free eggs). When you compare grass-fed beef to grain-fed beef, it may just seem like beef with a higher price tag. After all, does it really matter what the cow was fed throughout its lifetime?
When it comes to your health and well being, the short answer is yes! The food you eat is important, but the food your food eats can be just as important. Not only are there key nutritional differences between organic grass-fed and grain-fed beef, but there are also differences in the safety of the meat, not to mention the taste. There’s even a significant difference between grass-fed and grass-fed finished.
Let’s take a closer look at how grass-fed beef, grain-fed beef, and grass-finished beef are different, and why this matters to your health. And when you include the “certified organic” requirement, it gets even more complicated, and the differences are even more profound!
A decade ago, there were only about 50 grass-fed-cattle operations left in the United States. They were a dying breed. Now, there are thousands and the numbers are growing because of a renewed demand for healthy nutritious meats. It’s much easier to get your hands on both certified organic, and 100% “finished” grass-fed beef from farms where cows spend their days out on pasture happily grazing on all sorts of grasses, from clover to wild onions to different types of tufted grasses called fescue. 100% grass-fed finished means the cows eat nothing but grasses throughout their life, even in Wintertime, they feed on hay or alfafa.
To delve deeper into it, for the first 6 months or so, all calves start out with a similar diet, which is their mother’s milk and the greenery in their environment. Once they’re weaned off milk, grass-fed and grass-finished calves, also known as “pasture raised” cows, will continue to roam green fields, where they’ll enjoy chowing down on lush plants, shrubs, and the occasional bug for the remainder of their lives, including, eating alfafa or hay in the Winter. Now, lets dissect the differences between conventionally grown, or grain-fed cows, grass-fed cows, certified organic grass-fed cows, and finished, certified organic, grass-fed cows:
Grain-Fed and/or Grass-Fed Cows- Grain-fed cows are fed grains their entire life, and grass-fed, also known as “conventionally raised” cows, are moved to a feedlot once they’re weaned from their mother’s milk at approximately 8 months. It’s in these lots that they’re fed distiller grains, GMO-corn, and soy to fatten them up and although this industry practices produce higher yields of beef, it’s less healthy for not only the calves, but also consumers of their meats. The cattle are confined in very small spaces, and in most cases, not even enough space to move, which puts the animal under severe distress.
High stress levels lead to fatter animals. This is because cortisol is a fat storage hormone that’s part of the ‘fight or flight’ mechanism, or stress response. Since the cow has been removed from its natural environment and experienced a dramatic change in living conditions and diet, there will undoubtedly be a certain level of stress endured by the cow, which results in elevated cortisol levels. When cortisol levels are consistently elevated, the body is more likely to store fat as a protective mechanism.
These calves are also given antibiotics and hormones such as testosterone and estrogen to boost up growth by 15%. The calves and cows spend most of their lives indoors in a very small pen, with no exercise, standing in a mixture of mud, liter, and feces, making for very unhealthy conditions, and the likely spread of disease and sickness, which can, unfortunately, be transferred in their meats, which can also occur with synthetic hormones and antibiotics, as well.
While there’s limited research to show the impact that synthetic hormones that are specifically sourced from grain-fed meat and what impact they have on our health, it may not be ideal for those who are already susceptible to certain cancers or are suffering from hormonal imbalances to be ingesting grain-fed meats. The National Institutes Of Health study addressed the connection of breast cancer and the hormone estrogen, and said,
The elevated incidence of breast cancer in women has been associated with prolonged exposure to high levels of estrogens…
Another National Institutes Of Health study looked at “o”estrogen and “exno” estrogen and reproductive system, breast, lung, kidney, pancreas, and brain cancers. This also holds true for antibiotics. The danger of consuming antibiotics through meat is becoming more prevalent, as antibiotic use in livestock has recently been discovered as a leading cause of the rise in antimicrobial-resistant infections, leading to antibiotic resistance infections and disease, and increased mortality rates.
Early in 2017 the F.D.A. enacted rules banning the use of human antibiotics purely for growth promotion in animals by requiring ranchers and farmers to get a prescription from a veterinarian for antibiotics that once could be purchased over the counter. The F.D.A. enacted the restrictions out of growing concern about the breeding of drug-resistant bacteria from antibiotic overuse, and their conclusion is summed up here,
Those resistant bacterial strains can be transferred to humans by contact with animals or raw meat and possibly through the consumption of under cooked meat.
The CDC estimates that more than 400,000 United States residents become ill with infections caused by antibiotic-resistant food-borne bacteria every year, with about one in five resistant infections caused by germs from food and animals.
