Organic Red Meat: What’s Your Beef?

It is that time of year again when grilling recipes take over the hearts and minds of BBQ’ers. This usually includes some very tasty veggies, but also the rise of the ever-prominent red meat on the barbeque.

Pregnant and new mothers are hesitant to put any weirdness in their bodies-that would include antibiotics, steroids, additives, preservatives or risk of contamination from undercooked meat. Everyone should want to eat healthier, but what is the skinny on red meat and how does one incorporate it into the diet?

Grain-Fed versus Grass-Fed Beef

The biggest debate in beef this year seems to be the grain-fed or grass-fed discussion. This is an easy one: grass-fed beef is beef that is fed…grass.  Since that is what cows eat, this sounds like a pretty good idea. They also eat clover, a little shrubbery, rushes, bamboo, but for the most part, some combination of grasses.

This is how they get their vitamins, and we eat the beef, and that is how we get some of ours key vitamins and necessary proteins.

Vegetarians and vegans, this is certainly not your conversation if you have chosen that dietary lifestyle, but I will caution you to make sure you ARE getting sufficient vitamins, minerals, and proteins, especially in pregnancy and post-partum and MAKE SURE YOUR BODY RECOGNIZES THE PROTEIN SOURCES SO THAT IT CAN ABSORB THEM PROPERLY.

Major blood work is required, but it is a priceless investment to ensure that what you eat can actually be used by your body. Otherwise, you may be consuming food that is not utilized by your body and you will pay a very hefty health price for that later. Bodies need protein; and for many, a red meat source can be the difference between health and not so much.

Now, grain-fed beef…can be fed any of the following and still call it ‘grain-fed beef’:

Concentrated feed (that can be a number of ingredients, see below)

  • Corn
  • Corn byproducts that can include husks and cob
  • Soybeans (including the hull)
  • Cereals (various)
  • Cotton by-products
  • Old candy (there is no discretion on the candy; it could be made with HFCS, dyes, additives, etc. Oh, by the way, they also eat the wrappers)
  • Peanut shells
  • Spent grains from the brewing and the distillation process
  • Fruit pulp (1)

Now, I don’t know about you, but choice A just sounds better to me.  I have a personal gripe about trying to feed animals things they didn’t naturally eat intuitively.  I am of the opinion that it can contribute to instability in the animal’s immune system (lots of data on that, hence the overuse of antibiotics which the industry is now trying to reduce) and cause susceptibility to illnesses that are not only very bad for the animal, but can be for those who consume the animal.

There is also the issue of quality of life for the animal.  Grass-fed cattle live out their lives in pasture.  Grain-fed cattle will go to feedlots…which can be not so nice places.  Maybe they are well-kept feedlots; in my career, I haven’t seen any I am completely comfortable with…just saying.

Nutritionally, grass-fed beef is more nutritionally complete and has both omega-3 and omega-6 fatty acids, essential to good health.  Grain-fed beef is nearly absent of all omega-3s.

Concerned about cholesterol? Well, red meat does have saturated fat, no question.  The difference between grain-fed and grass-fed is worth noting. The three main types of saturated fat are palmitic acid, myristic acid, and stearic acid.

This last type is found in higher amount in grass-fed beef which does not raise blood cholesterol levels. (4) Because there is more stearic acid, there is less proportionally of the other two.

Conjugated linoleic acid (CLA) is found naturally in milk and meat products, and has potent antioxidant activity, and research indicates that CLA might be protective against heart disease, diabetes, and cancer. Beef is one of the best dietary sources of CLA, and grass-fed beef contains an average of 2 to 3 times more CLA than grain-fed beef. (4)

What are great grass-fed choices?  Two of my favorites (as intelligent and beautiful animals): Angus and Bison

Angus Beef – What’s the Difference?

Introduced to the US in 1873, the Black Angus hasn’t changed a lot.  Yes, you can now just use the term “Angus” to those that don’t have the completely black dress, but the beef hasn’t changed all that much. There is an American Angus Association and the breed is registered and tracked, much like cattle of European countries and some South American nations.

What you DO want to watch is grass-fed vs. grain-fed. Yes, even beautiful Black Angus come in both varieties.  I had a great lengthy conversation with a gentleman at the American Angus Association about this subject, and I expressed my concerns that there were actually grain-fed Angus; I thought they were all grass-fed.

Obviously, some areas have more grass-fed than others, and I have included some links to some of those organic Angus sites in the source sections below.

Angus are actually very docile and great mothers.  Their offspring nurse longer than other cattle, and because of their excellent coat, they aren’t susceptible to sunburn on their tits like many cattle. Their coat and coloring also protects their eyes from many forms of cancer.

