Good to Know : Grass Fed Beef & Dairy

cow

Let’s face it, Beef and to some extent dairy have a bit of a PR problem.. Saturated fat: check! Hormones and antibiotics: check!  But most of us know enough by now to buy hormone free and organic beef & dairy but not as many people are aware of the treasure trove of nutritional value in grass-fed (or pasture fed) beef & dairy products.

Before I became aware of the “grass vs. grain” issue, I didn’t even REALIZE that cows weren’t fed grass on a conventional farm. Maybe I was aware they were being fed grain, but I didn’t know that grain is a completely unnatural food for cows to eat – a cow in the “wild” (Ok, I’m not sure there are really “wild cows” but you know what I mean!) would never eat grain. They are natural pasture grazers.  And like with most other things where humans step in to “improve” upon nature – we usually end up paying a price.

In this case, the price is twofold: First, because it is completely unnatural to feed cows grain they get horrible stomach infections requiring antibiotics (hence the high levels of antibiotics in most conventional dairy) and second: meat from grain fed cows is high in saturated fat and low in the wonderful things that naturally occur in pasture fed cows. What are these wonderful things? I thought you would never ask..

milkGrass fed beef is low in bad fats, and rich in Omega 3s, DHA and EPA!

Yep, crazy ins’t it? Most of us associate Omega 3s with fish and nuts, but certainly not with beef. But actually, the meat and dairy from pasture fed cows has less saturated fat than chicken and  6 times the Omega three levels as grain fed beef and 86% more vitamin E!  Grass fed beef is also the richest known source of CLA’s (Conjugated Linoleic Acid) which studies are showing to be a powerful anti cancer agent.

Aside from the nutritional benefits, pasture feeding cows is obviously a much more humane way to raise animals.

In an ideal world, we’d all be able to get pasture fed dairy from a local farm (and you may even have one near you, check this website!) but even for those of us in more urban or suburban areas we can still get this products in our health food stores.  The grass fed beef usually comes ground in a 1lb package in the meat section of the store and there is a brand of dairy called “Natural by Nature” that sells grass fed milk, butter and other dairy products.  (Applegate farms also makes DELICIOUS grass fed beef hotdogs!)

Yes, you will pay a bit of a premium for the grass fed beef, but it’s still cheaper than fish and just as nutrient dense! I find the dairy to be remarkably cheap – for a half gallon you might end up paying a dollar more at most vs. plain organic milk. Totally worth it for all those extra Omega 3s, DHA and CLA particularly if your child has made the transition from breastmilk/forumula to cow’s milk and it is one of their main sources of nutrition.

I’ve been feeding Jasper the grass-fed beef hotdogs for a few months now, but only recently came up with a good way to get some of the ground beef in his diet:

Grass fed- beef and sweet potato puree:

Put 1/2 lb of grass fed beef in a medium size pot
Add 1/2 – 1 whole cut up  sweet potato or yam (or regular potato if your kiddo isn’t a sweet tooth!)
1/2 a chopped onion
1 carrot stick chopped
Anything else you’d like to add..
Add water until it just covers the ingredients.
Simmer until meet is cooked through and vegetables are soft (20 minutes or so)
Either continue to simmer until extra water is cooked out or simply remove excess liquid with a large spoon and then use a hand blender (or regular if you don’t have one) to mush it up right in the pot!

This makes a pretty chunky puree, but if your baby is younger and likes a more liquid puree just add back in a bit of the removed liquid until it reaches the desired consistency.

This puree is sooo yummy, packed full of iron, omega 3s, DHA and other wholesome goodness.

PS: I am a little slow because I only RECENTLY thought to use my hand blender to make baby food – SO much easier than transferring everything to the blender.  Why didn’t I think of that 6 months ago???

:)

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Meryl Bailey says:

Great post! I agree it’s often frustrating looking for grass fed,free range,USDA Organic meat and dairy options at the grocery store but there is an online database available that allows you to search the 25 top U.S. grocery stores for these types of products. Take a look to find your Applegate Farms organic, grass fed hot dogs: http://www.wspa-usa.org/pages/2826_find_humane_food.cfm

Cathy C. says:

No, I don’t work for NCBA. I just eat regular old beef and happen to know a thing or two about science and agriculture.

Please see the citations on the last two pages of the document that I linked to. It is full of references to peer-reviewed scientific journals, for example, articles by Duckett, Engle, French, Gzeskiewica, etc. The last time I checked, Time Magazine didn’t qualify as a non-biased, scientific journal.

I’m not stating that organic or grass-fed beef is not safe and nutritious, only that there is no significant difference between it and commodity, grain-fed beef.

Looking at their mission, NCBA wants you, your family, your friends and your neighbors to eat beef. Period. Any kind of beef you want. As long as you’re eating beef and increasing the demand for beef, they’re going to be happy. Organic, grass-fed beef producers pay into the beef checkoff, just like all the other producers. Every time an animal changes hands, $1 goes into the beef checkoff which funds advertising campaigns, research, etc.

ariana says:

I did see the references. And for YOUR reference I didn’t quote Time as a scientific reference but for the quote of the NCBA nutritionist.

