Many of us are familiar with the idiom ‘you are what you eat’ but, to quote Michael Pollan – ‘you are what you eat eats’. This is one of the most compelling arguments for buying grass-fed and naturally reared meat, since the nutrient profile is, without a doubt, far superior. For anyone looking to restore their health, or feel even more fantastic (lucky you!), sourcing foods that are produced in as natural a way as possible should be one of your key priorities. If you eat pastured meat, you’ll reap the benefits of a healthy balance of omega-3 and omega-6 fats, higher levels of vitamins and minerals and a much better flavour – not to mention feeling good about consuming produce that is sustainable and environmentally sound!
What is grass-fed/pasture reared meat?
Grass-fed meat refers to cows and sheep which are able to graze naturally on grass outdoors in fields, without supplementary, often unnatural, food. Nowadays, unfortunately, this is the exception. Pigs and chickens are omnivorous, and should be free to roam and eat whatever is naturally available to them, whether it’s fallen fruit, insects or small rodents – pork and chicken raised in this way is termed ‘pasture reared.’
Awareness and popularity of grass-fed and pasture reared meat is, thankfully, growing, due to increasing awareness of its health benefits; the ’Paleo’ community (advocating a hunter-gatherer type of diet) and movies such as Food Inc., which highlights the huge disparity between artificial modern food production and traditional health-promoting farming techniques when animals are grass-fed or pasture reared. Intensively reared animals are also not healthy (or happy) animals.
Organic vs grass-fed
Just when you thought it was a straightforward solution to opt for healthier organic food, with meat it’s a little more complicated. While organic is certainly a more nourishing option than standard (or even free range) meat, eating organic doesn’t mean that your ‘food’ ate a totally natural diet itself. Organic meat can still be reared with artificial grain-based feed, which is high in omega-6 fatty acids.
Ideally, you should look for both organic (or equivalent) and grass-fed. Worry not, there are some very good suppliers, such as Green Pasture Farms (nationwide delivery to your door), who not only produce meat to organic standards but who also rear the animals on their natural diets.
Increase your micronutrient intake
When you substitute conventionally (modern, intensive) farmed animal products for meat, eggs and dairy from pastured animals, you’ll benefit not just from the absence of antibiotics, but the superior micronutrient profile of the meat too (not to mention the better flavour!). Grass-fed beef, for example, has been found to contain less total and saturated fat, higher amounts of beta carotene (a natural precursor to vitamin A) and vitamin E – both of which function as potent antioxidants and are necessary for cellular health and the immune system. The B vitamins thiamine (B1) and riboflavin (B2), important for red blood cell function, energy production, biological reactions and metabolism, are also present in higher levels in grass-fed beef. In addition, the important minerals potassium, calcium and magnesium, necessary for bone health and muscle function and a multitude of other important biological functions, are much higher in pastured beef.
Reduce your omega-6 intake to improve long-term health
One of the biggest health implications of switching to artificial feeds from grass and pasture in modern livestock farming has been the huge shift in the levels of the omega-3 and -6 polyunsaturated fats we consume. Traditionally, animals have been fed on pasture and the amount of omega-3 we consumed relative to omega-6 was fairly equal because the animals were eating grass that is naturally rich in healthy omega-3 fats. Today we are feeding most of our livestock omega-6 rich grain-based feeds, which has negatively impacted the nutrient profile of meat and dairy products. The resulting high omega-6 content in most meat has contributed to a hugely imbalanced omega-6 to omega-3 ratio in Western populations that now rely on grain-based foods, with animals also reared on grains.
All cells of the body need a very delicate balance of omega-6 to omega-3 fats and when the omega-6 fats outweigh the omega-3s by more than three times, we start to see a whole host of health issues. A high omega-6 to omega-3 ratio is linked with high levels of inflammation, which is subsequently heavily linked with heart disease, dementia, arthritis, mental health problems and even cancer. Today the average UK diet provides in excess of 15 times the amount of omega-6 compared with omega-3. As a nation, we are getting sicker; diseases are on the rise and nearly half of UK adults take prescription drugs. Yet we have never had such volume of readily available food. The dire health of the nation is not especially surprising when you consider that 95% of supermarket produce is a manufactured ‘product’, not a natural food.
