Health Benefits of Eating Grass-fed Beef
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Health Benefits of Eating Grass-fed Beef

This article was written as a response to the question: What's up with grass fed beef. Does it really make a difference?
Does cattle raised on grass versus grain make a difference? The answer is simple. Yes, both from an ecological and health view point. Cows are herbivores by design. Their teeth and internal organs are designed to chew grass in their natural state. Their digestive systems are finely honed to digest this diet. In nature, cows live off of grass and roam. Imagine if your own diet consisted solely of Twinkies, even though as humans we have complex nutritional needs and have the capacity to eat and digest a vast array of foods including meats and plants. Twinkies are man-made and full of all sorts things that are not good for us and our bodies cannot naturally process. Now, imagine your life as living off of only Twinkies and made to live in a 100 square foot room with no windows or air flow with ten other people, who are also living off of Twinkies. Obviously, being "stir crazy", living in your own waste and being malnourished would make you ill. The same thing happens with cattle. Grain is the feed of choice in industrialized cattle farming. Since grain is an inferior food source, cows get sick and live miserable lives, often penned in inhumane and crowded conditions their entire lives. Modern industrial cattle farms use various commercial feeds which contain such things as hormones, antibiotics, pesticides, fertilizers and "supplemental protein". The use of ground and cooked left overs from the slaughter of other animals, carcasses of sick or injured cows, sheep or chickens was in wide spread use as protein supplements. This was particularly true in Europe, where soya beans, another common protein supplement, do not grow well or easily. With grass fed cows, their standard of living is much higher, roaming pastures for their entire lives and eating the grass that was their intended diet. With industrialized farms, cows are kept their entire lives in cramped quarters and often get ill due to malnutrition and the closeness of other cattle so illness is common and spreads quickly. To keep the cattle alive (not to keep them healthy), the industrialized farmer must add other things into the feed. There is no need to ply grass fed cattle with antibiotics, hormones or other "supplements". They are healthy, strong and vibrant living closer to their natural state. Environmentally, grain fed farms use ten times the amount of fuel for heavy equipment to move the manure and cows as the manure piles up in feeding holds. For grass raised cows, since they roam pastures, their manure fertilizes the grass and a balanced ecosystem is reached. In essence, they fertilize the land on which they graze. The pastures do not need chemicals, chemical fertilizers or herbicides because the cows natural process takes care of the land and their own food source. Health wise, studies indicate that one of the benefits of consuming grass fed beef and dairy products made from the milk of grass raised cows is the natural production of conjugated linoleic acid (CLA). Cattle convert the grass they eat into CLA in their stomaches. There is nearly two to six times more CLA and Omega 3 in grass fed cattle over cows fed grain. CLA and Omega 3 are considered "good" fats that are critical to the health of the cells in our human bodies. This means we optimize our own health when choosing grass fed cattle and dairy cows over grain fed ones. Meat and dairy from grass fed cows also offer antioxidants such as vitamin E and beta carotene. CLA promotes muscle growth and fat burning in our bodies as well as carrying cancer fighting properties. Ever wonder why studies have linked things like fast food hamburgers to obesity? Because the meat served is grain raised. If it were grass fed cattle as the source, the increased CLA would help you burn fat and build a leaner body. The total fat content of grain raised cattle is much higher as well. This means that grass fed cattle needs less cooking time and is better for our over all fat consumption since it is naturally lean.

Do you remember Mad Cow Disease? MCD, otherwise known as Bovine Spongiform Encephalopathy (BSE), is a fatal neurodegenerative disease. It causes red eyes and degeneration of the brain and spinal cord into a spongy mass. The incubation time is as long as four years, and infected cattle can no longer stand up. Usually diseases do not jump the species barrier, but BSE is an exception. It is believed that when the remains of sheep infected with 'scrapie' were fed to cows, the disease mutated into Mad Cow Disease. Many people have also contracted this always fatal disease and England slaughtered 4.4 million possibly infected heads of cattle in their eradication program against the spread of the disease to humans. We as humans in an industrialized nation tend to look at how to optimize our processes. What makes things quicker, easier and more profitable. In the case of animals used for food or products, the industrialized notion creates something akin to a manufacturing line. The fact is that inhumane treatment, inhumane living conditions, substandard nutrition and short cuts where ever they can be found, is not good for our own nutrition nor is it in the best interest of the animals and the planet in general. If you are what you eat, then does it not stand to reason that cattle and other animals are what they eat? If you eat meat that has had a healthy life, then it stands to reason what you put into your body is also healthier for you. The question of grass fed cattle and the differences on all fronts is plain. The cattle eats nutritionally, remains healthier and lives in positive environments that promote its own well being and health. These benefits are passed onto the humans that then consume their flesh.

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Comments (4)

As one of the few meat-eating members of my family, I can well appreciate your article. I think that is why I am a fan of buffalo. I've already converted to cage-free chickens and organic eggs -- thanks for reminding me once again why I must avoid fast (fats) food.

In the Portland, Oregon area (and a few in Vancouver, Washington) we have a tiny chain of "fast food" places that serve only organic, sustainable produce and cage free, grass fed meats. It's a great concept, but actually ends up costing more than a meal out depending on where you go!

You are lucky. The cost is relative, when it comes to long-term health. Out there, we have grocery stores specializing in cage-free, range-free beef, goat milk/cheese, and so on. Slowly, but surely, moving forward

Every great movement (and oddly enough this is sort of a backwards movement) is slow. I think more and more people want to support small, local farms as well and this helps too. Factory farming is one of those complex issues like health care. It effects so much more than just meat - the environment, quality of life, health, etc..

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