Red Meat is now Healthy

Red meat is now healthyThe media has been very adamant in warning us about the harmful effects of red meat for the last years. I was right there with them believing everything they told me. So when I and my now husband started living together I took control of our dinners and announced to him that we would drastically reduce our red meat and dairy intake. Unfortunately for my husband red meat and milk is his favorite food, but wanting to be healthy he agreed. How could I not believe this when Harvard PhD publishes an article stating that red meat increases your chances of heart diseases, diabetes and cancer, after all only smart people go to Harvard. (1)

The Study

This was an observational study where they sent regular surveys to over 100.000 health care workers in the US from the 1980’s until 2008. They split the participants into five groups, from those who ate the least red meat to the most red meat. When you look a little closer at the study you can also see that the group that ate the most red meat also smoked up to three times more often than other groups, exercised less, were overweight, ate more calories and less of healthier foods such as fruit, vegetables, fiber and fish. That group also had more diabetic and hypertension patients.

The biggest strength for the study is how many they evaluated over a long period of time. They on the other hand do not distinguish what type of meat the participants were eating. We see that group five was eating more calories than group one, but there is no data on where those extra calories came from. There is no adjustment in the study that tells us how much junk food and sugar they were eating so to me how they can conclude from this that red meat is the main culprit for heart diseases, cancers and diabetes is beyond me. Unfortunately when the media publishes an article stating that red meat is bad for you because Harvard says so we tend to believe it instead of going straight to the source and analyze the data for ourselves. The media had a field day with this study.

So what are you saying, can I eat red meat or not?

Before you run out to the supermarket to buy a big juicy steak for dinner it is important to learn that not all meat is equal and this goes for any type of meat not just red meat. It makes a big difference in quality whether the cattle is grain fed or grass fed.

Grain fed vs Grass Fed

Grain Fed cattle is moved to a large feedlot at about 6-12 months of age called Concentrated Animal Feeding Operations (CAFOs). They confine the animal to a small space with no access to grass. This way they can control their diets and minimize their exercise to fatten them up. Their feed consists mostly of soy and corn, the problem here lies in that most crops for corn and soy are genetically modified in the United States. In order to keep the cattle healthy they are given antibiotics as a precaution and growth hormones for quicker growth and quicker profit. These conditions that the cattle live in are very unsanitary which is why they need to pump them full of antibiotics.

In December 2013 FDA finally started the first step into phasing out the practice of giving antibiotics to otherwise healthy animals. This practice has created a super resistance to antibiotics in humans which can be very dangerous if not deadly. Unfortunately they are not outright banning the use but asking for voluntary cooperation from farmers and ranchers to limit the use of antibiotics.

Grass fed cattle grows up weaning from mothers milk to grazing on grassland until they die. They do not require antibiotics as they live in their natural inhabitant instead of filth covered feedlot and are not given hormones for quicker growth so it can take up to a year longer to finish a grass fed cow then grain fed making grass fed a more expensive choice in the supermarket.

 Difference in the finished product

After the cow has been slaughtered there is quite a difference in the nutritional value between grass fed and grain fed beef.

Grass fed beef contains less total fat than grain fed beef, which means fewer calories. The fatty acid compositions are different as well. (1, 2, 3)

Grass fed beef has slightly less of saturated, monounsaturated, omega-6 polyunsaturated fats so not a significant difference there, however the biggest different is in the omega-3’s where grass fed beef has up to 5 times more than grain fed beef and about twice as much of conjugated linoleic acid which has been associated with reducing body fat with triggering an enzyme that breaks down fat that is already deposited in the cells allowing it to become fuel for other nearby muscle cells. (1)

Rich in Nutrition

Both grass fed and grain fed beef is high in Vitamin B12, B3 and B6 along with highly bio-available Iron, Selenium and Zinc. Red meat is also an excellent source of high quality protein and other lesser known nutrients such as Creatine and Carnosine which are very important for our muscles and brains.

In addition to that grass fed beef is high in Vitamin A and E and contains micro-nutrients like Potassium, Iron, Zinc, Phosphorus and Sodium.

Cooking Difference

The main difference is like we learned above in the fat content. Since grass fed beef is leaner it is easy to overcook. To cook a grain fed steak is best over high heat open faced grill while grass fed needs a lower temperature and it is best to coat with butter.

Bottom line

All red meat is good for you but if you can afford it choose a grass fed cow. I find it best to buy my meat straight from the rancher, that way I get the cut for on average for about $6 per/pound and I can call the ranch and ask specific questions and make sure they are 100% grass fed. You do need a good sized freezer on the other hand.

So go ahead, indulge in a nice juicy steak for dinner with a clear conscience knowing you are feeding your family a healthy source of protein and nutrients.

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