By eating grass-fed, pastured animal products you will be consuming much higher levels of good quality omega-3 fats relative to omega-6 and will therefore be directly helping to protect your long-term health.
Sustainable food production
Today, very limited animal produce comes from natural pasture farming. Misguided early reports raised concerns about its environmental efficiency, but we now know that it is environmentally neutral when you consider that it doesn’t require irrigation, the animals eat only grass, which can’t be consumed directly by humans, and the land, often hilly, isn’t suitable for crop cultivation.
Much of the change in our food production methods has arisen due to the focus on ways to increase the amount of affordable food for a growing population. As the population grows, so does our meat consumption and this is set to continue, with the amount of meat consumed by the global population expected to double by 2050. Consequently, the food industry feeds most of our food and animals on cheap, manmade products and not on their natural diet – whether corn, soy and gluten-based diets for our cattle and chickens, or artificial nitrogen fertilisers piled on nutrient depleted ‘soil’ for our crops!
Livestock farming – particularly cattle – has come under heavy fire from an environmental perspective. Pasture rearing and grass-fed farming practices have been hit hardest due to early reports suggesting that the space required, carbon footprint – due to the methane gas production – and the water needed to successfully rear the animals does not best serve humans in terms of volume of food produced. As a result, much pressure has been placed on the livestock industry to use farming methods that reduce gas emissions and produce more meat in a shorter amount of time, with a view to reducing the carbon and environmental impact of farming and more efficiently contribute to human consumption needs. This has fuelled the dramatic rise over the last few decades in the use of artificial feeds for all livestock – fast growth, fast-fix food.
Despite the huge shift towards ‘environmentally friendly’ carbon efficient methods, a recent report conducted by the National Trust – a major UK land owner and contributor to sustainable and grassland farming – found that the environmental impact of grass-fed and pastured meats was completely neutral when you take into consideration the benefits grasslands have on the ecosystem and the amount of carbon sequestered in the soil and therefore not in the atmosphere. The water needed for animal farming is also often targeted but, once again, when factoring in how much water is retained in the soil of grass-covered land, grazing of grassland is considerably more favourable than almost all other farming methods and it protects the health of the soil – vital for the long term survival of plant, and animal, life on earth. Further, most of the land used for livestock is also unsuitable for edible crops; if there were no livestock grazing on this land, it would likely not be utilised at all.
Eating grass-fed meat needn’t be expensive
Eating grass-fed and pastured meat doesn’t have to be expensive as the cheaper cuts tend to be the most delicious and, in some cases, most nutritious. Most of the companies that supply grass-fed and pastured meats direct to your door (thus saving time and petrol costs!) also provide meat boxes that offer a broad range of different meats and cuts for a very reasonable price. Take Green Pasture Farms, for instance. Their standard meat box costs £50.00 and contains ALL of the following:
1 x Roasting Joint or Whole Chicken approx 1kg
1 pack of Diced Meat 325-550g
1 pack of Minced Meat 365-650g
2-4 packs of 2 steaks, chops or fillets 300-500g each
1 pack of Butcher’s Cuts approx 500g-1kg
1 pack of Ribs or Meat on the Bone approx 500g-1kg
This will easily provide dinners for two people for two weeks or a family of four for a week – with leftovers, that’s less than £1.80 per person per day! Thanks to the considerable increase in nutrition, as well as the enhanced flavour provided, your appetite and enjoyment from the food will be much better satisfied; when your food is nutrient dense you are less likely to overeat, which is likely to have a positive impact on your weight.
If you want to keep costs down even further, try their ‘nose to tail’ eating options, which provide a rich source of nutrients such as iron, vitamin A and CoQ10 from organ meats and melt-in-the-mouth tender dishes such as slow-cooked ox-tail stew.
Whilst some of these cuts may seem a little unusual these days, they are quick and easy to turn into delicious wholesome food with the help of a slow cooker. In winter (and summer), my slow cooker is my best friend and my partner and I eat a roast, stew, casserole or even marinated ribs for supper every night of the week! Meat cooked on the bone also adds additional flavour to the dish, as well as providing a rich source of glutamine, which helps support a healthy gut.
Team your meat box with home-grown or local organic steamed green veg and some roasted winter squash for the ultimate budget comfort food that will boost your health, look after the planet and your bank account – plus it tastes better than some of the finest restaurants you have dined in.