The argument is really no argument at all, the SCIENCE as you point out is fact and that science shows a statistically (actually MUCH MORE than statistically significant difference) between various measures between the grass vs. grain fed cows. What you and the NCBA argue is that that difference has no health value, which is purely an opinion which is not backed by any research whatsoever. Rather the research that has been done points to a great deal of benefit to the CLAs that are found in much higher levels in grass fed beef than grain fed.

It’s like saying yes, there are powerful antioxidants found in berries, but we don’t believe the studies showing that antioxidants have any health benefits. Well, you can believe it or not, but it doesn’t make it any more or less true.

I quite strongly disagree with your assessment that any organization of that size or lobbying power doesn’t have a vested interest in doing business as usual and maintaining the status quo of the vast majority of the way their members run their farms. Just because they collect the money of the 1% of their members who are grass fed farmers doesn’t mean they represent the opinions of their entire membership equally. Why is it so hard to believe that they have an actual agenda? Isn’t that what lobbying groups were designed to do? They are also the same group that claim BGH is fine for human consumption because the vast majority of their farmers use it. Clearly they are choosing sides in that argument as well and I wouldn’t expect them not to.

ariana says:

Cathy, out of curiosity, do you work for the NCBA?

When you say “many of the benefits you are stating are not proven to be significant, not by the NCBA, but by scientists at leading research institutions on this topic around the globe” can you back that up with a study?

By pointing out that your paper uses the same sources as the the study I linked to you are reinforcing my point: It’s all a matter of how one spins the actual results, because the NCBA can’t actually disprove the results, only put their own interpretation on them.

I seems to obviously be in the NCBA’s self interest to downplay the importance of those differences when 99% of their dues paying members grain feed! If you read their own nutritionist’s words in this Time Magazine article, one is left with the impression that by saying “scientists have yet to determine exactly how much is needed for human health” is a very thinly veiled attempt at downplaying the importance of the differences found.
http://www.time.com/time/magazine/article/0,9171,1200759-2,00.html

Cathy C. says:

The article I introduced (www.beefresearch.org/CMDocs/BeefResearch/Beef%20Choices.pdf) cites articles from scientific journals as the source for their material, many from the same journal you are linking to, the Journal of Animal Science.

In regard to CLAs, I would direct you to Realini, C. E., Duckett, S. K., & Windham, W. R. (2004). Effect of
vitamin C addition to ground beef from grass-fed or grain-fed sources on colour and lipid stability, and prediction of fatty acid composition by near-infrared reXectance analysis. Meat Science,68, 35–43.

Duckett is widely regarded as the U.S. expert on grass-fed beef. Yes, it has more CLA on a percentage basis, but not twice the amount.

I am not saying that organic or grass-fed beef is unhealthy. However, many of the benefits you are stating are not proven to be significant, not by the NCBA, but by scientists at leading research institutions on this topic around the globe.

The NCBA will be happy as long as you are eating beef of some sort. And, if individuals opt to pay a premium for grass-fed or organic products, that’s great! It’s more money in the pockets of the individuals that raised and harvested that animal for consumption.

ariana says:

Cathy,

I have to disagree, even the paper you linked to states:

“Research shows grass-finished beef has higher levels of Vitamin A, Vitamin E, omega-3 fatty acids, and conjugated linoleic acid (Duckett et al., 1993; Smith et al., 1996; French et al., 2000; Grzeœkiewicz et al., 2001; Poulson et al., 2004; Engle and Spears, 2004; Noci et al., 2005; Daley et al., 2005). Therefore, marketing claims that those nutrients are present in higher concentrations in grass-finished than in conventional beef are correct.”

Where the paper disagrees is when it states:

However, claims that grass-finished beef is “healthier” as a result are not true, because the differences are not significant for human health..”

The authors of the paper are just trying to put their own spin on the results, which is not surprising because it is a position paper written by guess who? The “National Cattlemen’s Beef Association”, the very same Beef lobbying group that sued Oprah!

What they consider “not significant for human health” is just their opinion and a very biased one at that.

It’s true that the Omega 3s in Beef aren’t nearly as much as Salmon for example, (and the farmed vs wild salmon is a whole other topic) but still grass fed has twice as much as grain fed and that paper doesn’t even discuss the CLAs, which again, considering the source doesn’t surprise me!

http://jas.fass.org/cgi/reprint/83/5/1167.pdf

Jules says:

This is a great post, Ariana. I find this type of information fascinating! It’s amazing to think what we do when we tinker with mother nature.

Cathy C. says:

Actually, there are no significant differences in the safety or nutrition of beef from animals which are grain-fed and those which are grass-fed.

You can check out the facts at http://www.beefresearch.org/CMDocs/BeefResearch/Beef%20Choices.pdf.

The research presented in this fact sheet is fairly objective. It’s not pro-organic or anti-organic either way.

Kimberly says:

Plus, it tastes REALLY good, too! :)
That recipe does sound yummy… it never occurred to me to use my stick blender either… oops!

heartartz says:

GREAT info!
I used to use the Cuisinart Mini-Prep Processor ($20-40) to make baby food. The small size makes it easy to clean up.
As he got older I just pureed or ground up what we were eating … and yummm … for him!
Good luck!

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