Vegetarians, look away. If you’ve been following my blog for a while now you’ll know I eat meat. In fact, I eat from across all food groups. So today’s post is about meat and how I came to eat it after many years of avoidance; as well as my take on healthy meat choices and why choosing grass fed vs grain fed meat is just common sense.
As a child, I loved my meat, especially my Nans’ roast lamb on the wood fire. My rebellious teen years and my animal loving nature drove me to avoid eating most meat for a good 20 years. This was helped along by the low fat, high carb health model I studied nutrition under.
After my first child was born and a bout of serious illness, I just felt driven to once again eat meat. It’s taken me almost 10 years to get my head around the taste and texture of meat (and eating an animal), but deep down I feel it is something that truly nourishes me.
Meat – good or not?
My dismay over years of changing and conflicting dietary guidelines has left me with a distinct distrust of the latest dietary trends. I prefer to think of health and nutrition in terms of what we evolved to eat – before supermarkets and a multi-million dollar food processing industry; and when you think about it, humans evolved as hunters and gatherers.
Some humans were more hunters that gatherers, surviving healthily on nothing much more than protein and fat. Others more gatherers, with little or any animal derived protein. The point – we are all different and our dietary needs and desires vary enormously. I know this to be the case after treating many different patients with many different disorders. Some thrive on a high protein diet, other simply don’t.
But this isn’t a post about to eat, or not to eat meat. That is something only you can decide. However if you do choose to eat meat, choosing grass-fed, pasture raised meat is so important. So why should we care how the meat we eat is raised? When you think about it, we are at the top of the food chain – we are what we eat, but also what we eat, eats. To be healthy we need to care!
Grass fed, pasture raised vs Grain fed (or finished), feedlot reared beef
For me, it’s a straightforward choice…Whilst all cattle eat grass up to a certain point in their life, ‘grain’ fed cows are ‘finished’ (quite literally) in a feedlot. Grass-fed beef is vastly nutritionally (and ethically) superior to grain-fed or grain finished feedlot beef. The health of the meat is directly related to the health of the animal…You don’t need science to reveal the obvious choice!
But to put it simply…
- A 100% grass fed cow roaming freely in the sunshine and fresh air vs a gain fed cow being confined in an artificially lit shed (cattle is kept together in enclosed pens with 15 per 19.5 square metres I’ve read).
- A pasture raised cow eating only what nature intended, growing at its own rate vs being fed grain for at least the last 100 days of its life to control its weight and accelerate its growth. The benefit is said to be that grain fed produces a more ‘consistent’ grade of meat which is why it is often thought a tastier choice (albeit engineered).
- Because cattle is not designed to digest grain, grain fed cattle needs to be kept alive with medication and antibiotics until it is slaughtered. Australia imports 700 tonnes of antibiotics annually, of which 550 tonnes are used in livestock production, as medicine or growth promoters. Hormonal Growth Promotants (a slow-release pellet of oestrogen, progesterone and testosterone) are used by both the beef and pork industry in Australia (though are banned altogether in Europe). I don’t know about you, but with the ever rising number of cases of hormone dominant cancers and infertility, I don’t believe there is a case for this practice. Organic meat is your only guarantee here, but that’s another post. Organic or not, pasture raised cattle are healthier and require less medication.
- Grass fed, pasture-reared beef has a higher omega-3 content and is also a richer source of minerals, vitamins, antioxidants and conjugated linoleic acids, which reduce the risks of cancer, obesity, and diabetes.
I’m not going to cite studies which prove that one way is better than the other. I think in the case of choosing the healthiest meat, common sense should prevail. For me, anything that grows and develops as close as possible to how nature intended will always be a better choice. Animal welfare aside, I chose not to eat nor feed my kids these medications. With the rise of early onset puberty, hormone driven cancers and difficulties controlling body weight, please make informed decisions about the food you buy your family. Anything you can do to reduce your exposure to environmental hormones is well worth the effort.
I’ve only brushed upon the horrors (ethical and nutritionally) of grain fed beef. Please shop from your local butcher and ask for only 100% grass fed meat, (remembering that all beef is grass fed or pasture raised for part of their life, so clarify it is for the whole of their life). Many supermarkets label meat ‘grass fed’ or ‘pasture raised’ (and omit that it was in fact ‘finished’ in a feed lot).
Whilst I’ve talked about beef, these principles also apply to chicken (cage vs true free range), fish (wild caught vs farmed) and all other meats which I’ll address in subsequent posts.