It is a requirement of the Colombian government that all beef destined for human consumption be raised on natural grass pasture. As it turns out, there are many wonderful health benefits associated with eating grassfed beef. Compared to grainfed (feedlot) beef, grassfed Colombian beef is:
- Lower in Total Fat
- Higher in Beta Carotene
- Higher in Omega 3
- More Abundant in CLA
- Higher in Vitamin E
- Safer - Lower Bacteria Count
Grassfed beef products tend to be much lower in total fat than grainfed products. For example, a sirloin steak from a grassfed steer has about one half to one third the amount of fat as a similar cut from a grainfed steer. In fact, grassfed meat has about the same amount of fat as skinless chicken or wild deer or elk. When meat is this lean, it actually lowers your LDL cholesterol levels.
Because grassfed meat is so lean, it is also lower in calories. Fat has 9 calories per gram, compared with only 4 calories for protein and carbohydrates. The greater the fat content, the greater the number of calories. A 6-ounce steak from a grass-finished steer has almost 100 fewer calories than a 6-ounce steak from a grainfed steer. If you eat a typical amount of beef (66.5 pounds a year for Americans), switching to grassfed beef will save you 17,733 calories a year—without requiring any willpower or change in eating habits. If everything else in your diet remains constant, you'll lose about six pounds a year.
Beta carotene (provitamin A), a liposoluble antioxidant, is derived from the Latin name carrot, which belongs to the family of natural chemicals known as carotenes or carotenoids. The carotenes produce the yellow and orange colors found in fruits and vegetables and is converted into vitamin A (retinol) by the body. While the artificial supplementation of vitamin A in excess can be toxic, the body naturally converts only the necessary amount of vitamin A beta carotene when consumed in food.
Vitamin A is important for normal vision, growth of bone, reproduction, cell division and differentiation. It is responsible, specifically, for maintaining the surface film of the eyes and mucosa of the respiratory, urinary and intestinal systems. The overall integrity of the skin and mucous membranes is maintained by vitamin A, creating a barrier to bacterial infections. It is also involved in regulating the immune system, supporting the production and function of white cells.
Descalzi et al, 2005, found that grassfed livestock yielded significantly larger amounts of beta carotene in muscle tissue as compared to confied (feedlot) animals. Concentrations of beta carotene vary from 0.63 to 0.45 g / g in the pastured (grassfed) cattle and 0.06 to 0.5 g / g confined (feedlot) cattle.
Omega-3 and omega-6 are types of essential fatty acids - meaning we cannot make them on our own and have to obtain them from our diet. Both are polyunsaturated fatty acids that differ from each other in their chemical structure. In modern diets, there are few sources of omega-3 fatty acids, mainly the fat of cold water fish such as salmon, sardines, herring, mackerel, black cod, and bluefish. By contrast, sources of omega-6 fatty acids are plentiful in modern diets.
There are two important omega-3 fatty acids, (eicosapentaenoic acid, called EPA and docosahexaenoic or DHA), that the body needs. Vegetarian sources, such as walnuts and flaxseeds contain a precursor to omega-3 (alpha-linolenic acid called ALA) that the body must convert to EPA and DHA. EPA and DHA are the building blocks for hormones that control immune function, blood clotting, and cell growth as well as components of cell membranes. As one example of how important omega-3 fatty acids are, several studies have established a clear association between low levels of Omega-3 fatty acids and depression.
Hormones produced from omega-3 and omega-6 fatty acids have opposing effects. Those from omega-6 fatty acids tend to increase inflammation (an important component of the immune response), blood clotting, and cell proliferation, while those from omega-3 fatty acids decrease those functions. Both families of hormones must be in balance to maintain optimum health.
Many nutrition experts believe that before we relied so heavily on processed foods, humans consumed omega-3 and omega-6 fatty acids in roughly equal amounts. But to our great detriment, most North Americans and Europeans now get far too much of the omega-6s and not enough of the omega-3s. This dietary imbalance may explain the rise of such diseases as asthma, coronary heart disease, many forms of cancer, autoimmunity and neurodegenerative diseases, all of which are believed to stem from inflammation in the body. The imbalance between omega-3 and omega-6 fatty acids may also contribute to obesity, depression, dyslexia, hyperactivity and even a tendency toward violence.
