And how to be sure you’re actually getting one
I still see so-called health “experts” telling people every day that they should avoid eating beef altogether. And to opt for lean cuts of other meat.
But there are some huge—and dangerous—holes in this advice.
So today, let’s take a few minutes to go over exactly what you should be looking for when you head to the butcher counter.
Go organic—and get 50 percent more life-saving fatty acids
The latest verdict—from the largest study of its kind, I should add—appeared in the British Journal of Nutrition back in January. This sweeping meta-analysis showed that organic meat wins out over conventionally raised when it comes to essential omega-3 content—by a whopping 50 percent.1-2
This finding is particularly noteworthy considering how woefully deficient the typical Western diet is in these critical fats.
So what exactly is the difference between organic and conventional meat? Well, commercially raised beef is stuffed with GMO corn and soy on feedlots.
But the cows in this study ate a clover-rich grass diet—which is the only biologically appropriate diet for a cow. (In fact, clover is what makes organic farming possible. It raises soil levels of nitrogen naturally, eliminating the need for chemical fertilizers.)
They grazed in the sun on clover fields, like cows should. And it gave the resulting meat significant nutritional benefits.
This is hardly the first study to suggest as much, either. The Mayo Clinic also touts research showing that grass-fed beef is lower in both fat and calories than grain-fed beef. And the fat that grass-fed beef does have? Well, that’s way better for you, too.
Yes, cows grazed from start to finish yield meat with higher levels of omega-3s. But the meat is also higher in antioxidants like vitamin E, while boasting significant amounts of conjugated linoleic acid (CLA)—a fatty acid that lowers both heart disease and cancer risk.3
Bottom line: Don’t believe for a second that the way that beef was raised doesn’t matter—because it does. Grass-fed and grass-finished beef products are better, period—for us, for the animals, and for the planet.
So how can you make sure that’s what you’re getting? Well let’s take a minute to revisit that very important topic now.
Look for beef that’s grass-fed AND grass-finished
Antibiotic- and hormone-free meat is generally clearly labeled as such. But things get murky when you start talking about grass vs. grain feeding.
Unfortunately, many farmers advertise their cows as grass-fed even if they’re “finished” on grain. (In other words, these cows grazed for most of their lives, but were transitioned to grain-feeding before slaughter to fatten them up.)
There’s no question that a cow with any access to pasture will be healthier and happier than one that’s confined to a feed lot. But “grain-finishing” does impact the quality of the beef—and not for the better, either. (Even when that grain is certified organic.)
So if you want a truly healthy product, you don’t just want organic beef. You want beef from cows that were fed and finished on grass.
Better yet, consider buying “heritage” meat
In livestock and farming, the term “heritage” points to a product that has remained unaltered from its original form. Most modern wheat, for example, is very different from the wheat humans consumed prior to the advent of industrial farming.
Similarly, “heritage” livestock are easier to trace back to the animals that originally roamed the land. (As opposed to today’s mass-produced livestock breeds, which were created simply to maximize profits—without regard for sustainability, nutrition, or flavor.)
When you eat heritage meat, you will be able to taste the difference. It’s the best of the best—so you’ll pay extra for it, too. But for my money, it’s absolutely worth the added expense. Because regardless of what the factory farming industry is trying to sell you, good health is always going to be the smartest investment you can make.
To find a source of quality meat near you, visit LocalHarvest.com and enter “meat” and your zip code into the search function at the top of the page.
Look for eggs and chickens that are pasture-raised
This is an especially important distinction, given the popularity of “cage-free” and “vegetarian fed” chickens. Because guess what? Chickens are not vegetarians. They like to peck and forage, and bugs are a big part of their natural diet.
So really, it means nothing if they’re raised outside of cages if their feed is vegetarian. For optimal nutrition, they must be “pastured.” Which means they’re free to roam and forage on the farm.
“Local” and “organic” aren’t always enough
As the public starts to wise up about the benefits of organic, free-range, and grass-fed products, labeling has been getting trickier and trickier. Terms like “natural” don’t always mean what you think they do. And a lot of companies are profiting from the confusion.
Case in point: A recent survey revealed that one in five Americans think that “local” means “organic.” But these two terms actually have nothing to do with one another.
Yes, I prefer to buy locally. The meats are fresher, and you can actually talk to the farmer (or better yet, visit the farm) to learn more about how their livestock was raised. Smaller, local operations are also more likely to participate in healthy farming practices, like grazing.
1. Średnicka-Tober D, et al. Br J Nutr. 2016 Mar;115(6):1043-60.
2. Średnicka-Tober D, et al. Br J Nutr. 2016 Mar;115(6):994-1011.