Note: This is a guest blog from HMI Board of Director’s member and grassfed producer, Kirrily Blomfield of Quirindi, New South Wales, Australia.
If you’ve ever tasted the difference of beef fed on diverse pastures, there’s an inherent knowing that it must be better for you, because it tastes so good. I am a grass fed beef producer in Australia – and I’d like to share with you why my husband and I choose to produce grass fed beef in our business. We want to produce something that nourishes the body, not just fills the stomach.
Many people already know that grass fed beef is better for them because of its healthier fat profile, but there are some other differences that you may not be aware of, like its ability to satiate, its superior mineral content and its role in preventing modern, western society diseases. Let me start by explaining why the fat profile of grass fed beef is healthier.
There has been much recognition of the importance of fats in our diets in recent years. And they do form a very important part of our diet but it’s essential that we eat the right ones – or more importantly, that we eat the right balance to help ensure great health, longevity and freedom from modern day diseases.
Essential fatty acids are named so as they are required in biological processes in our bodies, as opposed to fats that are for storing and providing energy. Omega 3 and Omega 6 fatty acids are such fats, and it is the balance of these essential fatty acids that is important.
There is much evidence to suggest that the diet on which we evolved consisted of a ratio of omega-6 to omega-3 fatty acids of around 1:1. Modern day western diets however, have much higher relative levels of omega 6 fatty acids, which has been found to promote diseases like heart disease and cancer, as well as inflammatory and autoimmune diseases (1). Shockingly, most current western diets consist of ratios of around 16:1 and even higher!
Choosing grass fed beef over grain fed beef assures you a healthy balance of fats from your beef. Grass fed beef has an omega-6 to omega-3 ratio of around 1.5 : 1 – a level consistent with wild game – because, like wild game, grass fed animals are eating what nature intended! This is compared with grain fed animals – the meat of which has a ratio of up to 7:1 and even as high as 16:1(2) – much higher in its relative quantity of the less desirable omega-6 fatty acids.
High concentrations of Omega 6 in the diet have been linked to memory problems, confused behaviour and Alzheimer’s disease, as well as weight gain, allergies and depression.
Research shows that choosing grass fed beef helps put you in a position of preventing or fighting these diseases. Virtually all cattle in Australia are born into a grass fed environment. Many of these however are then sent to feedlots (CAFO’s) as yearlings (at a certain weight and age), where they are fed and finished on grain. Research shows that the fat profile of the animal changes very quickly, (to an undesirable level) once the animal’s feed is switched to grain. Grain fed beef then takes to the consumer the potential health problems associated with this higher omega-6 to omega-3 ratio – and in most cases to an unknowing consumer. This is one of the reasons why I choose to eat and produce beef that is not only fed on pasture, but is also finished on pasture – completely 100% grass fed.
Grass fed beef is one of the best ways to source healthy omega 3 fats, along with other grass fed & free range meats, coconut oil, olive oil, butter from grass fed dairy cows and eggs from pasture fed chooks. Avoiding commonly used vegetable and cooking oils (which are high in omega 6’s), will also help keep your omega-6 to Omega-3 ratio healthy – things like canola, sunflower, soybean and cottonseed oil. I avoid these whenever possible (and it’s not so easy to do if you eat anything remotely processed – they are in so many things, including most sweet and savory biscuits and crackers and even sultanas – listed as vegetable oils!). Many of these oils themselves are highly processed.
Stick with whole foods, stick with what nature intended.
Conjugated Linoleic Acid (CLA)
It is not only the greater proportion of the desirable omega-3 fats that makes grass fed beef a healthier option. Conjugated linoleic acid (CLA) is another substance found predominantly in ruminants animals (cows and sheep) fed on grass pastures. These CLA’s have great health attributes, such as aiding in the prevention of:
- heart disease
- high blood pressure
Bodybuilders also love it for reducing body fat and increasing lean body mass.
Another reason why you may like to choose grass fed beef over grain fed is due to the secondary compounds or phytochemicals (naturally contained in plants) that grass fed animals access when grazing – things like tannins, flavanoids, aromatic oils and alkaloids. These are rarely talked about with relation to food. We regularly hear about the primary compounds – protein, carbohydrates, energy, and the mineral content of food, but rarely do we hear about these secondary compounds. This is possibly understandable, because there are thousands of different compounds – but don’t let this have you underestimate their importance! The combination of a variety of these different compounds contributes to overall wellbeing – in this case, of our cows. It also however, has a positive knock on effect to our health – the ones consuming the grass fed beef!
