Are you a meat eater or a vegetarian? This post is intended to be a challenge for all those who may have harbored the belief that meat is unhealthy to eat, for those who have limited their consumption of meat throughout their lives, or anyone who has never eaten real, grassfed meat from healthy animals on pasture.
As most people know, meat has gained reputation for being the cause of various health issues due to its saturated fat content.
Let me start by saying that not only is this reputation untrue, contrary to popular medical and health rhetoric, saturated fat is a necessary nutrient in our diets. The type of saturated fat you are eating is of the utmost importance when it comes to health and the content of your diet. It’s so important, in fact, I’ll spend a fair amount of time talking about this topic today.
I’d also like to provide a review of a great book, Tender Grassfed Meat by my friend Stanley Fishman. The book is intended to familiarize those interested with information on the nutritional and taste benefits of grassfed meat, as well as how to prepare it for the optimal meal experience. More about the challenge a little later in this post.
First, I want to share an important video from Joel Salatin from Polyface Farms in Swoope, VI talking about how cows were meant to live and how it affects their health and their meat. I will also share my own experience avoiding meat for a good part of my life and what happened when I started eating it again (this time, real meat). We’ll then move into Stanley Fishman’s book and an important treatment of important meat-based diets from healthy sources are to human health
Misconceptions about meat
For most of my life, I believed eating red meat was unhealthy to do. I remember hearing from everyone around me that consuming too much red meat was bad because of saturated fat…and too much saturated fat would lead to heart disease, obesity, high blood pressure, even cancer. I heard stories of people who had several pounds of “putrefied, rotting meat” in their colon and were now dying of cancer.
When I was growing up I didn’t worry a whole lot about these problems – after all, I didn’t know of any kids dying of these diseases. But I never liked red meat very much anyway. It always seemed tough and I didn’t really care for the flavor. I was always much happier when I could eat chicken or even pork. I’d be satisfied enough if the red meat I was eating was disguised somehow in something – like spaghetti and meatballs or tacos.
It wasn’t until many years later that I started hearing about the benefits of grassfed meats. At first it didn’t quite make sense, but since I was beginning to understand the importance of how what we eat affects our health, I wanted to give it a try. I don’t recall the precise date when I ate my first grassfed meat, but I do know that ever since then, eating beef has been something I have enjoyed a great deal, and since I love food, that’s important!
I realized that the reason I didn’t really ever like meat very much was because all I had probably ever eaten was conventional meat – which in all honesty, is pretty disgusting and has an objectionable texture. When I discovered real meat, my choices of food in general began to open up and I became a much more satisfied eater – not to mention, my health started to improve vastly. I also noticed that I wasn’t hungry all the time and I was satiated after eating meals. Of course, I was eating other healthy foods too, but I credit my recovery from life-long health issues with eating real food including grassfed meats.
Tender, grassfed meat
In Stanley’s informative book, Tender Grassfed Meat, he talks about his experience cooking meat and not getting the results he wanted. He also shares the reasons why people may have had negative experiences eating meat in the past, and describes his research reading various literature – cookbooks, history books, and others – to understand how to cook grassfed meat properly, not only to maximize flavor and enjoyment of meat but also to put an emphasis on maximum nutritional benefit. This great book about healthy, real meat will change not only the way you think about meat, but change how you cook meat to make flavorful and nutritious meals for yourself and your family.
Here are some of the differences between conventional and real, grass-fed beef that Stanley talks about in his book:
- The manner in which the cattle where the meat comes from are raised and fed
- Nutritional profile
- Effect on your health
- Water content
- Different cooking techniques
And there are also 3 different types of beef:
Conventional, feedlot beef – cattle may or may not be on pasture, but most of their lives are spent on dirt which is covered in feces. The animals are given growth hormones and antibiotics (whether they are sick or not as a “precaution”) to promote rapid growth, and they are fed grain, soy, corn, and silage (which can contain any manner of unnatural, toxic substances) for the bulk of their lives.
Cattle are ruminants, and as such do not have the digestive ability to properly absorb these substances fed to them. As a result, they become sick and overweight. Their digestive tracts become very acidic and it is very common for their bodies to regularly harbor a pathogenic variety of E.coli bacteria, which is widely talked about in health news reports.
