Grass-fed beef is best

It’s time to jump on the “grass-fed beef wagon” and begin reaping the benefits of this power protein source. “But why? What’s the big deal? Does it taste better? Is it healthier?”, you ask.

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But why?

When considering the why of making a change, it is important to also understand the reason to move away from what was being done before. In this case, if you aren’t eating grass-fed beef then you’re eating corn-fed beef. Corn-fed beef comes from cows that are fed corn (most commonly genetically modified crop) with the purpose of fattening them faster so they can move them to slaughter faster. These cows are usually raised with hormones and antibiotics while they are being fed their corn-based diet. Since cows are a ruminant, they are designed to eat grass, not corn. And when cows are fed corn, many unhealthy digestive problems begin to occur. Now think of your food chain. When you eat beef from a cow that has been raised on corn, the negative effects of the diet are passed on to you. For a more detailed explanation of the effects of a corn-based diet in cows, check out Michael Pollan’s interview with Frontline at http://www.pbs.org/wgbh/pages/frontline/shows/meat/interviews/pollan.html

What’s the big deal?

The big deal is your health and wellness. What you eat directly impacts how you look and feel both inside and outside. Grass-fed beef has numerous nutritional benefits in comparison to corn-fed beef.

  • Greater fatty acid profile of omega-3 fatty acid and conjugated linoleic acid (CLA)
  • Greater levels of precursors to vitamin A (carotenoids) and vitamin E (tocopherol)
  • Greater levels of cancer-fighting agents glutathione and superoxide dismutase
  • Lower fat content

Does it taste better?

Personally, I can’t tell a huge difference in taste but some people will say grass-fed beef tastes better than grain-fed beef. Flavor preferences are personal and you won’t know until you try it. Grain-fed beef has more marbling because the fat content is higher as a result of the cow’s diet. My suggestion: Purchase 1 pound of ground grass-fed beef and cook in into hamburger patties so you can get a true idea of how your taste buds respond to it. If you use it for pasta sauce or for meatloaf, there are too many other ingredients that can mask the flavor of the beef and make it difficult to determine if you notice a difference.

Is it healthier?

As I mentioned above, the nutrition benefits of grass-fed beef outweighs its grain-fed competition. Benefits of CLA include anti-carcinogenic effects by reducing cancer cell replication and inducing cancer cell death. CLA also has a positive effect on blood lipid profiles as well as blood sugar levels. CLA intake also contributes to a healthy body composition by reducing body fat while supporting retention of lean muscle mass. Although obtaining omega-3 in the diet is optimal when consuming fatty fish, incorporating alternative sources is helpful to create dietary variety. There isn’t a significantly greater amount of omega-3 in grass-fed beef compared to grain-fed but if you want red meat in your meal, grass-fed is still your best option. Grass-fed beef also has greater levels of beta-carotene (precursor to vitamin A) and alpha-tocopherol (an isoform of vitamin E). Vitamin A is required for vision, bone growth, cell division and regeneration, and maintenance of skin and membrane integrity. Vitamin E is an antioxidant responsible for destruction of free radicals in the body that may contribute to chronic diseases. Are you convinced yet that grass-fed beef is healthy?! Hang on, there’s more! Remember the cancer-fighting agents, glutathione (a protein that functions as part of an enzyme system) and superoxide dismutase (an enzyme), that I mentioned earlier? Glutathione is an awesome antioxidant that protects cells in your body from free radicals and prevent damage to DNA. Superoxide dismutase, in union with a second enzyme, catalase, work as another antioxidant to seek and destroy free radicals.


Bottom line.

At the end of the day, your food choices are yours to own. You can choose quality real food or you can choose the next best thing. Grain-fed beef isn’t going to kill you, but it doesn’t offer you the nutrition that grass-fed beef does. It is becoming more and more popular in grocery stores but can almost always be found at your local farmer’s market or through an online source. Bottom line is that you should always do what works for you and what you feel is important for your health and wellness.

 

Bhattacharya A, Banu J, Rahman M, et al. (2006). Biological effects of conjugated linoleic acids in health and disease. Journal of Nutritional Biochemistry. 17(12):789-810.

