Sunday, August 7, 2011
Is Beef Healthy?
I became a dietitian because I wanted to help people. I had no idea that I would become an "expert" in a rapidly changing, hotly debated field. Everyone eats; thus, we all have our own experiences and opinions. Furthermore, nutrition research changes on a dime, and the media over-publicizes or misconstrues seemingly controversial results from research studies. This drives a lot of dietitians crazy; however, I call it job security. I love when my clients ask for the "truth" about certain topics. Eating meat, especially beef, seems to be one of the most highly contested issues.
My philosophy has changed dramatically since I became a dietitian. If you would have asked me five years ago if I thought beef was healthy, I would have told you that only extremely lean beef, no matter how it was produced, is the only kind you "should" eat - only once a week or less. Now my approach is much different. I believe, and I think a lot of the research shows, that the "healthfulness" of what we eat is directly related to how it is grown or raised. When animals eat what they are meant to eat, as in when a cow eats only grass, the chemical makeup of its meat is much different than when it is fed genetically modified corn, soy, or even worse, beef byproduct. Grass-fed beef contain higher concentrations of conjugated linoleic acid, which research has shown reduces cholesterol and has cancer preventive effects. It is also being researched for its weight loss potential.
When cows are free to roam and graze in the open air, their musculature is more lean, and they are less likely to get sick because they're not penned into a factory farm. In turn, healthy cows do not require antibiotics to fend off illness. They are also happier animals given their more humane lifestyle, which I believe is an important ethical consideration. Lastly, if cows are raised using organic practices, they do not receive growth hormones or any other artificial chemicals that we end up consuming when we eat their meat (or drink their milk).
I think beef can absolutely be a healthy part of our diets, if you choose to eat meat. I have it at least once a week. However, there's a caveat - I always choose organically raised, 100% grassfed beef. Not only is it healthier, but it tastes better! My husband requests grass-fed beef because he notices a difference in taste.
So, where can you buy organic, grass-fed beef? The best place to find it is at your local farmers' market. It's often much cheaper (as low as $4-5 per pound), and you can usually talk to the rancher himself about how he raises his cows, what they eat, and how they are cared for if they get sick. Furthermore, in buying beef at a farmers' market, you are supporting your local economy and sustainable farming practices. I like to get my grass-fed beef from Rockhouse Cattle Company at the North Scottsdale Farmers' Market.
If you don't have access to a farmers' market, check your local health food store or Whole Foods. In fact, Whole Foods in Scottsdale is selling different cuts of organic, grass-fed beef this weekend for only $4.99 a pound.
By the way, this same principle of "you are what you eat" applies to eggs, butter, and other animal meat. This is why I purchase organic pasture butter from Whole Foods and get my eggs at the farmers' market.
Bring on the (organic, 100% grass-fed) beef...and a side of veggies!