Grain-finished, hormone-free, antibiotic free – many of these types are organic. But raising cattle this way creates a watery meat which shrinks a lot in cooking. These animals may even spend some of their time on pasture, but they are sent to a feedlot for finishing and then receive grain, corn, soy, or silage to “fatten” them up quickly before slaughter. Although this variety of meat is better than conventional beef, it still lacks in nutritional profile and quality.
Grass-fed - animals are on pasture from start to finish, and is usually free from antibiotics, hormones, and other chemicals (as always, getting to know your farmer and learning about farming practices is key).
Fat content of grassfed meat is vastly different from conventional and grain-fed. It contains a high amount of CLA (conjugated linoleic acid) which is critical for cardiovascular health, Omega 3s, and Vitamins A, D, E, and K from being out in the open pasture, eating grass from healthy soil, and in the sunshine. As a result, consumption of grass-fed meat from healthy animals actually counters disease and illness – cancer, heart disease, thyroid issues, and high blood pressure. It strengthens the immune system, increases metabolic activity in the body, and reduces body fat and increases muscle mass.
What is the real difference?
According to Mother Earth News, grassfed meat is truly more sustainable and healthier to eat. When you talk about meat from grassfed animals versus meat from conventional sources, there is simply no comparison. The nutritional profile varies vastly.
Grassfed is superior in nutrient content – Vitamin A, D, E, K, beta-carotene, and Omega 3s, and antioxidants, does not contain hormones, or antibiotics. You should ALWAYS check with the farmer to make sure there are no chemicals or pesticides being used on the land where the animals are grazing (or anywhere else for that matter). Although the term “grassfed” does not guarantee these substances are not used, generally speaking, many grassfed farmers are mindful of avoiding their use.
From Eat Wild:
More Omega-3s. Meat from grass-fed animals has two to four times more omega-3 fatty acids than meat from grain- fed animals. Omega-3s are called “good fats” because they play a vital role in every cell and system in your body. In the entire spectrum of fats they are the most heart-friendly. People who have ample amounts of Omega-3s in their diet are less likely to have high blood pressure or an irregular heartbeat. Remarkably, they are 50 percent less likely to suffer a heart attack. Omega-3s are essential for brain function as well. People with a diet rich in Omega-3s are less likely to suffer from depression, schizophrenia, attention deficit disorder (hyperactivity), or Alzheimer’s disease.”
Another benefit of Omega-3s is that they may reduce your risk of cancer. In animal studies, these essential fats have slowed the growth of a wide array of cancers and also kept them from spreading. Although the human research is in its infancy, researchers have shown that Omega-3s can slow or even reverse the extreme weight loss that accompanies advanced cancer and also hasten recovery from surgery.
Omega-3s are formed in the chloroplasts of green leaves and algae. Sixty percent of the fatty acids in grass are Omega-3s. When cattle are taken off Omega-3 rich grass and shipped to a feedlot to be fattened on omega-3 poor grain, they begin losing their store of this beneficial fat. Each day that an animal spends in the feedlot, its supply of Omega-3s is diminished.”
What’s changed? Our ways
In the last century, we’ve experienced a fundamental shift not only in our eating habits, but also in the general condition of our health. Two things have caused this unprecedented change – the advent of industrially-produced, modern vegetable oils, and the feeding of corn, soy, and grain to animals that have traditionally been raised on pasture.
The majority of these artificial fats are abundant in Omega 6s, and much lower in Omega 3s, producing foods that are not only indigestible but off balance from what nature creates in healthful foods. Our bodies cannot manufacture Omega 6s and Omega 3s, and must obtain these from an outside source. While it’s true that seafood is one of the best sources of Omega 3s, meat, dairy, and eggs from animals and birds on pasture is also a rich source of this important, essential fatty acid.
Here are some scientific findings proving the health benefits of grassfed meats:
- A study conducted by North Dakota State University found the nutritional differences between grassfed and grain fed-bison to be greatly noticeable – grassfed bison had Omega 6 to Omega 3 ratios of 4.0 to one, while the grain-fed bison showed ratios of 21 to one.
- The University of Guelph, Guelph, Ontario, Canada discovered the impact of grazing or forage as compared to grain-feeding on the fatty acid composition of cattle. Animals consuming grain for 120 days (40 fewer days than typical feedlot cattle) had Omega 6 to 3 ratios of 11:1. Those animals eating alfalfa hay had Omega 6 to 3 ratios of 3:1. The longer cattle consume grain in their diets, the more pronounced the imbalance of essential fatty acids becomes. Cattle on a feedlot eating grain for 200 days show an Omega 6 to 3 ratios that are over 20:1. In the United States, many cattle processed for meat consume grain for 200 days or more.
