The Health and Environmental Benefits of Grass-fed Beef

This post is courtesy of Diana Rodgers, RD: registered dietitian, author, producer, and friend of Walden!

If you’re a fan of Walden, then you appreciate how properly raised meat tastes. Maybe films like “Cowspiracy” or the recent WHO statement on red meat and cancer concern you. As a “real food dietitian” living on one of the farms that supplies Walden, I’m going to explain how these are not issues with pasture-based herbivores.

 Americans are facing soaring rates of obesity, type 2 diabetes, heart disease and cancer—partly because the food we’re eating isn’t giving us the nutrition we need. Our carbohydrate-heavy intake and reliance on highly processed, ultra-palatable, industrially produced food is making us sick, while at the same time leaving us malnourished. According to the CDC, the top US nutrition deficiencies are Vitamin B12, Vitamin C, Iron, Vitamin D, and Vitamin B6.

Red meat is the most common bioavailable source of many of these nutrients. Even the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics website lists beef as the #1 source for iron. It’s a more complete and absorbable form of protein compared to plant proteins. Beef is also a fantastic source of B12, a nutrient that vegans must supplement in order to stay healthy.

I heard red meat causes cancer!

The studies behind these claims are observational. They show a correlation between meat intake and cancer, but ONLY correlations. Not cause.

 These studies are relying on self-reported information from food frequency forms. Yet, many people lie or, at the very least, forget what they ate. It’s easy to remember things like “I ate red meat 3 times last week” but forget the sodas, chips, cake and cookies. Perhaps we “forget” how much we drink and smoke and inflate how much we exercise. Additionally, vegetarians tend to have a much healthier lifestyle overall compared to those eating a standard American diet. Comparing an “average omnivore” to a vegetarian without adjusting for other lifestyle factors like exercise, smoking, and fast food intake is called “Healthy User Bias” and has been studied here.

In fact, this study looked at people who shop at health food stores (therefore attempting to adjust for lifestyle factors) and compare vegetarians to omnivores and found no difference in mortality.

But we can sustainably engineer protein in labs…

The argument that plant-based proteins engineered in labs is better for our health and the planet doesn’t hold much weight. I’ve already addressed the health reasons for eating meat above, so I’ll now address the sustainability argument.

Alternative proteins like “tofurkey”, often seen as “sustainable” options engineered in labs, are ignoring the incredible amount of input required per calorie of protein. You can’t simply make protein out of thin air. Acres and acres of grains like soy, wheat and corn are required for this process, not to mention the amount of fossil fuels and water. These crops use incredible amounts of herbicides and pesticides, which not only require engineering of their own, but also degrade the land on which they are used.

Let’s compare this to grass-fed beef from a local farm. The cows eat grass (free), yes they drink water, but they also produce manure (read: fertilizer), which improves the soil (bonus) to provide nutrient-dense, bio-available protein. If you were to do a complete life-cycle analysis on this process, and compare one pound of lab-produced protein to one pound of locally produced, holistically managed, grass-fed beef, the clear winner would be the beef.

 

About the author:

Diana Rodgers, RD is a “real food” registered dietitian living with her family on a working organic farm near Boston, Massachusetts. She is the author of The Homegrown Paleo Cookbook, produces the Sustainable Dish Podcast, and runs an active nutrition practice helping people improve their health with nutrient-dense food. She’s the consulting dietitian to Robb Wolf and can be found at www.sustainabledish.com