Tuesday 14 February 2012

Meat vs. Meat: What to choose and why. Plus a recipe.

All types of meat have their health benefits and should find their way into our diets on a regular basis (except for the soysage. Step away from the soysage!). But did you know that the health benefits of meat are extremely dependent on the environment the animal was raised in and also what is was fed? When I ask people if they are eating grass-fed or grain-fed meat, they look at me like I have two heads. And I don’t blame them. About a year ago, I would have done the same thing! So what’s the difference and which is better? Let’s compare two scenarios via some well-sourced images from Google:
The left image is a typical feedlot where the animals are fed grain, otherwise referred to as a CAFO (Confinement Animal Feeding Operation – sounds fun, right?), while the cows on the right are free to roam the pastures and graze on grass all day long, as cows are supposed to do. While this pictorial comparison is probably enough to sway some people, it doesn’t tell the whole story. I apologise, this is quite a long post – feel free to skip to the recipe at the bottom!

Omega 3:6 ratio

Omega 3 and 6 are known as essential fatty acids. They are essential as our bodies cannot manufacture them therefore we need to obtain them from our diet. Both are important for normal growth and development, brain function, skin and eye health, and even mood! Fun fact - word on the street is that baby brain is due to a lack of DHA (from omega 3) in the diet! Both are also involved in the immune response, however omega 6 tend to be pro-inflammatory while omega 3 are anti-inflammatory. So herein lays the necessity to get the ratio right. Ideally, there should be a balance between the two, or slightly more omega 6 than omega 3.

So what’s this got to do with meat? Aren’t these essential fatty acids found in fish oil? Yes indeedy, but they are also found in meat, among many other foods. The difference between grass-fed and grain-fed meat is in the ratio of these fatty acids. The ratio in grass fed meat is around 3:1 omega 6 to omega 3, whereas in grain fed this goes up to around 24:1, producing a highly inflammatory food product. Why should you care about inflammation? Because it is linked to many serious health conditions such as insulin resistance (diabetes), heart disease, obesity, auto-immune conditions, arthritis and even depression! For me, if I eat inflammatory foods, my eczema tends to flare up and I become quite irritable (some would say nasty, to put it nicely).

Speaking of fats, a recent study has suggested that grass-fed beef is richer in conjugated linoleic acid, which has been shown to reduce carcinogenesis (cancer), atherosclerosis and even help with fat loss! Whoop whoop! Not only that, but these happy cows provide an excellent source of vitamins A and E. What more could you ask for?

How about this: Evidence also suggests that populations of E.Coli (think nausea, diarrhoea, vomiting, weakness, disability and death – all those fun things) are higher in grain-fed cattle than grass-fed cattle.

“But it’s so expensive”

It’s true that cut for cut, grass fed meat is more expensive. However, the most nutritious cuts are actually the cheapest. I’m talking meat on the bone, baby! Case in point – 1kg of organic grass-fed beef shanks at my butcher (GRUB) is $16.90. On the other hand, 1kg of conventional (read – chemical laden) grain-fed scotch fillet at Coles is $28.00! Almost twice the price and not even half as good!

Meat on the bone is good for so many reasons, but I’ll give you a short listicle to help support my argument:

  •  It tastes better – the bone, fat and connective tissue add flavour, complexity and an abundance of nutrition
  •  It provides a great source of glycosaminoglycans. These are usually found in joint supplements (“glucosamine” ring a bell?), however they are much more bioavailable (available for use by your body) when obtained from meat on the bone and the accompanying bone broth. What does this mean? Meat on the bone is excellent for any joint problems!
  • The glycosaminoglycans found in the broth can help stimulate the growth of new collagen for healthy bones, skin and hair. This extra collagen can also help prevent cellulite! Woo hoo!
  • When slow- cooked, the bone, cartilage and meat release a wealth of minerals, including calcium, potassium, iron, sulphate and phosphate
  • Great source of fat (so long as it is organic and grass-fed) for energy, cell function and structure and to help us absorb the fat soluble vitamins A, D, E and K

There are many other benefits, and if you are interested, a great book to read is “Deep Nutrition” by Catherine and Luke Shanahan.

Should I really be eating red meat?

You bet your butt you should be! Why? I think another list is in order:

  • Complete, highly digestible protein
  • Excellent source of B vitamins, especially B12, which is involved in the functioning of every cell in your body and is only available from animal sources.
  • Rich source of iron (the highly absorbable kind – yes, there are two kinds!) and zinc
  • Contains several antioxidants, including glutathione – your body’s number one antioxidant!
  • Will not raise “bad cholesterol” levels. A recent study has suggested that the saturated fat in grass-fed meat does not increase cholesterol levels in the same way that grain-fed meat does. 

  • And if you don’t believe me, just ask Sam Neil. That man can dance!

And finally, a recipe to get you going…..

This lamb shank (you could also use beef) recipe is one of my favourites – it’s easy, tasty and highly nutritious. I have enjoyed this a couple of times over the summer, but I’m sure I will appreciate it more come winter time as it is quite a hearty, warming meal. P.S. You need a slow cooker. Seriously. If you don’t have one, go and get one. NOW!!

  • 1 yellow onion, diced
  • 2 celery stalks, diced
  • 2 carrots, peeled and diced
  • 3-6 garlic cloves, crushed (more garlic = more flavour)
  • 2 cups chicken stock (go for organic, without sugar or preservatives)
  • 1 cup peeled, seeded and chopped tomatoes
  • 2 Tbs. tomato paste
  • 1 tsp. chopped fresh thyme
  • 1 bay leaf
  • 2 sprigs rosemary
  • 4 lamb shanks (to serve 4)
  • Salt and freshly ground pepper, to taste
  • 2 Tbs. coconut oil
  • 1 cup red wine

Put the onion, celery, carrots, garlic, stock, tomatoes, tomato paste, thyme, rosemary and bay leaf in a slow cooker and stir to combine.

Season the lamb shanks with salt and pepper. In a large sauté pan over medium-high heat, warm the coconut oil. Add the shanks and brown on all sides, about 5 minutes total. Transfer to the slow cooker.

Remove the pan from the heat, pour in the wine and return to medium-high heat. Bring to a simmer, stirring to scrape up any browned bits from the pan bottom. Add the wine to the slow cooker, cover and cook on low for 6-8 hours. Transfer the lamb shanks to a large serving dish and cover.

Remove the bay leaf and rosemary sprigs from the cooking liquid. Using a blender or stick blender, puree the liquids and solids until smooth. Pour some of the sauce over the shanks and keep the rest to add to other dishes throughout the week. We like to stir it in with some tuna – it’s like a “Tuna temptations” but healthy! It’s also great as a sauce for steak or chicken.

Serves 4

Check out these beef ribs I threw in the slow-cooker yesterday. So good!

Do you have any great meat-on-the-bone recipes to share?

  • Callaway, T.R; Carr, M.A; Edrington, T.S; Anderson, R.C; Nisbet, D.J; “Diet, Escherichia coli O157:H7, and Cattle: A Review After 10 Years”, Current issues in molecular biology, 2009, Volume 11, Issue 2, pp. 67 - 79
  • Daley, C.A; Abbott, A; Doyle, P.S; Nader, G.A; Larson, S; “A review of fatty acid profiles and antioxidant content in grass-fed and grain-fed beef”, Nutrition journal, 2010, Volume 9, Issue 1, p. 10
  • Shanahan, C & Shanahan, L; Deep Nutrition – Why Your Genes Need Traditional Food, 2009, Big Box Publishers, Lawai HI

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