I am a firm believer in living as naturally as possible, and one of the main pillars of a natural lifestyle is diet. Although I always ate what is considered “healthy”, my diet was too high in carbs (and grains) and therefore too low in proteins and other nutrients to be truly ideal. We have been told for so long that fat and cholesterol are the enemies to avoid at all costs that we no longer know instinctively how to eat well; and we end up loading up on carbs because there is only so many greens one can eat. And after too many years of too many grains and sugar (as well as stress), my body was perennially inflamed, irritated, and no longer working as it should. So much so that one winter two years ago, I experienced a major “meltdown”, which has taken me two years to overcome.
What was a really rough time, turned out to be a blessing in disguise for it stopped me from continuing on the same self-destructive path. At the time, my doctor recommended to reduce carbs and have protein at every meal to avoid blood sugar spikes, reduce inflammation, and help regain hormonal balance. That day marked my return to meat eating, something I had indulged in while growing up in Uruguay–a heavy meat eating and meat exporting country–but that I had shunned for the better part of 25 years.
Grass-fed is more nutritious
There are countless problems with conventional, factory-farmed beef which accounts for 99% all of the beef produced in the US. Cows that are confined and fed GMO grains (and many times hormones to grow faster as well) become inevitably sick. They must be fed antibiotics to keep them alive; while a daily diet of GMOs is now increasingly linked to tumors and cancer, and the acidosis in their gut increases the chances of dangerous strains of e-coli developing.
Contrast this with a grass-fed cow. Grass-fed cows live outdoors in the sunshine and fresh air. They feed on grass, which is richer in vitamins and antioxidants than grains, and which according to a study published in 2009 makes their meat 4-8 times higher in vitamin E and also betacarotene, B vitamins, and key minerals such as potassium, magnesium and calcium. Because they eat what they are supposed to, they don’t get sick and don’t require antibiotics. They also don’t develop acidosis, which greatly reduces the chances of harboring dangerous bacteria in their guts.
Furthermore, pastured beef is an excellent source of CLA (conjugated linoleic acid) as well as Omega 3s, which improve the immune system, decrease inflammation, and promote healthy heart and brain function. Grass-fed beef can contain up to 7 times the amount of Omega 3 in comparison with conventional beef, and has a much lower level of Omega 6, while also being lower in saturated fat.
Cows are good for the environment
The idea that eating meat is bad for the environment stems from a report by the FAO in 2006 which attributed 18% of worldwide greenhouse gas emissions to livestock. But this report has serious flaws as this article in The Guardian explains. In fact, properly managed pastured cattle is carbon negative and helps improve the health of our soils, which is one of the biggest environmental challenges we face today.
When animals graze on grass they stimulate the plant’s growth, and as they trample it they help their manure incorporate into the soil, enriching it. Also, a soil that is covered in grass is healthier and traps carbon dioxide which otherwise would be released into the atmosphere. In fact, according to an article in Times magazine, with proper management, pasture-based farming could achieve a 2% increase in soil-carbon levels on existing agricultural, grazing and desert lands over the next two decades–and 1% would be enough to capture the total equivalent of the world’s greenhouse-gas emissions.
On the other hand, factory farming depends on the industrial cultivation of GMO corn and soy. This cannot be done without the intensive use of pesticides, fertilizers and other petroleum-derived chemicals, and many times using land that used to be previously covered by grass or forests. Like Michael Pollan has eloquently stated “we’ve managed to trade a wonderfully efficient solar-powered system of protein production for a hugely inefficient one largely dependent upon fossil fuels” (see Time magazine’s Feedlots vs Pastures infographic).
I think it is safe to say that grass-fed beef and conventional beef, don’t share much in common. One is good for your health and for the environment, whereas the other is a nightmare for your body, the planet and the animal itself. I personally made a decision to not eat meats from factory-farmed animals many years ago, which I still keep. But I believe that like our hunter-gatherer ancestors, we need the nutrients in meat, particularly those that come from animals that have not suffered and can help us bring the planet back to balance.
Is this more costly? Yes, I am afraid so, but they say that “you are what you eat eats” so it is a price I am very willing to pay.
[All images taken in Uruguay by myself].