As you see, the term just grass-fed doesn’t necessarily mean the cow was fed a grass diet their entire lives. It means they were started on a grass-fed diet, and then moved to pens and fed grains and corn to fatten them up for the remainder of their lives, and legally, their meats can be labeled grass-fed. Labeled certified grass-fed finished beef, is actually a true grass-fed because they are fed grass from fields their entire lives and no grains or corn are involved. Note the distinguishing “finished” qualifier added to the labels.
Grass-Fed Finished Beef-On the other hand, grass-fed finished beef means the cow was fed grass and nothing but grass and plants for the duration of its life. So while grain-fed/grass-fed cows will still contain omega 3 essential fatty acids, CLAs and other beneficial nutrients, the ratio of omega 3s to omega 6s is totally different.
In grass-fed finished beef, there are at least 50% more (2 to 4 times more) omega 3s to omega 6s, making grass-fed finished beef ultimately the most nutrient dense beef you can buy, and ideally a better choice when you purchase beef. Well, not quite, but good?
The reason this ratio between 3s and 6s is significant to your health is because the higher the omega 3s are, the less unhealthy saturated fatty omega 6s are, and the less weight gain. Obesity has reached epidemic proportions in the United States, with one out of every two adults are burdened by excess weight, and much of it is to do with eating foods high in fatty omega 6s. Omega 6s have an important role to play in the proper function of the human body, but too much of a good thing, then becomes a bad thing. The National Institutes Of Health found in a study that,
An Increase in the Omega-6/Omega-3 Fatty Acid Ratio Increases the Risk for Obesity.
Nature has given us a healthier alternative to weight control, which is to eat meat from animals raised on fresh pasture all the time, the way nature intended it to be. Meat from grass-fed animals has about half the fat and higher omega 3s, as meat from grain-fed animals and significantly fewer calories. Being nutrient-dense, it also gives you a bonus supply of vitamins E, A, D, and beta-carotene.
While there’s no guarantee that a grass-fed cow won’t get sick and need a round of antibiotics in their lifetime, the living conditions of a pasture are far less of a threat to the cow’s health than a feedlot. For one thing, they are happier, not under stress, and they are able to remain healthier than their counterparts. Research has also shown that their meat is also tenderer because of the reduced stress levels of not being in a confined space.
That’s not to mention the greater amount of immune-boosting nutrients in a grass-fed diet versus a grain-fed diet, in which case, fewer, if any, antibiotics should be needed. If you add certified organic, meaning the cows grazed on natural organic grass, to grass-fed finished beef, you have the healthiest meats you can buy for your table on the entire planet.
Certified Organic Grass-Fed Finished Beef-Certified organic beef means the cows are grazing on grass and plants that have grown in totally organic soil. That means the soil has not been treated with synthetic fertilizers, chemical additives, or pesticides, making it not only healthy and nutrient-rich, but also safer for human consumption than the meats from the cows that grazed on chemically-fertilized fields and pastures.
A national Institutes Of Health (NIH) study “Human Health Implications Of Organic Foods and Organic Agriculture“, confirms this. Here is another NIH study of the overuse of chemical pesticides and being exposed to them,
Pesticide contamination poses significant risks to the environment and non-target organisms ranging from beneficial soil microorganisms, to insects, plants, fish, and birds. Contrary to common misconceptions, even herbicides can cause harm to the environment.
Not surprising, cattle are very smart grazers. Researchers compared the nutrient value of randomly selected grass clippings with the grass the cattle themselves selected. Invariably, the cattle instinctively selected grass that was higher in protein and mineral content.
The researchers concluded and cautioned that a standard analysis of pasture grasses is likely to underestimate the actual amount of nutrients that cattle glean from the pasture when they’re grazing. Now there is some evidence that grazing on organic pasture may boost healthy omega 3 fatty acids. Now, a new study evaluating organic milk produced in the U.S. finds that organic milk has about 62 percent more omega-3s, compared to milk produced by cows on conventional dairy farms. More research is needed, however.
This also seems to hold true for domestically-raised turkeys which are grass-fed. Research has shown, domestic turkeys raised on pasture have a diet that resembles their wild counterparts. Zoologists studying wild turkeys found that the youngsters instinctively peck at moving things, which are usually protein-rich bugs or larvae. While adult turkeys prefer grass and other plant leaves, along with berries and bugs. Turkeys also have higher amount of CLAs than chicken or pigs.
Grass farmers have a refreshingly different approach to encouraging healthy growth in their livestock through nature. Rather than implant their animals with hormones, or use chemical fertilizers, they plant their fields with high quality forage, and allow the cows, pigs, sheep, chickens, turkeys, and ducks, to re-fertilize the pasture land themselves. As in nature, the richness of the environment, not drugs or chemicals, determines the growth rate of grass-fed animals.
