Iconfess: I am an omnivore.
I tried being vegetarian. Backstage at a Pretender’s concert in Denver back in the ’80s , Chrissie Hynde lectured me on why eating meat was so unhealthy. Being young and easily impressed, I made the conversion to vegetarianism for about three years. Unfortunately, I didn’t make the switch responsibly, and instead ended up with a massive overgrowth of candida by using bread and cheese sandwiches as my protein substitute.
My taste for meat soon resurfaced, and today the majority of the diet I provide for my family is nutrient-dense (fish, vegetable and fruit, healthy grains and legumes based — much of the Weston-Price system), but every now and then a good steak or burger just ends up on my plate.
The challenge is to make sure when it does, it’s a healthy choice. Because as you will see in this post, not all beef is created equal.
I was listening to Warren Olney’s “To The Point” on KCRW/NPR a few years ago, where I first learned about the benefits of grass-fed beef. I was surprised to hear scientists have discovered that grass-fed beef significantly encourages the growth of probiotics (good bacteria) in our guts, while corn-fed beef (which has often achieved a state of acidosis), encourages the growth of e coli, or bad bacteria once the beef has been digested.
Today, Grass-fed beef is becoming more and more mainstream. (Check out this more recent story from NPR if the difference between grass-fed and corn-fed beef is new to you.) In 2006, an analysis from the Union of Concerned Scientists found that grass-fed steak has about twice as many omega-3s as a typical grain-fed steak. (Another study published in March in Nutrition Journal backed up those numbers.)
Noted author and food expert Michal Pollan confessed on a recent Oprah show that he does not eat feedlot meat — a reference to beef that is mass raised in lower standard environments, often with the use of growth hormones and corn to speed up the animal’s fattening process. (Author John Robbins goes into more detail about this here.) Great. When you are a best-selling food author like Pollan, ranchers must be throwing steaks at you to get you to try their products. What about the rest of us?
Well, avoiding feedlot meat is getting easier than you think. If you are an omnivore and want suggestions on how to to eat healthy meat, here are five:
1. Source Local Beef Growers.
Having recently expanded our tent to now include a home in a small town in northern Florida, I was concerned that our time spent away from Southern California would mean making sacrifices in the quality of our foods. Not so, as I soon discovered the most amazing little gem called DISH.
Now, I might expect to find DISH in the city limits of a Beverly Hills or Santa Monica, maybe even Boston. But stumbling upon it in the shade of the 200-year-old Ocala oak trees was an unexpected and very pleasant surprise. Not only does DISH grow its own organically styled, Waygu/Kobe-style grass-fed beef, its proprietors even go so far as to pay for extra boarding to house its cattle at the locally contracted processing plant in order for the cattle to calm and readjust for two days before they are slaughtered. According to Head Chef Greg Mullen, this extra step reduces the build up of lactate in the beef which affects both the quality and the digestibility of the end product.
…and I thought only the happy cows were in California.
Mullen shared other techie cow talk like the importance of finishing the cattle with a touch of corn to get just the right marbling, and significance of implementing this step just at a certain stage in the cow’s five-stomach digestion process. But at that point I was so impressed with the level of detail and awareness DISH puts into its farming process, all I could think about was how much I was looking forward to giving it a try. Two days later I did just that, and the burger was one of the best I have ever had.
DISH’s commitment to quality isn’t just in its beef. It carefully sources the best, most nutritious grains, salts, wines and delectables from all sorts of food categories. Its beef is available at a few fine dining establishments in and around Ocala, and can also be purchased directly from its store.
2. Ask for grass-fed beef at your local supermarket.
Hyper local is a term more and more grocers are becoming comfortable with. If you don’t see any artisinal beef growers in your area, ask your local grocer to provide it and start telling your friends to buy it. Nothing convinces grocers to regularly stock an item more than seeing a new product fly off their shelves. Sometimes I will buy out the entire shelf if I see a new item in stock that is pasture raised or grass-fed or organic just to send a signal to the grocer that this should be a regular item (luckily these test items tend to be initially stocked in small quantities).
3. Buy online.
Thank goodness for the internet. We can now live in rural areas and still enjoy the kind of commerce known to big cities. It’s called the internet, and if you are willing to design your home and your meal planning around longer shopping and shipping cycles, you can source high quality food products without leaving your house. Recently, I found chickens that are raised with zero soy feed — not as easy as you might think, since most chicken feed is at least half soy based. (Soy is a significant contributor to increasing our phytoestrogens — not so great for the men in the family, or women that may have a concern about estrogen-related breast cancers.)
4. Only eat beef at home.
If getting healthy meat at a restaurant is impossible for you, then accept that fact that most restaurant meat is more than likely feedlot and make the commitment to only eat it once in a while. You can also increase your body’s ability to digest it by taking food enzymes 15 minutes before you eat and taking a good probiotic and psyllium as soon as you get home. The important thing here is awareness and to raise our consciousness about what we are eating.
5. Balance your intake of beef with fish, vegetables and legumes.
Making sure we keep conscious about what we eat also means making sure we eat a regularly balanced diet. Keeping a regimen of fresh organic vegetables, fruits, legumes and grains is important for a healthy body. Avoiding congestive foods like dairy and wheat when we eat meat means the benefits of the meat will be more easily absorbed and less likely to make our digestion sluggish.