Friday, March 12, 2010

Grass-Fed Beef: Health Effects for You And the Environment

The provocative documentary, Food, Inc., brings to light some of the environmental and ethical issues with the way we eat. One of the many issues in this Academy Award-nominated documentary, deals with is the farm industry. Cows raised in pastures are raised more humanely and are usually not given hormones or antibiotics. Additionally, the diet for grass-fed cows uses less fossil fuels than corn/soy-fed cows on a feedlot. Grass-fed cows do their own fertilizing and harvesting. Also, although grass-fed cows create more methane, they compensate in a number of ways. Most importantly, pastures reduce greenhouse gas through "carbon sequestration," or carbon capture and storage. They also use less fossil fuels in production and don't emit as much ammonia as feedlots do. The net result, as determined by the Institute for Environmental Research and Education (IERE) is a reduction in greenhouse gases for pastures and significant increases in greenhouse gases for feedlots. See more detail and other environmental benefits of grassfarming at EatWild.

A new report published this week by California researchers in Nutrition Journal shows that meat from grass-fed cows is nutritionally healthier for you too. The article discusses years have research which have shown that grass-fed diets can significantly increase the amount of cancer-fighting antioxidants, Vitamin A and E, and fatty acids in beef. Grass-fed beef is also lower in dietary cholesterol. In sum, grass-fed beef is healthier for your cardiovascular health and lowers your risk of diabetes and other health problems, like obesity as compared to corn/grain-fed cows. However, it's important to note two things. One, the omega-3 fatty acid levels in grass-fed beef are still much lower than in fish, especially salmon. Two, in order to reap the health benefits, you still need to ensure that you choose lean cuts of the beef. The Mayo Clinic has created a guide to the leanest cuts of beef.

For consumers, there are some other issues of interest here. Because the nutrient content is different between the types of beef, the taste is also different, tasting "grassier." Whether that is a good or bad thing is up to you. To read more about the taste difference, check out this article from the NY Times, "There's More to Like About Grass-Fed Beef." Additionally, the cost of grass-fed beef costs more, nearly 3x as much as grain-fed.

Grass-fed beef is sold primarily at local farms and online. If you're interested in purchasing grass-fed meats, EatWild, has a great State-by-State Directory of Farms. You can also take a look at Tallgrass Beef (Kansas), Burgundy Pasture Beef (Texas), and Hedgeapple Farm (Maryland). When shopping in regular grocery stores, be careful of the food labels. Oftentimes, the label will say "grass-fed" when the cows were only fed on grass for the first 6 or 12 months, then transferred to a feedlot. Check out Mother Earth's article, "The Label Says Grass-Fed, but is it?" for more information. As they suggest, the best label to look for is the American Grassfed Association (AGA).

Do you eat beef? If so, what type of beef do you eat? Are you more intrigued by the environmental or the health issues related to beef? Will this information change your behaviors?

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