The Health Benefits of Pastured Meat
Let’s talk a little bit about meat. While the mainstream is still condemning meat consumption as being antagonistic to a healthy lifestyle, movements like the Paleo Diet and the Weston A. Price Foundation are diligently uncovering the truth about meat – that it’s a nutrient dense component of the diet and that people are foregoing it, or minimizing it, to their own detriment.
Their are nutritional components in meat that are vital to a healthy and functioning human being that are simply not found in vegetarian sources.
So I guess we should all start chowing down on street-meat and grocery store steaks to make sure we’re getting the stuff that we need, right? Not so fast. The truth is that the source of your meat, what your meat eats, is just as important as eating meat at all. It’s like the difference between eating health food and junk food – one will make your body thrive on the nutrients it need, the other will slow it down with junk that will eventually make you sick.
What Does Your Meat Eat?
I was recently watching an episode of “House of Cards” (a guilty pleasure) and the main protagonist, psychopath Frank Underwood, was sitting down to a tense meeting with his political enemies. The host was serving $200 dollar steaks and was going on about their attributes. He emphasized that the cows were 100% “soy-fed”. All I could think was “why would anyone pay $200 for a soy-fed steak? Cows don’t eat soy, they eat grass!”
And that’s the crux of the argument. Cows and sheep eat grass. Pigs forage for a number of different plants, roots and tubers, fruits, veggies, insects and even small animals and eggs. Chickens eat grass, seeds and lots of different bugs, grubs and worms (think about that when deciding whether or not to get “vegetarian-fed eggs”. Chickens aren’t vegetarians!). These are the foods these animals have been eating since they came into existence on this planet and it is therefore what they are best suited to consuming. Change their diet to something they’re not suited to, like corn, wheat and soy for instance, especially the GMO versions, and you’re only going to see a decline in their health.
The fact is, sorting through the multitude of meat choices out there can be confusing. But as a general rule of thumb, when buying meat, eggs or dairy, ask yourself whether the animal has been eating its natural diet for its entire lifetime. Animals that eat what they’re designed to eat are healthy, in less need of medications and more nutritionally dense.
What Are the Nutritional Benefits of Pasture-Raised Meat?
The health benefits of eating pasture-raised animals, eggs and dairy are numerous to say the least. It makes sense that an animal that is raised on the food that is exactly what it needs to thrive would provide healthier meat and animal products than one that was raised in confined animal feeding operations (CAFOs), where such truly “creative” things as “cotton byproducts, old candy (including wrappers), beet and citrus pulp, and peanut shells” are included in the cows’ diet in order to increase total fat.
Let’s look at some numbers. Meat from grass-fed animals has two to four times more omega-3 fatty acids than meat from grain-fed animals. And this isn’t just the medium-chain omega-3s you get from seed oils that your body then has to convert. These also include the long-chain omega-3s you normally only get from fish oil, essential for heart and brain health, as well as bringing down inflammation. When cattle are taken off their pasture and put in a feedlot to be fattened-up before slaughter, all those omega-3s slowly disappear from the meat. The simple reason is that grass and leafy plants found on the pasture are rich in omega-3s. Grains and soy, which is what the cattle is fed on feedlots, is a very poor source.
Similarly, eggs from pastured hens can contain as much as 10 times more omega-3s than eggs from factory hens. Sometimes confined hen operations bump this number up by including flax seeds in with their hen’s feed to produce “omega-3 eggs”. Don’t be fooled. While these may be high in omega-3s, they don’t have near the health promoting qualities pastured eggs have.
A few other notes – pastured animals contain three to five times more conjugated linoleic acid (CLA), a potent cancer fighter and weight-loss fatty acid, than those fed (un)conventional diets. Meat from pastured animals also contains significantly more vitamin E than feedlot meat, even when those feedlot animals are supplemented with vitamin E! Pastured meats are also higher in beta-carotene, B-vitamins, calcium, magnesium and potassium. They also have a much healthier ratio of omega-3 to omega-6 fats, important for keeping inflammation low. Eggs from pastured hens are also higher in vitamin D; three to six times higher, in fact. They also contain 2/3 more vitamin A, twice as much omega-3 fats and seven times more beta-carotene.
There’s actually more in the way of benefits to eating pastured meat, eggs and dairy – I’ve only touched the tip of the iceberg here. Check out Eat Wild’s Health Benefits page for a lot more info, including the studies where all the information I’ve given here comes from. Ignore all the low-fat hype, though. Fat is good for you!
At the end of the scene from the “House of Cards” episode, Frank ended up angrily throwing the steak into the pool they were dining next to, without having touched a bite. It had nothing to do with the steak itself, but I couldn’t help thinking “Good on you, Frank. I’d have done the same thing.”
Doug DiPasquale Certified Holistic Nutritionist
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Check out our handy new meat buying guide to find our offerings of pastured meat!