Grass Fed Beef & Lamb – Why It’s the Healthy Choice

Grass Fed Beef & Lamb – Why It’s the Healthy Choice

The great health giving properties of grass fed beef & lamb and their associated saturated fats have become more widely recognised in recent years.  Optimal neurological function and hormonal health particularly have been associated with a need for ‘good fats’. Our brains are, after all, made of nearly 60% fat!

Conventional medical commentary or advice doesn’t differentiate grass fed meat from grain fed with regard to impacts on human health; a necessity, given their different properties and different lifestyles as animals. If you saw the animals living their daily lives in the two environments, the difference is quite stark. I sometimes do a little ‘what did nature intend’ check when considering the health of something and it’s often a pretty good check.

What is Grass Fed?

For us, grass fed meats come from animals that graze freely on mixed species open pastures, with trees and all sorts of other life about (spiders, lizards, birds etc). Grain fed animals live in a pen with a dirt (or mud) floor feeding on a grain based ration, fed to them in a trough each day – they are very different sights indeed.  Short of a feed-lot situation, some animals are fed grain rations from self-feeders while also having access to a paddock.

Even for animals that are grass fed; there are variations in this. We have our animals feed on diverse open pastures of forbes, legumes, glycines and grasses and even small shrubs and trees where they access a different array of micronutrients.  We prefer this to a grass fed animal fed on, say, an oat crop, which is just one grass species.  These animals will often graze the section around the edge of the paddock not planted to oats, as they seek some diversity in their diet.

What’s the Fuss about Fat?

Fats are an essential part of our diet and good health – evidenced by the fact that mother’s milk contains over 50% of its calories as fat, much of it saturated fat and a high proportion of it as cholesterol. Saturated fat is essential in the growth and development of the human brain, for calcium metabolism & incorporation into bones, enhancement of the immune system and preventing heart disease.

Fats may be considered in three main groups:

  1. Saturated Fatty Acids These are highly stable fats, found mostly in animal fats (meats, butter) and tropical oils (coconut oil) and are solid or near solid at room temperature. Being highly stable, they do not go rancid easily and may be heated for cooking while retaining their healthful properties.
  2. Monounsaturated Fatty Acids  These fats are found in plants – specifically olive oil and some nuts and avocadoes. They are relatively stable and do not go rancid easily and may be cooked with safely, so long as not heated to high temperatures. They tend to be liquid at room temperature.
  3. Polyunsaturated Fatty Acids These fats are predominantly unsaturated linoleic acids , specifically omega 3 and omega 6 essential fatty acids (EFA’s) – called so as our body cannot make these and they must be obtained from food. They are liquid even when placed in the cool.  They come predominantly from plant oils from cooler areas, like canola & soy and their chemical makeup means they go rancid easily, hence heating of these oils for cooking should be avoided.  Rancid oils have free radicals present – chemically reactive compounds which are damaging to tissues, organs, blood vessels and even DNA and RNA. (Damage which cholesterol comes in to repair – but that’s another story!).

These three fatty acid types are present in virtually all foods, but in varying combinations and ratios.

One of the major changes in our diets over the last century is the change from the consumption of predominantly saturated fats like tallow and butter to predominantly polyunsaturated fats such as canola and soy. Previously, populations that did consume polyunsaturated fats gained it from nuts, fish, etc, not from these processed polyunsaturated oils.

One of the major issues with the increase in polyunsaturated fat intake is the balance of the omega 3 fatty acids to omega 6 fatty acids in the oils being consumed.

There is much evidence to suggest that the diet on which we evolved consisted of a ratio of omega-6 to omega-3 fatty acids of around 1:1. Modern day western diets and the polyunsaturated oils however, have much higher relative levels of omega 6 fatty acids; an unbalance of which has been found to promote diseases like heart disease and cancer, memory problems, weight gain, immune dysfunction and inflammation of many kinds. Incredibly, most current western diets consist of ratios of around 16:1 and even higher!

So, not only has there been an increase in the polyunsaturated oils in the diet, but an increase in these with an undesirable ratio of omega 6 to omega 3 fatty acids.

Armed with this knowledge about fats, we can see the benefits of grass fed meats. Choosing grass fed beef and lamb does two things:

  1. Provides us with a good supply of healthy saturated fats.
  2. Of the polyunsaturated fats that are in the meat, it assures us a healthy balance of the different fatty acids. Specifically, grass fed beef has an omega-6 to omega-3 ratio of around 1.5 : 1 – a level consistent with wild game – because, like wild game, grass fed animals are eating what nature intended!  This is compared with grain fed animals – the meat of which has a ratio of up to 7:1 and even as high as 16:1.

Choosing grass fed brings with it the associated positive health attributes such as enhancing the immune system, giving integrity to cell membranes, lowering heart disease risks, improving brain function & memory and more.

Grass Fed versus Grain Fed in the Coolroom

The difference in the fat between a grass fed animal and a grain fed animal can be detected in the coolroom. We experienced this at our butcher’s some time back, where our beef carcasses hung in the coolroom with some other grain fed ones.  In placing a finger on the fat cover of our grass fed beef, it melted under the warmth of the finger a bit like butter would, leaving a slippery feel to the finger. The grain fed carcass fat cover didn’t melt to the touch and left a particularly greasy feel on the fingertips.

Other Properties

Grass fed meats also have greater levels of fat soluble vitamins – like Vitamin A and D.  Vitamin A particularly comes from meat from animals feeding on green pastures, something a grain fed animal in a feedlot won’t have access to. Fat soluble vitamins are important for brain and nervous system function as well as sexual development.

You may also have heard of long chain and short chain fatty acids; it’s just another way of classifying fats, which I won’t go into here for simplicity’s sake.

Chemical Free

While we’re talking about fats, you may also like to know the importance of chemical free production with relation to fat.  Any pesticides, synthetic chemicals, toxins, etc that are in an animal that are not excreted, are stored away from the vital functions of the animal (the same applies for humans). So instead of remaining in the blood or going into important organs, the toxins get stored in places where they’ll cause the least damage – these being in the bones or fat of the animal. This is why chemical free production is so important if you’re making broths from bones and eating fat.

Conscious Choices for Better Health

So the message is, fats are not only great for us, but an essential part of our diet. It is however important to choose the right fats – saturated fat being a major one. And what a blessing it is to know this because fat from a grass fed animal tastes so great; like we say “Love the Taste Difference!”

Sally Fallon is a wonderful source of sanity on this subject and I have gleaned some of this information from her book ‘Nourishing Traditions’ – thank you Sally.

If you’d like one of our grass fed, chemical free beef or lamb hampers, you can see the options here. When beef is available, we also often have suet available, from which you can make healthy, tallow – rich in saturated fat.