These secondary compounds are like nature’s medicines. They are the things responsible for why red wine is said to be good for your heart and why certain herbs can aid health. Secondary plant compounds have many roles in your body including appetizing, digestive or therapeutic purposes.(3)
What cows need then, to access the necessary variety of these compounds, is a diverse pasture on which to feed. The access to this diversity of plants means that the animals maintain good health and the need for chemically treating sickness is avoided. Animals that feed on a single species crop (like an oat crop) however, simply don’t have access to this plant diversity. You and I (as humans) have mostly lost the intuition for knowing what we need to eat to ensure good health or to mend illnesses. Cows however, have not. Giving them a diversity of plants on which to feed will provide them the choice required that they may ‘self-medicate’ and ensure their own well-being.
This is great because it means that the cows are healthy and farmers can then avoid pesticides and undesirable chemicals that may otherwise be needed to treat health problems in their cows.
Secondary plant compounds are responsible for a huge range of positive impacts on cows (and then you, as you consume the beef). Here are some examples of the positive effects that plant secondary compounds can have on animals. They can:
- Be antibacterial or anti-parasitic in the digestive tract
- Provide antioxidant protection
- Inhibit cancer growth
- Stimulate circulation
- Prevent diarrhoea
- Offer pain relief
- Boost immunity
- Provide satiety (feeling satisfied or full)
- Influence feed intake
- Improve fertility
- Provide flavour and colour to foods
One cow will have different needs to the next (just like we have different nutritional needs to our friends), so a diverse pasture gives cows the ability to select for what they need. A standard grain mix, rationed every day to animals, as with grain feeding does not account for individual animal requirements.
If you choose to consume beef fed on diverse pastures – it’s better for you. We choose diverse pastures for our cows to graze on so that we can avoid the need for ‘chemical bandaids’ for our cows. This means that our customers get the knock on effects of clean food and of the associated advantages of the plant secondary compounds when they consume our beef.
Grass fed beef contains more vitamins, minerals and antioxidants than grain fed beef. Research has shown grass fed beef has increased levels of beta-carotene, which is a precursor to vitamin A. Higher levels of cancer fighting antioxidants (vitamin E, glutathione and superoxide dismutase) have also been attributed to grass fed beef.(4)
Grass fed beef has also been shown to have higher levels of zinc, iron and vitamin B12 (5), all of which form important functions in our bodies.
Organic and Grassfed
I fully support organic production of produce – and that’s how we choose to produce, free of pesticides, heavy metal residues and all the things that could otherwise accumulate in our food. You may like to know though, that just because some beef may be organically certified doesn’t mean it is grass fed. Organic meat can still be fed on grains – it’s just organic grains. This is great because you will avoid pesticides, but there will still be the issues associated with grain fed meats. Certified organic is also no guarantee of diversity in the pasture.
It Tastes Great!
It’s great to have healthy food to eat, but, we all also just want to have something that we enjoy the taste of, and this is what grass fed beef does.
I especially love that thin layer of fat on the outside of a sirloin steak, or the divine taste of a scotch fillet (my favourite). You will also notice the taste come out in a slow cooked beef stew, when you use a collagen rich cut like chuck steak.
The French refer to ‘terroir’, a set of environmental factors that affects the qualities and character of produce – like climate, soils, aspect etc. This is often referred to in relation to wine, but is increasingly being used when referring to other produce. In the case of grass fed beef – the feed that the animal consumes has a big influence on taste. This is why we graze our cows on diverse pastures and we say ‘you’ll love the taste difference’.
Conscious Choices means Better Health
Red meat has gotten some amount of bad press recently when related to human health. It’s a shame that things are simplified to this ‘black or white degree’ and there is no differentiation between whole red meat versus processed preservative containing meats, or how the animal was raised (grass fed versus grain fed), the style of cooking or the cuts of meats. More of you are realising that we need to be more conscious in our choice of foods and we need to learn how to be more proactive about our own health. When I refer to the health benefits of grass fed beef – it’s obviously only useful when accompanied by other conscious eating. These choices, I know, will serve us well.
Aside from the health aspects there are lots of other wonderful benefits of grass feeding animals, when they are managed well. They are a tool to heal and repair landscapes – something which can’t be done with animals in a pen. Holistic Management International (HMI) educates people to be able to manage animals for these outcomes. These positive land outcomes are another reason we produce the way we do – but that’s a whole other story and HMI can teach you that story! Sign up for their newsletter today!