- The Journal of Animal Science reported in 2000 that beef originating from grain-fed cattle could have an Omega 6 and 3 ratio exceeding 20:1.
Highlights of important nutritional differences between meat from grassfed animals and conventional animals on a feedlot:
- Higher in beta-carotene
- Higher in Vitamin E (alpha-tocopherol)
- Higher in the B-Vitamins thiamine and riboflavin
- Higher in the minerals calcium, magnesium, and potassium
- Higher in total Omega-3s
- A healthier ratio of omega-6 to omega-3 fatty acids (1.65 vs 4.84)
- Higher in CLA (cis-9 trans-11), a potential cancer fighter
- Higher in vaccenic acid (which can be transformed into CLA – conjugated linoleic acid)
- Contains healthy fats necessary for health – heart, immune, brain, nervous system
Reference: Nutrition Journal, March 2010
Objections to eating meat
“I’m a vegetarian/vegan.”
Many people who have been vegetarians or even vegan have experienced a number of health problems – many of them are related to not receiving adequate nutrition. I’ve heard people throughout my life who are vegetarian or vegan complain of fatigue, anemia, irritability, insomnia, weight problems, cavities, heart and circulatory issues, depression, thyroid problems, and other issues.
Whether you are a vegetarian or vegan for health or some other reason, I’m here to tell you that a large part of the health movement which tells consumers and patients to eat vegetarian and vegan foods is tied to big agribusiness and food companies who market and sell these types of foods. When you support local farmers who treat their animals humanely, you are supporting the most important aspect of our food supply, the health of yourself, the animals, the environment, and the economy.
It is important to understand that vegetarian diets can be healthy if they include foods from healthy birds and animals such as raw milk, butter, cheese, and cultured foods (as well as olive oil and coconut oil), and seafood which is very high in important nutrients. BUT…it takes careful planning and attention to the right sources and inclusion of enough healthy fats to adequately maintain a healthy vegetarian diet, something that a lot of people have difficulty achieving.
As such, the exclusion of most or all animal products can be a detriment to health as it is difficult to obtain the same level of nutrients from plants, grains, and legumes, as well as many of those foods contain anti-nutrients (phytic acid and others) which can make it difficult for the body to digest and absorb, without proper preparation methods (soaking, sprouting, fermenting), or consuming them with healthy fats which contain fat-soluble vitamins such as butter, olive oil, or lard and tallow.
One example of a critical nutrient that is obtained from animal and bird foods is Vitamin A (retinol) which is much more easily digested and metabolized than from the beta carotene form of Vitamin A found in plant sources (often due to the nutrient-inhibitors in vegetables and the need to also consume fat-soluble vitamins with them for proper digestion). Vitamin D is another significant nutrient that is difficult to obtain anything other than minimal amounts of from plant sources, and Vitamin D is responsible for so many important factors in health – anti-cancer (reduction of free-radical development on the cellular level), immune system maintenance, fertility and development of embryos in the womb, protection from osteoporosis, cardiovascular health, and neuromuscular and joint function, just to name a few.
There are of course some exceptions. Some people don’t do well on a high-meat content. And I do know a few vegetarians who seem to be in good health, but the majority of those eat real dairy foods from healthy sources, olive oil, coconut oil for healthy fats, and seafood. I believe what our bodies need has a lot to do with our metabolic and blood types. Type Os tend to need a lot of protein from animals and vegetables as their staples. Type ABs appear to need less meat in their diets (in most cases, but not all), but still need good fats to maintain optimal health. If you are one of these individuals who has made a effort to consume a diet with real, grassfed meats, pasture-raised poultry, eggs from hens on pasture, and raw dairy products and still you’ve not had success, fair enough.
The fact remains, however, that most vegetarian and vegan diets fall short of what humans need for nutrition. The body needs Vitamin B12 and essential omega-3 and omega-6 fatty acids that can be satisfied by eating fish and other seafood, but strict vegan eaters usually develop Vitamin B12 deficiencies. Many people who are not getting sufficient nutrients in their diet take supplements or eat fortified foods. Fortified foods and dietary supplements contain synthetic versions of real nutrients, and are not identified nor absorbed well in the body. What’s more – an overdose of synthetic nutrients like Vitamin A or D can be very harmful to health. Vitamin B12 deficiency can result in anemia and nervous system damage. Low levels of Vitamin B12 increase the risk of heart disease or pregnancy complications.