So, your absolute best and healthiest choice of meats for your table is certified organic, grass-fed, finished beef, pork, lamb, bison, and wild game, dairy, and free-range poultry, such as chicken, turkey, and duck, and brown eggs.
Third Party Verification On Meat Labels
Keep in mind that while the USDA Organic seal is a stamp that means the producer is being regularly checked to make sure they meet the standard, grass-fed is a term that isn’t subject to a federal standard. This means there may be cheaters using the term on packaging. Look for trusted third-party verification like the “PCO 100% Grass-Fed Certification“, or “the American Grass-Fed Seal” on meat labels, which verifies the cattle were raised on organic pastures eating only grass and were never given antibiotics or hormones. All the foods recommended in a list of healthy foods to eat, have verification.
Health Benefits Of Certified Organic Grass-Fed Finished Meats, Dairy, and Eggs
(Compared to grain-fed and/or grass-fed beef)
Cows are healthier and happier and live a better quality of life
Cows are also less stressed and disease prone
Meat is lean as wild game meat
High in full range of antioxidants, particularly vitamin E, which is 4 times higher
Lower in total fat and saturated fats and calories (6 oz. steak 100 fewer calories)
Higher in beta-carotene (vitamin A) and lutein
4 times higher in vitamin E (alpha-tocopherol)
Higher in the B-vitamins thiamine and riboflavin, B12, B3, B6
Higher in all vitamins and minerals’ calcium, magnesium, potassium, iron, selenium, zinc
50% higher in total omega-3s and less unhealthy omega 6s
2 to 4 times more omega 3 fatty acid ratio to omega 6 fatty acid (*)
2 to 3 times higher in CLA, a potential cancer fighter
Higher in vaccenic acid (which can be transformed into CLA)
Lower in unhealthy saturated fats linked with heart disease
Higher in 22 amino acids, including the 8 essential amino acids
Less antibiotic-resistent strains of bacteria, such as E coli, and viruses in meats passed on to consumers( no antibiotics)
Free-range eggs have 3 to 6 times more vitamin D, 2 times more omega 3s, 7 times more beta carotene, 30% more Vit. E
Butter from grass-fed finished dairy cows has more cancer-fighting CLA, vitamin E, beta-carotene, and omega-3 fatty acids
Butter is softer and spreadable because of the lower ratio of fatty omega 6s to 3s (less in-soluble fat)
Cheese from dairy cows has 4 times more CLAs
Sheep have 2 times more lutein (carotene) than grain-fed
Pigs raised on organic pasture have 300 percent more vitamin E and 74 percent more selenium
No residuals of hormones, antibiotics, chemical fertilizers, or insecticides in meats
Lower bacterial count in milk than in grain-fed milk and has 5 times more CLAs
Return rich nutrients into the soil sustain soil in a natural way (their manure is rich in nutrients as it re-fertilizes the soil)
(*)The typical western diet is overloaded with less healthy inflammatory-causing omega-6 fatty acids and deficient in omega-3s, upsetting a critical balance. 20% of Americans have blood levels so low in omega 3s that they cannot be detected. With grass-fed cows, omega-3s are abundant in their meat because they’re eating grasses and clover rich (over 60% in their leaves) in these heart-healthy fatty acids. This results in a better omega-6:omega-3 ratio that is preferred by the nutritional community.
Eating a balanced ratio of essential fatty acids is linked with a lower risk of cancer, heart disease, diabetes, obesity, mental disorders, and other inflammatory issues. Grass-fed beef is also higher in precursors for Vitamin A and E, amino acids, anti-inflammatory properties, and cancer fighting antioxidants such as GT and SOD activity as compared to grain-fed contemporaries.
Suggestions Where To Purchase Certified Organic Grass-Fed Or Free-Range Finished Meats, Eggs, and Dairy
Certified Organic Free-Range Finished Poultry including Chicken, Turkey, and Duck
Changing your buying habits and purchasing certified organic grass-fed or free-range finished meats, eggs, and dairy products, as shown in this article “A List Of Healthy Foods To Eat”, will not only be tremendously beneficial to you and your family’s health and well being, but also very beneficial to the animals we consume for our survival.
By buying these types of natural products you will be supporting grassland farmers and ranchers using healthy and humane natural farming practices, the way nature intended, but also not supporting the inhumane treatment of these animals. You will be supporting a better quality of life for these food animals where they are able to roam freely grazing, happily, and contently, each and every day of their lives. Don’t you think they deserve it? After all, they are one of our food sources, and that’s the least we can do! Right?
What are your thoughts? Your comments are welcomed and should you have questions, please leave them below.
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