Friday, April 25, 2008

Grass or Grain on the BGE?

If you purchase a BGE you are very likely going to eat a LOT more beef and chicken than you ever have in your life; so how do you do this without packing it on unnecessary? Well, first look for meat, eggs and dairy products that come from grass-fed animals because “grass-fed products are higher in important nutrients and lower in fat than grain-fed products.”1 Don’t forget that animals are seasonal (just like veggies!) and you may not be able to find grass-fed, pasture-raised animal products all year long… but when you do, you can stock up! Buy more and freeze until the next season comes around.

Pasture-raised animals roam freely in their natural environment where they're able to eat nutritious grasses and other plants that their bodies are adapted to digest. Grazing on pasture is especially beneficial for cattle and other ruminants, whose bodies are developed to eat grass. The roughage provided by grasses and other plants allows ruminants to produce saliva, which helps neutralize acids that exist naturally in their digestive systems. When taken off pasture and put on a diet of grain, a ruminant will produce less saliva, causing an increase in acidity within its digestive tract. As a result, grain-fed cattle often suffer from a number of health problems including intestinal damage, dehydration, liver abscesses and even death. Despite the fact that grain diets can sicken cattle and other ruminants, factory farms feed these animals grain (usually corn or soybeans) because it's a cheap way to fatten animals and force them to grow to market weight as quickly as possible. On pasture, animals get all the nutrients they need from grass and forage (other plants), and some animals, like chickens, get additional vitamins and protein from eating insects.

Interestingly Humans benefit from all this as well. A growing body of research indicates that pasture-raised meat, eggs, and dairy products are better for consumers' health than conventionally-raised, grain-fed foods. In addition to being lower in calories and total fat, pasture-raised foods have higher levels of vitamins, and a healthier balance of omega-3 and omega-6 fats than conventional meat and dairy products. Studies have shown that milk from pasture-fed cows has as much as five times the CLA (a “good” type of fatty acid) as milk from grain-fed cows. iii And meat from pasture-fed cows has from 200 to 500 percent more CLA as a proportion of total fatty acids than meat from cows that eat a primarily grain-based diet.

Free-range chickens have 21% less total fat, 30% less saturated fat and 28% fewer calories than their factory-farmed counterparts. Eggs from poultry raised on pasture have 10% less fat, 40% more vitamin A and 400% more omega-3's. Keep in mind that the consistency, texture, color and flavors of food from pasture-raised animals differ from those of conventionally-produced foods. Pasture-raised chickens produce eggs with brighter, more orange-colored yolks than conventional eggs, and butter from pasture-raised cows tends to have a darker yellow color than the butter you get at the supermarket. Since pastured meats contain less fat, they must also be cooked more slowly than conventional meats.

FUN FACT: If you, like the average American, eat 67 pounds of beef per year, then switching from conventional beef to pastured beef would reduce your yearly calorie intake by 16,642 calories!

What’s a Ruminant you ask? Ruminants are hoofed animals with four-chambered stomachs which enable them to digest cellulose. After eating, ruminants regurgitate a semi-digested material called cud, which they chew, then eat. Cows, goats, sheep, bison, deer, camels, llamas, and giraffes are all ruminants. All ruminants are vegetarians by nature.

1-Source and text from The Sustainable Table