There was a time when the fitness community would have been happy if you just switched from processed food to the real stuff. But now that isn’t enough. The next step is making sure that the food meat we eat gets the opportunity to eat real food over the course of its life too. So are we looking at another case of one step too far or are too many of us living in ignorance of an all to apparent truth?
I’m not a farmer. And what’s more is I’ve never really spent much time on a farm or with cattle. So I can’t offer expertise on that. What I do know about is nutrition. And while the business of myth-busting is booming, every astronomical claim out there will come under intense scrutiny. If you search grass-fed vs. grain-fed you will notice that the overwhelming consensus is that animals, in particular cows, that feed solely on grass make a tastier and more nutritious meal for everyone. Let’s take a look at the suggested benefits:
- Higher levels of good fats, including omega 3 and conjugated linoleic acid (CLA)
- Gram for gram, it is lower in calories
- Richer in antioxidants, vitamins and minerals, such as vitamin E
- Less likely to be affected by disease contamination, including E. coli, salmonella and staphylococcus
- More tender and flavoursome meat
- Better quality of life for the animals
The nature of these blog posts means that they are generally quite short. And what I’m doing today is trying to look at the claimed benefits but you can see in-depth comparisons if you click here, or here.
Thankfully, most of the supposed benefits are scientific. For example, if you are claiming that one type of meat contains more or less of a particular nutrient then that is pretty easy to validate. All you need to do is check the scientific studies. So when you hear someone say that grass-fed meat, in particular beef, contains more omega 3 than grain-fed meat then there isn’t really room for argument. In fact. the US National Library of Medicine says as much right here.
But that isn’t the point. All these benefits are in reference to a direct comparison with grain-fed meat. So people aren’t saying that grass-fed meat is the best source of omega 3 because that is simply not true. The fact it contains more omega 3 than grain-fed meat is irrelevant. If you wanted to maximise your fatty acid intake then you wouldn’t opt for red meat at all, you would look for oily fish. The same can be said of the claims surrounding the vitamins and minerals. In comparison to grain-fed meat then yes, the claims are scientifically spot on. But there are plenty of other foods that have all those nutrients in far greater quantities.
So if you are choosing between what type of meat to buy then there are plenty of benefits of opting for grass-fed meat. If you are choosing food for their specific nutritional properties though, then the amount of choices that you have is massively increased.
The truth is that most of us eat far too much meat, especially red meat. The claims surrounding its links to cancer might be unsubstantiated but we are all too aware of its relatively high levels of saturated fat when compared with more lean meats. But I won’t argue that the way an animal is fed doesn’t play a part in its nutrient composition. It does. So if you can afford to make the change then there is no reason that you shouldn’t. If you buy from the right sources at the right time of year then it shouldn’t cost you much more, especially if you opt for the cheaper cuts.