If you shop for the food in your family you have probably started to see the term “Grass-Fed” on more and more meat products. You may have wondered what it means and what significance it has for human health.
To make it more confusing this term is often thrown in with other terms such as “Organic” and “Grass-Finished”. To understand all this let’s start with talking about Grass as opposed to Grain Fed. Cows and other Ruminants including cattle, goats, sheep, giraffes, deer, moose, and caribou to name a few have a natural diet based on what they have eaten for hundreds of thousands of years. Their bodys' and specifically their digestive systems were shaped by evolution to eat green plants!
For thousands of years that is what they did eat, but in modern times cattle farmers learned that feeding a ruminant grains and corn will put weight on them much faster than their ancestral diet of green plants consistently mostly of grasses. This translates to quicker time to slaughter, lower costs, and higher profits for the farmer! Grain and corn is the metabolic equivalent of feeding cows a diet of “Twinkies” with all the consequences. In addition, grain fed cows have a particular taste and Americans in particular have become used to it and partial to it.
Unfortunately, grain fed animals have a very different fatty acid composition than animals fed a grass diet. Grass-fed cattle contain much higher levels of many beneficial compounds including anti-oxidants, Omega-3 Fatty Acids, Conjugated Linoleic Acid (CLA), Trans-Vaccenic Acid (TVA), Trace Minerals, and vitamins.
The worst part is that most meat is not just grain fed it is injected with hormones and antibiotics that also speed up weight gain and the corn and grain is very low quality and heavily sprayed with pesticides so you’re eating tons of toxins when you consume meat raised this way!
Omega 3 Fatty Acids are essential fatty acids as our Omega 6 Fatty Acids meaning we must consume them and cannot manufacture them in our bodies. We need both in a balance. Unfortunately the American diet is way too high in Omega 6 fatty acids and this has big-time consequences to human health (see this previous blog post to understand the need for lower intake of Omega 6 Fatty Acids and Higher intake of Omega 3 Fatty Acids and how and where to get both - http://workoutanytime.blogspot.com/2016/11/omega-3-fatty-acids-and-health.html )
Anti-Oxidants are crucial for health and grass-fed meat has much higher levels of carotenoids like Beta-Carotene and others. Carotenoids are fat-soluble meaning they tend to get stored in fats making the fat look yellow. Yellow fat (like butter from grass-fed cows) is a sign of high nutrient density. More carotenoids = more antioxidants and more nutrients (plus richer flavor!).
CLA provides several key benefits including:
Improving weight loss and specifically reduces bodyfat!
Helps increase lean mass including muscle and bone!
Potent Anti-Cancer Effects
Helps reverse atherosclerosis (hardening of arteries)
Helps balance inflammation and immune function
Reduces food allergies and sensitivities.
TVA – aka Trans Vaccenic Acid is technically a trans-fatty acid, but unlike man-made transfats which are unquestionably NOT healthy – there are benefits to TVA. Naturally occurring TVA in grass fed animal products may help lower cholesterol and LDL cholesterol in particular along with lowering triglycerides. TVA can also be converted to CLA in your body. Like CLA TVA seems to reduce risk factors associated with heart disease, diabetes, and obesity according to research from the University of Alberta.
Grass-Fed vs Grass Finished
Grass-Fed means that cattle ate nothing but grass and other forage (like hay or silage) for their entire lives. This means they were never fed grain at any point.
As the name implies Grass-Finished means the animal was fed grains but was “finished” eating grass before slaughter. How much time eating grass vs grains and the quality of grains makes a BIG difference. Just 90 days of grain feeding destroys all the benefits of grass feeding so knowing what the animal ate and for how long is key which is why you ideally buy beef from a farmer you know and trust!
Alternatively buying meat that is organic AND grass-fed is by far the best option. Just Organic means the grain fed to the animal was not sprayed with pesticides which is good, but this does not provide the many benefits of feeding the animal a grass diet as described above.
See next Month's Blog for a detailed explanation of the term "Organic" and how to interpret all those differrent lables such as "Certified Organic", "100% Organic", "All Natural", etc.