For centuries, cows and chickens were raised outdoors on pasture, enjoying sunshine, clean air and their natural diet of grass and insects. These animals were healthy, enjoying the outdoors. Humans who ate their meat benefited from a nutrient-dense food high in healthy fats, proteins and vitamins.
With industrialization and factory farms, this has changed. Animals are confined in small quarters, never seeing the light of day and fed harmful waste and byproducts, along with growth hormones and antibiotics. Meat from conventionally raised animals lack the many nutrients found in grass-fed or “pastured” meats.
“Happy” cows and chickens
Pastured meat comes from chicken and cows allowed to live outdoors, enjoying sunshine and their natural diet of grass, plants and insects. Because pastured animals are given their natural diets, they remain healthy and only infrequently require antibiotics to treat infections. Chickens are often protected from predators by living outside during the day in large, movable pens, allowing them to graze freely on grass.
This is a stark contrast to conventionally raised animals, confined to crowded, unethical living conditions. These animals are often fed chicken feces, sawdust, cheap candy and genetically modified grains. Growth hormones and antibiotics are given routinely.
Health benefits of grass fed meats
The fat profiles from 100% grass-fed animals are similar to that of salmon. Pastured meats have the following health benefits:
- Higher in beta-carotene
- Higher vitamin E levels
- Improved ratio of omega 6 to omega 3 ratio
- Higher in total omega 3
- Higher in B vitamins thiamin (B1) and riboflavin (B2)
- Increased amounts of minerals, calcium, magnesium and potassium
- Higher amounts of conjugated linoleic acid
- Increased levels of vaccenic acid
A California State University study found that pasture-fed steers contained seven times the amount of beta-carotene compared to grain-fed animals. Beta-carotenes are precursors of vitamin A, an essential fat-soluble vitamin important for bone growth, reproduction, vision and immune function.
Vitamin E levels are four times higher in grass-fed cows than in conventionally raised cattle. Vitamin E is linked to lower risks of heart disease and cancer.
B1 and B2 vitamins help support the body’s energy, nerves, muscles and heart function. The minerals calcium, magnesium and potassium help maintain strong bones while supporting nerves, muscles and blood circulation. Potassium is essential for proper electrolyte balance and lowers the risk for high blood pressure.
Most Americans have an imbalance of omega-3 to omega-6 fats. Grass-fed meats help balance this with its higher omega-3 content. Omega-3 fats are critical for heart health and prevention of cancer and autoimmune disorders.
Conjugated linoleic acid can reduce cancer, high blood pressure, cardiovascular disease, osteoporosis and insulin resistance.
Vaccenic acid is an important trans fat that occurs naturally in ruminant animals. A study published in the Journal of Nutrition discovered that vaccenic acid protects against atherosclerosis, a known risk factor for heart disease. Vaccenic acid is NOT the same as dangerous, synthetically produced trans fats found in most processed vegetable oils.
Pastured chicken meat is also healthier than conventionally raised chickens. Pastured chickens have been found to have higher levels of vitamin A and omega-3 fats.
Benefits of small farms
The small farm continues to be a perfect ecosystem, with cow manure used to fertilize crops and vegetables grown on the farm. By contrast, cow manure and chemicals from factory farms contaminate streams and destroy the environment.
When choosing what meat to purchase, consider grass-fed meat, which benefits the health of people, animals and the planet.
Sources for this article include:
Food, Inc. Dir. Robert Kenner. 2008.
by: Michelle Goldstein