Why Grassfed Is Best
The following has been condensed from a book of the same name by Jo Robinson. You can order it (highly recommended) from the eatwild website.
Commercial cattle are raised on grass until they are from 6 to 18 months old. Then they are rounded up and shipped hundreds of miles to a feedlot to be "finished" for market. When these stressed animals arrive at the feedlot, they are introduced to an entirely artificial diet. Grain is the primary ingredient in their new rations because it speeds their growth and makes them fatter, creating the marbled beef that consumers have come to expect.
With economy the overriding principle, their feed may contain any number of unsavory ingredients, including "tankage" (the ground up flesh, hooves, feathers, and bones of other animals, including cattle), chicken and cattle manure, stale pastry (a good source of energy), and ground cardboard (for bulk).
To further stimulate the animals' growth, they are dosed with synthetic hormones and antibiotics. This biotech combination of grain, by-product feedstuff, antibiotics and hormones achieves it's goal: our feedlots produce vast quantities of marbled USDA-approved meat at a reasonable cost.
We humans pay the price for this "affordable" meat. The 20 million pounds of antibiotics fed to our livestock each year are spawning antibiotic-resistant bacteria. Alarmingly, the percentage of Salmonella-resistant to 5 different antibiotics has increased from less than 1% in 1980 to 34% in 1996. Much of this increase is due to the routine use of feed antibiotics in the livestock industry. Some believe it's only a matter of time before these superbugs cause widespread health problems.
When ruminant animals (cattle or sheep) are fed large amounts of grain, their meat and milk products are less desirable for human health. One of the most significant drawbacks is that their meat has more of the "bad" fat that clogs our arteries and less of the "good" fat that enhances our health.
Let's take a closer look at grainfed beef. When cattle have spent their requisite 4 to 8 months in a feedlot, their meat has 4 to 6 times more total fat than meat from grassfed cattle. It also had twice as much saturated fat. A diet high in saturated fat has been linked with a higher risk of cardiovascular disease and diabetes.
On the other hand, when cattle are allowed to remain on pasture, their meat has about the same amount of meat as wild game or skinless chicken breast. When red meat is this lean, it actually lowers your cholesterol levels. This means that even people with high cholesterol levels can enjoy grassfed beef and lamb.
Feeding grain to cattle changes their meat in a less obvious but equally important way: it diminishes its supply of a type of good fat called "omega-3 fatty acids." Grassfed meat has from 2 to 6 times more omega-3s than grainfed meat.
Omega-3s are not only good for your health; they are essential for normal growth and development. Furthermore, you can't manufacture them in your body, so you must get them from your diet. This is why omega-3 fatty acids are one of the few fats to be classified as "essential fatty acids."
New research reveals that every cell and system in the human body relies on omega-3s. Your brain, for example, is largely composed of fat, and omega-3s are the most important of these fats. If your diet has an adequate amount of these nutrients, you have a lower risk of a host of mental disorders including depression, aggressive behavior, attention-deficit disorder, schizophrenia, and dementia.
Your cardiovascular system is equally dependent on omega-3s. People with diets rich in omega-3s are less likely to develop high blood pressure or irregular heart rhythms. Remarkably, they are half as likely to die from a heart attack or stroke.
The disease-fighting properties of omega-3s take on more significance when you realize that the American diet is really deficient in these fats. Only 40% of Americans consume adequate levels. 20% have levels so low that they cannot be detected.
Feeding grain to beef is one of the hidden reasons for the widespread omega-3 deficiency. Every day that an animal spends in the feedlot, its meat contains fewer and fewer omega-3 fatty acids. By the time the animal is slaughtered, there are almost no omega-3s. The reason for this is simple. Omega-3s are formed in the green leaves of plants. When the animals graze on their natural diet of greens, their diet is automatically rich in these essential fats. When the animals are taken off fresh pasture and fed ingredients poor in omega-3s, their tissues gradually lose their store of these potentially lifesaving fats.
When we look at today's chicken industry, the picture looks about as gruesome as the beef industry. Today, our super-efficient laying hens are vaccinated, medicated, debeaked, confined in cages, fed high-energy diets (including ground up hens that no longer lay enough eggs), fed antibiotics and medications to handle their stressing environment, and exposed to a carefully orchestrated lighting environment.
A recent finding is that the antibiotics and medications routinely given to commercial laying hens can linger in their eggs long after all traces are gone from their blood. Little does the consumer know that when s/he buys a dozen eggs from the supermarket, s/he might be getting a free dose of antibiotics as well. Worse yet, those eggs may contain antibiotic resistant bacteria.
Meanwhile, a researcher has discovered that supermarket eggs don't have their full allotment of omega-3 fatty acids. Artemis P. Simopoulos, M.D., chair of the Nutrition Coordinating Committee of the National Institutes of Health found that, when comparing free range eggs to factory eggs, free range eggs had almost 20 (yes, twenty) times more omega-3 fatty acids.
Benefits also exist when comparing pasture raised poultry to factory raised poultry. A recent study funded by the U.S.D.A. Sustainable Agriculture and Research Education Program (SARE) showed that free-range chickens had 21% less total fat, 30% less saturated fat, and 28% fewer calories. The breast meat was so lean that the U.S.D.A. could classify it as "fat free." Yet the meat had 50% more vitamin A and 100% more omega-3s. The S.A.R.E. study also compared eggs from free range chickens with eggs from caged birds. Free range eggs had 10% less fat, 40% more vitamin A, and 400% more omega-3 fatty acids. An unexpected finding is that the eggs from free range chickens had 34% less cholesterol.
For decades, the term "grainfed meat" has been interpreted as an assurance of quality. In reality, it should be a warning sign that the meat is going to be less desirable for human health. For better health, look for chickens, beef, lamb, pork, and eggs that are grass or pasture fed.
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