Red meat and dairy produce often get bad press. However, are you aware that grass-fed beef and milk from these cows is a healthier alternative to grain-fed beef and standard milk? Although grain-fed meat is the predominant offering in grocery stores, grass-fed meat is making more of an appearance. If you are unfamiliar with this concept, you may like to learn more about pasture beef and its health benefits, now that you're more likely to have the opportunity to try it out for yourself.
After around 6 months to a year, most farmers take their livestock off of a healthy grass-fed diet, instead feeding them commercial feed. With heightened awareness about the things that we eat, more and more people are opting to buy meat from animals that have grazed in natural pastures, rather than livestock that has been fed commercial feed.
These grass-fed animals are raised the way nature intended. They are not subject to grains, soy, antibiotics or any other additives that can be harmful to humans.
Instead, natural grazing allows each animal to reach an optimum size the natural way. Grass-fed meat provides the consumer with better quality meat, milk and byproducts such as that in our organic whey protein powder.
Kept in pastures, they are healthier and less vulnerable to disease, unlike their grain-fed counterparts, which are typically found on intensive farms, where the emphasis is on meat and milk production rather than the health and welfare of the animals. Besides being better for consumers and the animals themselves, producing grass-fed meat is also kinder to the environment because producing grain for animal feed is far more energy and water intensive than raising cows on grass pastures. There is also the point that GM soy and corn predominantly goes into animal feed, with the potential implications this has to the environment and to human health.
Health Benefits of Grass-Fed Beef
Grass-fed cows provide leaner, healthier beef. There is less marbling in the meat, so that once the outer fat has been trimmed, the resulting cut of meat is low in fat. This is just one of the changes that we can make to achieve a diet that is lower in total fat. Whilst many dietary fats are not to be feared, diets that are too high in fat are linked to weight gain and development of cardiovascular disease, diabetes and certain cancers (those of the breast, colon, ovary and prostate). So opting for grass-fed meat is a positive step we can all take to reduce our risk of these medical problems. Combine this with the fact that beef is rich in high quality protein – like our grass-fed whey protein powder - it makes the perfect choice of protein for athletes keen to build their lean body mass. What's more, meat from grass-fed cows is just as rich in iron - a nutrient that many US women are deficient in - so knowing that their waistline won't suffer by regularly including this beef in their diet may help women to prevent anemia.
Grass-fed beef may not contain any less saturated fat than grain-fed meat, but the saturated fatty acids present are less likely to have a detrimental effect on your cholesterol level. Beef from pasture cows contains more of the saturated fatty acids that have no impact on cholesterol, while at the same time containing less of those that elevate cholesterol levels. This is important with regards to your risk of heart disease, stroke and vascular dementia, all of which are more likely when levels of LDL cholesterol are raised; this is deposited in the artery walls, causing narrowing and a reduced supply of oxygen and nutrients to the heart and brain.
Both grass-fed meat and the milk from grass-fed cows are typically two to six times higher in omega-3 fatty acids. While we typically think of these essential fatty acids (so-called because the body is unable to produce them) as coming from oily fish such as salmon, mackerel and sardines, the produce from pastured cows is a helpful source. The typical American diet doesn't contain nearly enough omega-3 fatty acids, as the ratio of omega-6 (the other essential fatty acids) to omega-3 is recommended to be around 4:1, but it is usually in excess of 10:1. This imbalance of fatty acids is linked to increased inflammation, which is not only a risk factor for heart disease, but is also associated with inflammatory conditions such as rheumatoid arthritis, crohn's disease and allergies. Not only this, but omega-3 fatty acids have a number of cardiovascular benefits that include their ability to lower blood pressure, thin the blood, reduce levels of another blood fat called triglycerides and promote a regular heartbeat. An adequate intake of omega-3s is also essential for brain and eye development in infants, as well as promoting mental well-being and cognitive function. With so many benefits from omega-3 intake, as many people choose not to or struggle to eat the recommended portions of fish each week, meat eaters can top up their intake from natural beef, while vegetarians can turn to milk from these cows or grass-fed whey supplements such as our organic grass-fed whey protein powder.
Although you may not have heard of conjugated linoleic acid previously, this is another of the beneficial fatty acids found in cows fed grass, which is present in both their meat and milk. Conjugated linoleic acid is produced by bacteria in the stomaches of cows, and the process is dependent on the acidity of the stomach. Eating grass produces more favorable conditions then a diet based on grains, meaning that grass-fed beef cows generate more of these fatty acids. However, the natural augmentation of conjugated linoleic acid is also favored by the grass-fed diet. There is evidence that a higher dietary intake is associated with a healthier body weight, by reducing the amount of adipose tissue accumulated. However, this isn't the only benefit. The fatty acid is also linked to a reduced risk of heart disease, diabetes and cancer, though it may also strengthen the bones and the immune system. While much research has been conducted on the benefits of conjugated linoleic acid in animals, there is also promising evidence from human studies. For example, a study which considered fatty acid intake and breast cancer risk found that women with the greatest intakes of conjugated linoleic acid had a 60% lower risk of developing this form of cancer. The best way to increase intake of CLA is to switch to pasture beef and grass-fed whey.