As our nation’s weather changes, this could be a very important factor where temperatures can climb and drop and put animals at risk. Angus calves are generally smaller at birth than other cattle…and in this case, this is a good thing.  Calf mortality is high in many cattle because genetic altering has meant bigger calves, and that has taken its toll on mothers and their offspring.  Angus have not had this challenge, so they have greater success with healthy offspring who after a nice diet of mother’s milk will frolic on grassy pastures.

When you see the seal “Certified Angus Beef-Natural” in your grocery store, these are, among others, the qualification that has been met, including grass-fed diet:

  • 51% Angus stock with solid black hair coat
  • Modest degree of marbling
  • Less than 1,000 lbs. (carcass)
  • Less than 1’ fat thickness
  • Superior muscling
  • Nearly free of all capillary rupture (3)

Since some Angus nurse longer and are grass-fed exclusively, those are considered organic.  Now, ranchers are being very careful to make sure they reduce the presence of poisonous plants in their pastures (growing problem in drought challenged areas).

It is also important to note that just like anything else that we grow that is green, it can accumulate vitamins, nutrients…and toxins.  However, I would prefer my food to come from places that are actually paying attention to the pasture constituents rather than those who are feeding their cattle (or their crops) complicated slurry of things that may not benefit anyone’s diet.

No one can tell me there is nutritional benefit to eating paper-wrapped candy, especially if you are cattle. Cattles eat grass, not corn and old candy.

Bison or Buffalo

A long time indigenous favorite for thousands of years for every aspect of their being, the bison is truly a magnificent animal.

Buffalo (bison) is nutritionally unique in many ways; you get more protein and nutrients with fewer calories and less fat.  Meat from bison is highly nutrient dense because of the proportion of protein, fat, minerals, and fatty acids to caloric value. It has a greater concentration of iron as well as the essential fatty acids.

The American Diabetes Association, the American Heart Association, and the American Dietetic Association all endorse the consumption of buffalo meat as part of healthy, low-fat, low-cholesterol diets. That is pretty cool, especially if you need a protein source that is high in so many other nutrients, yet you don’t have to eat very much to feel full and have your nutritional needs met.

Bison has fewer calories than chicken or fish and less fat than beef or chicken (76% less fat than beef and 68% less fat than chicken).  There is research on people lowering their LDL cholesterol by simply eating buffalo 3-4 times per week (5).  Buffalo tastes great: burgers, roast, steaks…they are all delicious.

Bison cooks faster than other red meat which is great for grilling.  A buffalo roast (3lb) can cook in an hour in an oven set at 375 degrees.  If you have a smoker, that beautiful roast can be done in about an HOUR! Cut thin medallions along with your grilled veggies and you have yourself a great meal for a big group fast.

Ground buffalo is great in chili and soups. Bison ribs are a truly special experience, and should be shared with very special people that you enjoy having around.  After they have this treat off your grill, you may never get rid of them.

Buffalo has a down side:  It’s really expensive. Is it all grass-fed?  No.  Some is ‘finished’ in its last two weeks on grain as well. It doesn’t seem to impact its overall healthfulness, though.

I have listed some sources of grass-fed bison below. (6) (7) I have also included absolutely organic, grass-fed no foreign anything bison sources with wholesale prices (8). Take advantage of free shipping where you can.  Buy with friends: order together and get bigger discounts and save money while getting great quality meats.

So this summer season, if you see Angus or bison hot dogs in your grocer’s meat case, read the labels carefully.  If you don’t like what you see, call the company and tell them what you want…or don’t want in your products. IT DOES MATTER.

Many saw what McDonald’s did recently as nearly criminal when they took their entire line of Angus burgers and wraps off the menu.  The issue for many is that they were increasing profit margins at the expense of the health of average Americans, since Angus is a superior beef. I didn’t like it, either, and I let them know that.

This was an extremely high selling item in some markets and the ‘let them eat quarter-pounders’ did hit them on stocks immediately following the decision. What you think as a consumer matters.  Even if a particular restaurant isn’t your favorite, let them know what you think anyway.

I had a road trip recently and found myself at a TGIFridays and realized all of their red meat offerings on the menu were Angus.  That impressed me. Is that what I ordered that night?  No, I had a big leafy saladJI was glad the option was there, however.

What you eat is important, and knowing what is available and what goes in to bringing meat to market is another important tool to living and eating healthy.  The more information you have, the better choices you can make. Make choices that keep your bodies healthy for you and your babies. (Written by Stephanie Simmons)

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