“I don’t want to hurt animals/birds or to make them suffer.”
I definitely don’t support any farming practice that promotes or institutes abuse, neglect, or mistreats any animal or bird to produce a product. That’s why I support grassfed and pasture-raised farming that employs humane treatment of all animals and birds – allowing them to be out in the open and on pasture where they belong. Anything except those conditions constitutes abuse and neglect, and should be considered unhealthy and inhumane. That includes the support of agricultural crops like soybeans, corn, and other grains like wheat which are fed to factory-farmed animals and birds. If you buy these products, you are directly supporting the continuance of these industries.
Many people view death as a negative aspect of life, but it’s all part of the cycle of how we were meant to live on Earth. In the same arena, animals are not meant to spend their lives on feedlots eating artificial substances laced with pesticides and from genetically-modified feed. It’s simply not natural. I believe also that by eating animals raised humanely, we are following in the footsteps of those who came before us – and recognizing our omnivorous genetics. We should eat what we are designed to eat for the best nutrition and health possible.
Humans have eaten animals for thousands of thousands and years, and to the credit of of our health. Our digestive systems are short in design like many other predators, not long, like many herbivorous creatures. Our teeth are also designed for cutting and chewing meat. It hasn’t been until the last 70 or 80 years that degenerative problems like heart disease and cancer have become such an epidemic as they have in modern times.
“I can get adequate nutrition from meat substitutes.”
Can you? Let’s review what substitutes are commonly used for meat: soy, beans and other legumes, grains, and nuts. Soy can actually be one of the most unhealthy substances to consume – especially in the form we eat it in developed countries – highly processed, frequent consumption, and mass-produced. Most soy you buy in the store – in all forms – is just about the most unhealthy substance you could eat, and it’s an atrocity to call it food.
Traditional people of Asia who ate soy did so in very small amounts, and in its fermented form. That’s hardly comparable to the way Americans in modern day consume it. The consumption of soy is linked to infertility, thyroid issues, cancer, and many other issues. Soy contains phytic acid – a nutrient inhibitor that unless properly prepared (fermented) causes nutrient loss in the body. Unless fermented, soy protein is a substance that is not digestible or useful to the human body.
Grains, legumes, and nuts are also a problem. These foods also contain phytic acid, unless the foods are soaked, sprouted, or fermented, and as such also result in the body losing nutrients when they are eaten. Have you ever wondered why there is such a proliferation of wheat, grain, and nut allergies? One reason is because our food supply is absolutely replete with grains that are packaged and processed for convenience, NOT health. They are also readily available for people to eat everywhere. Eating too many of these foods not properly prepared contributes to obesity, heart disease, auto-immune disorders, allergies, and many other problems. The type of protein in these foods is not comparable in a nutritional sense, to that found in meats and animal foods, nor is it as digestible.
“Eating animals is bad for the environment.”
If by bad for the environment, the filthy, unnatural conditions cattle, pigs, sheep, chickens, and any other type of meat processed for sale on the conventional market, you are absolutely right. That’s why I don’t support those markets any longer. I buy my meat locally from a farmer I trust and know that they treat their animals humanely and allow them to live their lives naturally, as they were intended.
In sharp contrast, animals raised humanely and on pasture actually contribute to the sustainability of the planet, not detract from it. Sustainable farms are systems that work with nature – so in the case of beef farms, the animals graze on pasture, their manure fertilizes the land, and birds and other creatures come and remove parasites and other matter from manure that isn’t useful to the overall ecology of the land.
This example of animals raised humanely on pasture is what’s known as a bio-dynamic farm which is where the focus is on holistic development and the critical relationship between the soil and all its corresponding organisms, plants, animals, sun, air, and water. In this way, it is self-sustaining and self-nourishing system. It has all it needs. Nothing should be added or subtracted.
It’s a pretty simple ecological process, really, and one that has been occurring in nature for thousands and thousands of years. It is an intimate part of our history and has been germane to our continued existence as a species.
The grassfed meat challenge!
