Red meat has gotten an undeserved bad reputation in recent decades. Certainly, there are negative health effects from certain types of meats that are prepared certain ways, but there are healthy sources of red meat.
It is important to distinguish between grass fed meat that has been raised in a natural environment and meat from cows raised on feed lots where they are often fed genetically modified grain and forced to live in horrible conditions.
You’ve heard the phrase that “you are what you eat,” but it goes a step further to “you are what you eat eats.”
Just as processed and genetically modified grains aren’t good for humans, they aren’t good for cows either. When grass fed and grain fed beef are compared, there are some important nutritional differences and some substantial benefits of grass fed meat:
Saturated Fat Levels
Saturated fat’s good reputation is finally being restored as more evidence shows that it never deserved the bad reputation it got.
Red meat is a great source of saturated fat, no matter the source, but grass fed beef is higher in stearic acid which has been shown to have protective benefits and to have a positive effect on blood cholesterol levels. (source) For the record, I don’t worry about cholesterol levels (here’s why) but it’s good to see some positive press for red meat.
Stearic acid is present in many foods, but grass fed red meat and cocoa beans have the highest amounts. Steak and chocolate anyone?
Conjugated Linoleic Acid (CLA) is a potent antioxidant and there is evidence that it has a protective effect against cancer, heart disease and other diseases. Nourished Kitchen explains:
CLA has shown promise in the treatment of various cancers. Research conducted at the University of Alberta in Canada, Dartmouth Medical Center and elsewhere indicates that CLA shows promise in the fight against breast cancer. [1. Lipids. 2009 Mar 6.], [2. Nutr Cancer. 2009;61(1):114-22] Further, CLA even could be valuable in the treatment of brain cancer due to its ability to prevent the development of new malignant tumors as well as inhibit the growth of existing tumors. [3. Brain Res. 2008 Jun 5;1213:35-40. Epub 2008 Feb 16.]
All beef is a good dietary source of CLA but grass fed beef can have more than twice as much CLA as grain feed beef (source).
Omega-3 fatty acids are anti-inflammatory and important for health. Beef isn’t a spectacular source of Omega-3s but grass fed beef can have 3-4 times the Omega-3 content that grain fed beef does (source). It seems that the animal’s diet right before slaughter has a big impact on this though, so grass fed but grain finished beef might not have the same benefits.
Fish is a much better source of Omega-3 than beef in general, but grass fed beef is still a good source. (More on Omega-3s and Omega-6s here)
Emerging evidence also shows that grass feed beef is higher in the following nutrients than grain fed beef (source:)
Does It Matter?
Grass feed meat is a better source of many nutrients, but red meat in general can be a very healthy choice. All red meat is a complete source of protein and a good source vitamin B-12 and iron.
If grass fed beef is not available in your area or you can’t squeeze it in to the budget, don’t let that deter you from eating red meat in general!
Effects of Grass and Conventional Feeding Systems on Nutrient Composition of Beef
Do you eat grass fed meat? If so, what is your favorite recipe? Share below!