The demand for grass-fed meats has grown exponentially within the last two decades. That’s because many diets like the paleo diet and more recently the Carnivore diet staunchly promote eating animal products as a major source of food.
For review, a paleo diet (also known as a paleolithic diet or the caveman diet) consist of eating, fruits, vegetables, nuts, seeds, and roots and avoids eating dairy, legumes, alcohol, processed oils, grains (not even whole grains), and alcohol. This eating approach attempts to mimic the way humans ate thousands of years ago.
The carnivore diet is relatively new and consists of only eating animal products. And that’s it. I am not kidding. On this diet, you consume mainly meat, fish, eggs, water, salt, and dairy.
The premises of both diets is that some food, mainly grains (but several other foods as well depending on what diet you look at) causes all sorts of inflammatory health problems that include gastrointestinal issues and autoimmune disease. (I don’t have a reliable resource for this statement right now)
This blog post is not about rating diets, but more about consuming grass-fed meats and if the extra cost worth it.
Is grass-fed meats a good thing to eat?
Or, the better question is, is grass-fed meat really grass fed?
Here we go…
Are grass-fed meats better for you?
There’s no question that byproducts of cows eating grass and hay is higher in nutritional content: It is higher in good fats like omega-3 and Conjugated Linoleic Acid (CLA), has more nutrients like vitamin A and E than meats from cows that eat corn or soy. (Daley et al. 2010)
Large studies, however, generally show higher death rates in those with high intakes of both red and processed meat than in those with low meat intakes.
The kicker is that, the source of meats and how the animals lived and what they were fed is never taken into account when performing such human studies.
But the source of meats and how the animals lived and what they were fed is never into account when performing these studies.
In fact, there is no human data to prove or disprove that eating grass-fed meats prolongs life ors shortens it. So while, yes grass-fed meats are higher in nutritional value, we don’t know for sure if eating it helps us live longer and better.
But that’s not the only dilemma. The bigger issue is that the word “grass-fed” is not well defined and farms that produce “grass-fed” meats are not regulated.
Should we trust “Grass-fed” labels?
I have to admit, until researching for this article, I freely bought “grass-fed” labeled meats without thinking twice.
This is what I’ve recently learned.
- On January 2016, The American Marketing Service (AMS), a segment of the United State Department of Agriculture (USDA) dropped any standard definition of the term “grass-fed.” The AMS claimed that it doesn’t have the authority to define and determine whether specific grass-fed claims that companies make on their packaging are “truthful and not misleading.”
- In short, while the USDA still evaluates and approves grass-fed claims, the government no longer has an official definition of the term “grass-fed,” which means the phrase is now more open to interpretation.
- The bottom line is that if you want to be certain your meat is 100% grass-fed the onus is on the farmer. Of course, you may not know the farm where your meats come from if you buy it from a store – that makes it trickier to trust the source.
- However, there is an independent non-government organization that regulates the grass-fed meats industry, the American Grassfed Association (AGA)
- The AGA label must come from animals fed a diet of 100% forage, raised on pasture, and never treated with hormones or antibiotics.
Here’s what you need to know if you eat red meat:
- Processed meats like cold cuts, sausages, and hot dogs are more of a culprit, studies show, not red meat in and by itself. Processed meats are more of a problem in prostate cancer than meats in general.
- Cooking practices matter. Meats cooked in high heat and charred by grilling or barbequing are more problematic (sorry, I am only the messenger) especially in relation to cancer risk. Slow cooking meats with less overcooking on the outside is a better approach.
- If you can find 100% grass-fed and grass finished red meat and are willing to pay for it, that’s better (some companies have grass-fed meats but “finish” with feeding grains). Grass-fed meats cost about $2 to $3 more a pound than conventionally raised meats because it takes about two to three years to make it grow enough for sale. The name of the game in the meat industry fattens cows up as soon as possible to sell for as much as possible. For comparison, corn and grains feed can make a grow up to 1200 pounds after it is born within 18 months. Corn and grain products also make you and I grow fast too, just saying.
- It’s not absolutely essential to eat meats, including the grass-fed version. The benefit of eating meats is mostly from what you are not eating as a result of animal consumption (fewer grains, gluten, flour, etc). The main animal form of food for health benefits should be Wild caught fish.
- If your budget only allows for one high-quality animal source over another, choose fish from a high-quality source. Fish consumption has shown to reduce the risk of death from prostate cancer by 63%. Like all animal products, quality matters. Wild caught salmon (colored fish and slow cooking are better than white fish and the use of high heat) is the best form of fish from my research for protection from prostate cancer mortality.
- Eat plants too. At least half your plate. I think the studies suggesting meats are bad for us do not count for consumption of vegetables and fruits. Many meat eaters have poor lifestyles that include smoking and exclude vegetables from their diets. Consumption of quality meats (and finding trusted sources can be a challenge) in the context of also eating fruits and vegetables may promote wellness and reduce the risk of disease.