Are you ready? Since nothing can be commented on, assumed, or decided until a fair try has been made, I challenge anyone reading this who has never tried grass-fed meat or is currently is not a meat eater for whatever reason to taste grassfed beef, just once.
If you have not had experience cooking meat and don’t know how to begin, I highly recommend buying a copy of Tender Grassfed Meat. This book has some very simple recipes to make your meat dining experience impeccable.
If you STILL need some convincing…
Many people who don’t eat meat say they cannot stomach it – and with good reason; if you have this opinion of meat, it’s likely that you have not ever eaten properly-prepared grassfed meat. I know for a fact that had I never eaten grassfed meat, I would have probably continued to avoid red meat for the remainder of my life because it is so unpalatable (as well as unhealthy). Once you taste it and have experienced the difference, it’s very possible you would have a change of heart.
You might be reading this and thinking, “I don’t eat meat, I’m not going to just get up tomorrow and start doing it out of the blue just because you said so.” Maybe it’s due to the fact that you have principles about your beliefs (as discussed above) or simply that you feel as though you couldn’t actually, physically consume an entire piece of meat for a meal because of taste/texture, etc. Whatever the case, know that many vegan and vegetarians have become omnivores for the first time or again after many years absence because of factors such as failing health and the realization that there is really no comparison between factory-farmed meat and real, grassfed meat.
Stanley Fishman of the book and the web site, Tender Grassfed Meat has a great post about the Mediterranean Diet, Call It Medical, Not Mediterranean. As often discussed by medical and health professionals, the emphasis they place on people’s diets is one that is low-fat and including lots of legumes, fruits, grains, and vegetables – and one they claim is right in line with the traditional Mediterranean diet.
The commonly-held myth in modern-day health communities about this diet is that these people avoided meats and meat products favoring canola and olive oil almost exclusively for their dietary fat intake, and ate many servings of vegetables daily. This informative post provides a good historical foundation of the real, healthy, Mediterranean diet. The diet includes a large consumption of meat and meat products, which contributes to health and well-being. This diet was consumed by people in that part of the world for thousands of years, and to this day, still is.
Another informative article by Chris Masterjohn, Vegetarianism and Nutrient Deficiencies, explains the science behind important nutrients in foods, where they come from, and how best they are assimilated into the human body. It also has a comparison between the nutrient quantities found in plant versus animal foods.
Nutrient Showdown, from Nourished Kitchen, provides an even more in-depth look at various foods, comparing the plant-based nutrients to those found in animal foods. The difference is not only staggering, but surprising given what modern medical recommendations have to say about health and nutrition.
Remember…just because the majority of society feasts on the toxic meat of inhumanely treated animals and birds who are pumped full of antibiotics, hormones, and other toxic chemicals is not justification to stop eating real meat from humanely-raised animals and birds on pasture.
By taking a stand and supporting sustainable farms in your local area who raise healthy, happy animals, you are helping to put an end to the cycle of suffering, waste, pollution, and damage to health and the environment factory farm meats and meat products contribute, and you are making a sound choice for true sustainability.
You are also helping to ensure we will have access to real, healthy food for all of humanity, and that our historical and cultural traditions which have occurred all over the earth for thousands of years are unbroken.
My final word to you if you are still reading this and feel ready to take the on the challenge – first, allow the ideas and information presented here a few days to sink in. Then, check back for Part II of The Grassfed Meat Challenge: Busting Myths About Meat, I will include some recipes from Tender Grassfed Meat by Stanley Fishman.
I will also talk about sources for your grassfed meat and what to look for and questions to ask when you are going to go and purchase it. You will want to locate a local food grower or go to your farmer’s market in your area.
At the end of this series, if you decide to undertake the challenge, I would like to invite you to comment and report on your experience of trying grassfed meat – whether you are a vegetarian or vegan who has never eaten meat, someone who has avoided eating meat for a good portion of your life, or have simply never tried grassfed meats before.
I welcome open and honest answers from this challenge, so please feel free to leave your real feelings about your experience, once you have completed it. Just trying something once, of course, is not going to alter your health forever, but perhaps it will motivate you to make changes in your future way of eating, and help you to realize improvements you’ve wanted to see for a long time.
Hear the testimonial of two people who were vegetarian and vegan, respectively, and learned to embrace health and well-being again after finding traditional foods and healthy fats?
More information about real meat
How fat makes us healthy