The Truth About Beef Revisited
Last year, my post The Truth about Beef examined the claim that grass fed/grass finished beef was superior to common grain fed beef because of higher Omega-3 to Omega-6 ratios. At the time, the most reliable information I could cite showed about a 10mg difference in the amount of Omega-3. This is a nutritionally insignificant amount, and should never be cited as a reason to say grass fed beef is healthier or better for you than common supermarket beef. Yet, bloggers continue to claim grass fed beef has “67% MORE Omega-3!”.
Pete B, the author of Grass Based Health, examines the issue in more detail. With links to research, he reveals more detail on the levels of both Omega-6 and Omega-3 found in grass fed and grain fed beef, with charts, graphs and enough details to provide a definitive resource. Pete has a background as a “forage extension specialist” for Oregon State University, and is an advocate for ” local, sustainable animal production systems,” meaning he’s a friend to small farmers. Facts are stubborn things, and the Omega-6 / Omega-3 ratios in beef are essentially meaningless. I like the way Pete sums up the post:
Examining the data in these papers demonstrates the fact that beef, no matter how it’s produced, is not a rich source of n-3 fatty acids. And beef, not matter how it’s produced, is not a rich source of n– 6 fatty acids, either.I want to emphasize that I’m focusing solely on the nutritional aspect of the beef, not on the issues of confined animal feeding operations, grain production, animal health, etc. I’m aware of these matters and I am NOT minimizing them.
Why Eat Grass Fed Beef?
There may be many reasons you choose to buy grass fed beef. You may believe that animals pastured until they are butchered are treated more humanely, and it becomes a personal, ethical choice. You may be concerned about the presence of hormones in beef, and want to avoid them (although, cattle are given hormones while they are pasturing, so this is no guarantee). You may prefer the taste of grass fed beef, or want to support the local farmer. Those are all valid reasons. The Omega-6 / Omega-3 ratio in beef is not.
What’s the Harm?
Many paleo or low carb dieters start out very simple by just cutting carbohydrates to 30 to 50 grams per day. They lose weight, note improvements in some chronic complaints like GERD, start sleeping better, have lower blood pressure, etc. As they fine tune their diet, they start adding rules and restrictions: coconut oil is better than canola, grass fed is better than grain fed, almonds are better than peanuts. Then they go further, nuts should be eaten in their raw state rather than roasted, organ meats should be added to the diet, and you should wear funny bare foot shoes that look like those 1970’s toe-socks. They become “purists” about the diet.
When they recommend going low carb, they toss in all of their other restrictions. The person asking them about their diet realizes, right about at the point that talk turns to “your leaky gut and legumes” that this diet is way too complicated, and way too expensive. And, just a bit nutty sounding.
But it is none of those things. You can vastly improve your health by reducing carbs and eating more animal protein and vegetables from the local supermarket. The switch isn’t expensive … our food bill went down when we went low carb … and it isn’t hard to do. Going organic, eating grass fed beef, and snacking on heart, liver and brains can come later if you like. But those things aren’t sacraments, and they aren’t essential.