The Great Grass- Fed Debate

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The picture I took above is from a local farm near me in Salisbury, CT. I had to pull over and take a picture because those baby cows were just too darn adorable for me not to :).

If you are like most of the members in my family or some of my friends, you’ve probably heard about the term “grass fed beef” but that’s where the buck stops.  Grass fed? Isn’t that what cows eat anyway?  Is this just another marketing ploy to make me pay more money for essentially the same product? Or in the words of my husband “you and your hippie talk.”  For those who may still be wondering, yes grass fed beef is different. I first learned about it 5 years ago from my Naturopath who informed me that grass fed beef is actually anti-inflammatory, whereas the regular beef you buy at a grocery store that was likely raised in a CAFO (excellent article about the hazards of CAFO’s from the CDC) has been shown in fact to be pro-inflammatory.  It’s no secret these days that animals raised for the mass production of food are being fed supplemental diets of grains made with corn and soy.  Yes they may have some access to grass in the beginning, but in order to fatten them up more quickly (and grow them bigger) they must be fed something more calorie dense than just greens. Not only is this unnatural for cows to eat but in most cases the grains they are being fed are GMO- which is topic for an entire blog post in itself. Just briefly, from what I understand about GMO’s is that the human body does not recognize the altered proteins or changed DNA in these products. What the body doesn’t recognize it fights by releasing antibodies and triggering an inflammatory response.  I’m going to go out on a limb here and say that animals immune systems likely do the same.  This takes the saying “you are what you eat” a step further.  If you are eating meat from an animal that is stressed and inflamed, then what is that meat doing to you?

 

Conjugated Lineolic Acid (CLA)  and the grass fed difference. What the heck is it?

So what is the difference between grass fed and traditional meat that makes grass fed meat so anti- inflammatory?  Studies have found that a family group of fatty acids holds the answer. Conjugated linoleic acid, also known as CLA is a group of fatty acids that are made from ruminant animals.

“Ruminants are mammals that are able to acquire nutrients from plant-based food by fermenting it in a specialized stomach prior to digestion, principally through microbial actions. The process typically requires the fermented ingesta (known as cud) to be regurgitated and chewed again. The process of rechewing the cud to further break down plant matter and stimulate digestion is called rumination.[1][2] The word “ruminant” comes from the Latin ruminare, which means “to chew over again”.  (straight from wikipedia)

Studies have shown higher percentages of CLA are found in the meat and dairy products from grass fed animals.  Research  has found that CLA is anti-inflammatory, helps with fat loss and is a topic of many body building websites (article) (acjn article), can boost immunity, (another study) and can even help prevent certain cancers. (Sloan Kettering)  You can even buy it now in supplement form, who knew?  Though these studies are mostly preliminary with mixed results on humans, what I gather from them is when we eat things the way they are supposed to be eaten, the less problems we will have.  Now before I get a comment from some mad vegan hear me out. First of all, I’m not vegan or anywhere near it. I feel that no, NO ONE should be factory farming and I do not agree with CAFO’s. However back in the dawn of time primal humans, neanderthals if you will, they were hunter gatherers. Hunter meaning, hunting an animal and eating it. Now if you are like me and get hooked on Naked and Afraid  marathons (on the rare occasions when I watch TV) you will see it is hard to survive with little food alone, and no protein.  Do I believe in consuming mass quantities of meat? No. I believe in eating quality meats, from local farms if possible.  My philosophy is a mix of paleo- primal, agricultural revolution, and moderation. When I think of a name for it, I’ll let you know. Anyway, back to the topic.

“Meat and dairy products from grass-fed animals can produce 300-500% more CLA than those of cattle fed the usual diet of 50% hay and silage, and 50% grain.” (Wikipedia)

Higher concentrations of CLA in grass fed beef means less inflammation for you and more protective benefits than eating more processed meat. See meat isn’t all that bad after all… if you eat it the way it’s meant to be eaten.  Animals that are being fed grains produce less CLA because they aren’t getting the chance to ferment the grasses and plants they would normally chew on. The animals that are generally raised grass fed, are usually able to free range and in turn are leaner and healthier.  Leaner means less saturated fat (although I’ve been reading a lot of posts lately on how saturated fat isn’t as bad as it was once thought.)  Of course there are exceptions to everything and I’m not saying that just because something says “grass fed” means it’s a humanely raised or quality product. You always have to do your research out there and buy from trustworthy brands. Better yet, get out there and support your local farmers!

Briefly about GMO’s

There is major controversy over GMO’s these days and it’s no surprise to me that altering the DNA of something and then consuming it may cause some sort of problem. (GMO’s)  Here is a link to a lengthy article stating refined grains seem to have a pro-inflammatory effect on the body, whereas whole grains have an anti-inflammatory effect. (article)   I don’t know exactly what type of feed commercially raised animals are being fed but I could take a guess and say it is not a whole grain; or if it is a whole grain , it is genetically modified and may not behave in the same way a natural whole grain would, thus producing inflammation.  I try to avoid GMO’s as much as possible since there are limited studies on them and I can’t see how they can be healthy.   It’s one thing to avoid buying GMO produce. But by eating meat that was fed GMO’s you are really doing yourself a disservice because you are actually still consuming them!

So does it make a difference?

In my opinion yes. Based on all the articles I’ve read about the benefits of CLA and the fact that the animals are eating GMO’s (meaning I’m eating GMO’s) I would choose grass fed over traditional meat any day.  I try to buy humanely raised and organic beef, and if possible I go to a local farm so I know exactly where my meat came from and how it was raised.  I use grass fed butter as well. If you are into the whole bullet proof coffee craze, they also recommend using grass fed butter for much of the same reasons.  Whatever I can do to help reduce the inflammation in my gut, I’m all over it.  See – there is a reason for my madness.

Happy Eating!

 

More info

Web MD

Great article from Eat Wild

Pig study on GMOS

 

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