I got invited by the Beef Council to go to Kansas City to learn about the practices of farming, get educated on what happens on a farm, etc. I have to admit I wondered if I was going to the dark side but I went with an analyzing mind and lots of questions.
As most of you know I preach the benefits of grass-fed (versus corn or grain fed beef) so keep that in mind when reading this.
So what transpired? I was there 3 days in the company of 41 Registered Dietitians mostly from the mid-west and 2 others from California and a few from Florida.
There was no hidden agenda, nothing that was off limits to say, ask or question.
We visited a farm, a feedlot, talked to farmers, ranchers, and people in the industry.
I wanted to know about feeding practices, antibiotics, hormones, and asked as many questions as I could and this is what I learned:
- All cows are grass-fed at some point in their lives
- Cows that are entirely grass-fed take approximately 4 years to reach full size and it takes a tremendous amount of real estate for this to occur
- Cows that are grain or corn fed take approximately 2 years to mature with less land required
- Steers are neutered and given hormones, which the farmers think of as “hormone replacement therapy.” A 3 ounce serving of beef has approximately 1.3-1.9 nanograms of estrogen which I will discuss later in this blog
- Antibiotics are only used when a cow is sick
- Growth hormones are used to increase size by as much as 25-50%
- The “pink slime” that social media made global is really just protein parts of cattle that is washed in a machine with ascorbic acid solution (Vitamin C) or ammonia to wash to kill any bacteria or E. Coli in the meat
After learning this I took time to read, analyze and process and this is my take:
The farmers I met were incredibly nice humble men who really do care about the animals and taking good care of them. They talked about how Temple Grandin had revolutionized their industry with teaching them about animal behavior and low-stress techniques for handling cows.
The matter of grass versus corn fed meat is basically economics – it takes twice as long to “grow” a cow on grass versus corn/grain thereby making the beef much more expensive for the average consumer.
I had no idea about how the amount of nanograms in beef compared to other foods so I had to research that one but surprisingly I found out that the small amount of hormones in beef (1.5 nanograms for a 3 ounce serving) is nothing compared to soy. Those that have 1 cup of soy milk in their soy latte are receiving 30,000 nanograms of estrogen while a 3.5 ounce serving of soy protein isolate (present in soy powders and many bars) has 102,000 nanograms of soy!!
So what’s the bottom line?
Many think of beef as bad and chicken/turkey as good but I’ve always had more questions about poultry since even “organic” chicken is fed corn/soy and true “pastured or grass-fed” poultry is much more difficult to buy than grass-fed meat which is starting to be readily available. Lean beef is superior to poultry in terms of nutrients with the same amount of fat. In fact, beef contains stearic and conjugated linoleic acid, which are considered healthy fats.
I still prefer recommending grass-fed beef since it is grown in a more natural manner and the growth is not sped up through corn/grain, or hormones. Grass-fed meat has more omega 3’s (but is not a significant source of omega 3?s), which is why I recommend fish oil supplements and ground flax seed.
However, I am a realist and I would rather those with money challenges get the benefits of beef (protein, zinc, B12, selenium, iron, etc.) than not eat it at all.
I think the cries from social media were blown way out of proportion and unfortunately the beef industry has suffered as a result. Having said that, the farmers I met and interacted with were the cream of the crop and I can’t speak about others.
I have never been a big fan of soy but after learning the facts about the hormones I have to wonder if vegans realize how much estrogen they are receiving eating so many soy products and avoiding meat which has much less than any soy product on the market.
Eat what you can afford. If you can afford grass-fed beef that is the better choice in my opinion. If you cannot, eating lean cuts of corn/grain fed beef 2 or 3 times a week is worth the nutrients. I would mix it up with other sources of healthy proteins (eggs, nuts/seeds, Greek-yogurt, cottage cheese, etc.).
If you eat hamburgers order them medium to well done to avoid any bacteria or contamination. This recommendation is from the Farmers themselves.
This city girl gained a valuable education in the world of cows and farms. I have much more appreciation of what actually goes on and how social media can blow up things that are not as they appear. However, I remain vigilant in continuing to educate myself in all areas of food through experience and research and that is my advocacy to the world.