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Is Grass-fed worth it?

March 15, 2017

Why do we go grass-fed? Is it because Gwyneth Paltrow told us to? Is it that pesky omega ratio? Or because someone told us it was good for the environment? What truly are the benefits of going “grass-fed?” While a quick web search will reveal a majority of blogs describing the specific benefits of grass-fed beef, the purpose of this post is to provide more practical discussion on the positives of choosing happy, free-roaming cows.

But first, let’s look at the negative: Grass-fed beef is so damn expensive!

True, and that is the major road block for many people – especially families – on buying the product. If Mercedes Benz all of a sudden priced their AMG series under $20,000, we would all buy them, but that does not mean we don’t have a viable alternative. If not able to afford grass-fed beef, go for the leaner cuts of meat, as pesticides and hormones are more likely to bioaccumulate in fatty tissue.

So when standing in-front of the meat counter, and given the choice between $4 a pound or $8 a pound chuck, what should be weighing on your mind…

When comparing food products for nutritional value, a new term is coming to light that constantly adds talking points to the discussion – bioavailability. With supplements such as multi-vitamins, even though they provide consumers with 100% of almost every vitamin and mineral, many people will not be able to absorb the nutrients stuffed into the pill. The common term is “very expensive urine.” However, when compared to eating real food, we see that individuals are able to assimilate a much larger percentage of nutrients.

We talked about this same relationship with coconut oil in a prior post – comparing high-heat vs. cold-pressed EV coconut oil on cholesterol and blood pressure levels, with the latter dominating the health debate. While both where natural products, the one that underwent less manipulation at the hands of Homo sapiens proved to be most beneficial for health.

Bovines thrived off grass for hundreds of thousands of years. Their guts evolved to deal with the fibrous shoots, prompting large, muscular cows (with multiple stomachs). We hunted them, but didn’t feed them. Roughly 11,000 years ago in the fertile crescent, bovines came under our control in the form of domestication, but only recently did we over populate the Earth with cattle to feed our desire for rib eye, shoving corn down their throats, deforesting most of South America in the process.

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What changes elicited from domestication and then over-population of cattle?

To observe what happens when one changes your natural diet and replaces traditional foods with newer creations, one simply has to look at the modern American diet consisting of almost 25% sugar per day – roughly 200lbs a year for the typical American.

The major side affect of adjusting bovine feed from grass to corn is in the composition of the lipid tissues (fat). Just like with coconut oil, there is a good and bad way to “create” the saturated fat found on beef. While most traditional research has favored a diet low in saturated fat, new research indicates that QUALITY of saturated fat is incredibly important.

The way the research is heading, it appears that diets with moderate to high levels of saturated fat, albeit from QUALITY sources, will not have such a negative  impact on the diet, and most likely provide positive benefits.

(On a side note, new research out of University College London has found that certain populations, namely the Inuits, have genetic modifications allowing their bodies to adapt to a high saturated fat diet, while most Europeans and Chinese do not have these modifications, requiring further research to determine what “ideal” is for certain genetically diverse cultures.)

From a truly “economics of health” perspective, look at this concept:

1lbs of non-grass fed 99% lean beef at $4 = 440 calories (1.1 calories per cent)

1lbs of grass-fed beef 85% lean at $8 = 972 calories (1.215 calories per cent) BETTER VALUE

From a dollar to calorie conversion, grass-fed beef does not appear to be that bad of a decision after all.

From a truly putting-something-healthier-in-your-body perspective, grass-fed beef is the clear winner. From a sustainability statement, things appear obvious, but have some complications.

When it comes to a single cow, the impact a conventionally farmed cow has on the environment is greater than that of a grass-fed cow. However, what is the impact of a conventionally raised cow from a food-lot in Georgia that will be sold across Atlanta compared to a grass-fed cow grown in Uruguay, that was then shipped to New York City?

Furthermore, how much of the World will have to become pasture to raise the number of cows that are currently in demand? Going exclusively grass-fed will drive the prices of beef up incredibly high due to a feasible limit on supply unless we all go back to a pastoral community – not likely if Silicon Valley has anything to say about it.

From a Malthusian background with some pragmatic optimism, we are at a bit of a precipice. On one hand, consuming locally raised grass-fed beef will aid with cutting down carbon emissions, but it is not a feasible alternative for the World (is healthy beef a luxury item?).

Given the known health benefits and looking at the dollar for healthy calorie ratio above, as an individual in a global community, grass-fed beef is the best approach. In order to sustain our growing demand for beef while cutting emissions and reliance on fossil fuels, there will need to be some serious changes in our food supply chain. In light of Hollywood’s latest creation – let us only hope that Matt Damon can grow grass and raise cows on Mars.

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