It's important then for us to bring the ratio of omega fatty acids that we consume back into a healthier balance, or ratio. Since foods rich in omega-3 fatty acids are harder to come by, the challenge is in consuming more omega-3 and less omega-6, while both are important. Look for foods with a lower ratio of omega-6 to omega-3.
Grassfed beef is one food source with a healthy ratio of omega-6 to omega-3. Let's compare grassfed beef to feedlot beef.
Ratio of Omega 6 to Omega 3
2.7 to 1
Beef, grain-fed, conventional
Ratio of Omega 6 to Omega 3
17.2 to 1
It really does make quite a difference when cattle are raised on grass rather than corn.
CLA is a newly discovered good fat called "conjugated linoleic acid" that may be a potent cancer fighter. In animal studies, very small amounts of CLA have blocked all three stages of cancer: 1) initiation, 2) promotion, and 3) metastasis. Most anti-cancer agents block only one of these stages. What's more, CLA has slowed the growth of an unusually wide variety of tumors, including cancers of the skin, breast, prostate, and colon. (1) In a Finnish study, women who had the highest levels of CLA in their diet, had a 60 percent lower risk of breast cancer than those with the lowest levels of CLA.
Human CLA research is in its infancy, but a few studies have suggested that CLA may have similar benefits in people. A recent survey determined that women with the most CLA in their diets had a 60 percent reduction in the risk of breast cancer. (2)
Where do you get CLA? Many people take a synthetic version that is widely promoted as a diet aid and muscle builder. New research shows that the type of CLA in the pills may have some potentially serious side effects, including promoting insulin resistance, raising glucose levels, and reducing HDL (good) cholesterol. (3)
Few people realize that CLA is also found in nature, and this natural form does not have any known negative side effects. The most abundant source of natural CLA is the meat and dairy products of grassfed animals. Research conducted since 1999 shows that grazing animals have from 3-5 times more CLA than animals fattened on grain in a feedlot. Simply switching from grainfed to grassfed products can greatly increase your intake of CLA.
Vitamin E is a liposoluble vitamin that exists in 8 different forms with powerful antioxidant activity, the more active is alpha-tocopherol. Antioxidants protect the cells against the effects of free radicals. Free radicals are potentially damaging by-products to organic metabolism and may contribute to the development of chronic diseases such as cancer and cardiovascular diseases.
Vitamin E also blocks the formation of nitrosamines which are carcinogens formed in the stomach on account of nitrites consumed in the diet. The current recommended intake of vitamin E is 22 IU (natural sources)) u 33 IU (synthetic source) for women and men (Harvard School of Public Health, USA, 2002). The concentration of alpha-tocopherol naturally found in meat from feedlot cattle is approximately 2.0 mg / g of muscle while in grassfed cattle it varies from 5.0 to 9.3 mg / g of tissue, depending on the type of forage accessible to the animal. The forage increases the levels of alpha-tocopherol by 3 times, enough to extend the shelf life of the meat off. Vitamin E also acts post-mortem to delay the oxidative deterioration of meat, a process in which the myoglobin is converted into metamioglobina, which gives dark meat its appearance.
Products from grass-fed animals are safer than food from conventionally-raised animals.
All grassfed animals have an extremely low risk of bacterial disesases That is because their diets contain no animal by-products or other unnatural ingredients. They eat what nature intended: grasses and other green plants. Choosing products from grassfed animals may lower your risk of two other food borne illnesses, campylobacter and E. coli.
Why is this? Work conducted at Cornell University by Russell and Diez-Gonzalez in the late 1990s showed that cattle that were fed hay had far fewer E. coli than when they were fed a standard feedlot diet based on grain. (Microbes Infect 2, No. 1 (2000): 45-53.)
In addition, the two researchers conducted a test tube study showing that E. coli from grass-fed cattle is more likely to be killed by the natural acidity of our digestive tract and therefore might be less likely to survive and make us ill.
The reason for the greater persistence of E. coli from grain-fed cattle, the researchers speculated, is that feeding grain to cattle makes their digestive tracts abnormally acidic. Over time, the E. coli in their systems become acclimated to this acid environment. When we ingest them, a high percentage will survive the acid shock of our digestive juices. By contrast, few E. coli from grass-fed cattle will survive because they have not become acid-resistant.