Daley C, Abbott A, Doyle P, et al. (2010). A review of fatty acid profiles and antioxidant content in grass-fed beef and grain-fed beef. Nutrition Journal. 9:10.

McAfee A, McSorley E, Cuskelly G, et al. (2011). Red meat from animals offered a grass diet increases plasma and platlet n-3 in healthy consumers. British Journal of Nutrition. 105: 80-89.

Why low-sugar fruit?

Generally speaking, fruit is good for our body. It comes from nature and contains vitamins, minerals, antioxidants, water, and fiber. All of the good stuff our body needs for optimal health! However, if excess body fat, diabetes or pre-diabetes, or cravings for sweets throughout the day is a problem for you, then there is a reason to limit fruit and make wise choices when you do enjoy it. I’m going to share with you why I encourage you to select low-sugar fruits mindfully instead of diving into the fruit bowl anytime of the day.

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Fruit contains both glucose, fructose, and sucrose, a 1:1 ratio of glucose and fructose. Glucose and fructose are two monosaccharides that are metabolized differently by the body whereas sucrose is a disaccharide that is metabolized similarly to fructose. Glucose is metabolized to first provide immediate energy to the body and then all excess is stored as glycogen in the muscles and liver. Once storage is filled, it is stored as fat in adipose tissue. One key point to remember is that glucose triggers the release of insulin because insulin is required to move glucose from the bloodstream into the cell for energy production and storage (via insulin-sensitive glucose transporters). Fructose, on the other hand, is sent to the liver for metabolism. Too much fructose leads to synthesis of triglyceride synthesis and thus storage in adipose tissue. Remember the effect of glucose on insulin? Fructose does not trigger an insulin release and therefore does not contribute to satiety signals in the body. Bottom line: glucose raises blood sugar levels, fructose does not. Glucose assists in “feeding” the cells thus signaling the brain to stop eating, fructose does not.

So where am I going with all of this glucose and fructose talk? When we’re making choices on fruit, it is important to understand overall carbohydrate content and how much of that carbohydrate is sugar. The remaining carbohydrate content of a food is based in its fiber, which is also important, but does not contribute to overall levels of sugar in the food. Recognizing fruits that are relatively low in sugar is key to selecting fruits. These include (based on a 100 gram serving that contains <10 grams of total sugar) avocado, lime, lemon, raspberries, blueberries, strawberries, grapefruit, blackberries, cantaloupe, sour cherries, guava, apricot, figs, nectarine, orange, papaya, peach, plum, starfruit, tangerine, tomato, and watermelon. This is a large group of fruits to choose from so you need to never feel deprived. Additionally, 100 grams looks different for each fruit so do a little research and learn what 100 grams of figs looks like versus 100 grams of cantaloupe. All other fruits not listed contained more than 10 grams of total sugar for a 100 gram serving.

Now, to plug all of this fruitful information into your diet! Remember that 50% of your plate should consist of vegetables and low-sugar fruits. Once you’ve made at least half of that vegetables, then you can fill the other half with low-sugar fruit. If your goal is a low-carbohyrate diet then you would skip the fruit altogether and just nosh on your vegetables. If you’ve just finished a workout, enjoy 1 cup of fruit with a generous serving of protein. The body will quickly use the fruit sugar to refill glycogen stores with little or none remaining for storage in adipose tissue. As a general rule of thumb, I encourage you to be generous on vegetables first and then enjoy a maximum of 2 cups of fruit per day. The logic behind this is that if you’re dining on fruit at each meal and/or snack, then you’re removing opportunities to eat more fibrous vegetables that are naturally very low in sugar. Additionally, frequent fruit intake elevates blood sugar levels (sugar is sugar is sugar) and thus insulin levels are often elevated, too. Only so much glucose and fructose can be stored in the liver and muscles so therefore the rest is converted to triglycerides or stored as body fat.

Consider fruit as a healthy dessert that contains awesome nutrients. The vitamins, minerals, fiber, and antioxidants are all fantastic but just keep total sugar intake in mind when taking inventory of your total nutrient intake for the day. Two final notes: dried fruit and fruit stored in syrup is loaded with added sugar and should be avoided; and if you opt for high-sugar fruits, keep your serving size smaller than what you would serve for low-sugar fruits.