Grass-fed meat is also richer in antioxidants than beef from grain-fed cows; the same applies to their milk. Grass is richer in beta-carotene, which translates to a higher muscle content of this vitamin A precursor when cows are fed grass, providing us with more of the vitamin when we eat the meat. Vitamin A is important for cell growth, healthy vision, skin and membranes, as well as playing a role in the production of white blood cells for the immune system. Beyond that, beta-carotene is an antioxidant, helping to protect the cells in the body from attack by damaging free radicals, which are linked to heart disease and cancer. Another antioxidant which is found in greater quantities in grazed cows is vitamin E. Typically grass-fed cows have three times as much of this antioxidant as those fed on grain. Not only does this vitamin help to prevent oxidative discoloration of the meat, but it is associated with a lower risk of heart disease and may protect against cancer by its ability to boost immune function. Glutathione is a protein with antioxidant activity found in both meat and dairy produce but in highest concentrations from cattle fed grass. This is because fresh grass is high in glutathione. This is not such a well-studied antioxidant, but it is believed that consumers of grass-fed whey protein will benefit from the additional antioxidant activity it will provide.
Purer Meat and Milk
Besides the fact that grass is the food that cows are adapted to eat, which allows them to achieve the weight they are naturally destined to be and helps to maintain their health, passing on health benefits to the consumer, the meat and milk are a lot purer. They are not contaminated with the traces of antibiotics and growth hormones that are commonly used on factory farms. Both of these additives go against the principles of natural farming, which aims to provide the conditions that animals are designed to thrive in.
While non grass-fed beef farmers who keep their animals in cramped conditions, will say that preventative antibiotics are necessary to maintain their animals free from disease and reduce the risk of infecting people who eat their meat and milk, this step would probably not be necessary if their cattle were kept in humane conditions. Cows that are allowed to graze outdoors are less likely to suffer from stress, which can take its toll on the immune system, leaving an animal susceptible to infections. Although rules exist as to how long a course of antibiotics has to have been stopped before an animal can enter the food chain, there is always a risk that a disreputable farmer will not adhere, allowing traces of antibiotics to be present in the meat. While the dangers of this are unknown, it is safest to eat pasture meat, milk and to use grass-fed whey protein powder supplements than anything that may contain antibiotic residues. There is another problem of overuse of antibiotics in livestock and that is the rise of antibiotic resistant bacteria. Many people do not realize that by eating meat or milk infected with drug resistant bacteria, the bacteria can take hold in your body as well, resulting in infections that are very hard to treat. Even people who don't consume animal produce are at risk though, because the effects of antibiotic resistance are also felt in the soil and water supplies as a result of their addition to feeds. Antibiotic resistance is already a problem, but the inappropriate antibiotic use in agriculture is adding to the magnitude of the problem.
Artificial recombinant bovine hormone (rBGH) isn't employed by grass-fed dairy farmers, because they wish their cows to produce the natural yield of milk they are meant to. The hormone is banned in Australia, Canada, the EU, Japan and New Zealand, but its use is commonplace among cattle farmers in the US, whose interest in their animals is based more on profits than animal welfare. Use of this hormone doesn't just leave cows vulnerable to infection of the udders. They are more likely to have reproductive complications, suffer from heat stress and poor appetite and develop problems with their feet. Impact of the use of rBGH isn't just limited to cows though; it may also affect those of us who drink their milk. While rBGH is present in milk, it can't be absorbed by the body, but the hormone increases levels of insulin-like growth factor in cows, which makes its way into their milk. This can be absorbed by us and levels of up to 10% higher are found in the blood of someone who drinks milk from cattle injected with rBGH. Insulin-like growth factor may be problematic for humans, as it increases cell growth, which may mean it increases our likelihood of cancers. This is thought to be the case with cancers of the colon, breast and prostate. While there is not a definite link, it is far safer to stick with grass-fed whey protein and milk.
Making a Choice
Whether you opt for grass-fed or grain-fed, you as a consumer need to make that decision. Grass-fed products, such as our organic grass-fed whey protein powder, can be slightly more expensive due to higher production costs associated with smaller-scale farming, but you really do get a quality product, which you can use to justify the extra cost. While some uncertainties do exist, based on the higher concentrations of various nutrients in grass-fed produce, it makes sense to choose these, particularly owing to their link with protecting against heart disease and cancer, two of the nation's big killers. The problems that stem from antibiotics and growth hormone use in livestock require further study, but in the meantime, why take the risk?