Meat has been a hot topic in the news lately. The World Health Organization started it. They deemed processed red meats a Group 1 Carcinogen. What else is in this Group? Smoking tobacco. So, you can imagine the kinds of conversation this warning started. Before you freak out… They aren’t saying processed meats are equivalent to smoking. You can still have some bacon at Sunday brunch.
Everyone loves bacon jokes, but what does this really mean? To understand why the WHO would say such a thing, we need to go back to the source: the cow or the animal from which the meat originated.
Cows are a huge industry in the U.S. They give us red meat, butter, milk, and cheese. Try to come up with a product that doesn’t contain one of these ingredients. It might take you a minute. However, since we have become so dependent on these products, we have tried to come up with ways to make them fast and cheap to produce.
How? This is where it starts to get ugly.
Before we industrialized cows and their by-products, they ate grass. Unlike many other mammals, cows have an unusual stomach that can tolerate grass. Their rumen, a four-chambered stomach, is designed to efficiently digest grass and turn it into energy. Cows that eat grass are extremely healthy as this is their natural diet.
In the U.S., conventionally-raised calves are often born on a ranch and nursed for a few months while grazing on the pasture. By the time they are roughly six months, they are shipped to a feeding mill where they begin a diet of corn infused with protein and fat supplements. Their feed is laced with estrogen and liquid vitamins. These cows do not have access to grass. They are prone to illness, and it is easy to imagine why. They are eating a grain-based diet when they were made to eat a grass-based one. As a result of their sickness and damage to their digestive tracts, antibiotics are blended into their feed as well. If all of this wasn’t enough, the hormones and by-products in their feed gets stored in their fat that we then consume!
The benefits of grass-fed are widely documented. Grass-fed beef is lower in total fat and saturated fat. It has a high amount of carotenoids and Omega-3s (from the components of the grass) and CLA (an antioxidant and heart healthy fat). Many studies on red meat are used with conventionally raised red meat, and as a result, often have negative conclusions about the health of those who consume it. With all of this information in mind, it makes sense why eating these products can be detrimental to our health.
I do not mean to deter you from eating these foods, but I do mean to inform you. Understanding what you’re eating and where it comes from is a huge skill set and one that promotes wellbeing in all areas of our lives.
Grass-fed isn’t just for red meat: products like milk, butter, and cheese can also be found in grass-fed varieties. Even chickens and their eggs are found in grass-fed and pastured varieties (take a look at the difference in the yolks below!). These are usually sourced out best at farmer’s markets, co-ops, or health food stores in your area. Other terms used to appropriately describe grass-fed foods are pastured or pasture-raised. You could even take it a step further and ask your farmer about their growing tactics. They should be happy to tell you!