Fats, carbohydrates, and protein are the three macronutrients that are essential for human life. Protein is necessary for building and repairing tissue and is also needed to create hormones, enzymes, and other vital ingredients for health and wellbeing.
You may think of meat when you think of protein, but there are plenty of alternatives, including plant protein, that are growing in popularity. But which is better, protein from meat – specifically grass-fed beef – or plants? Let’s take a look.
About 20% of the human body is made up of protein, but we must get it from our diet because the body does not store it. While some suggest that it does not matter where your protein comes from – say, plants vs. animals, others suggest that one trumps the other as far as quality is concerned. But what is the truth?
Amino acids are the building blocks of protein
We use about 20 amino acids to build protein in the body. These amino acids are considered essential and non-essential. We can produce non-essential amino acids but no essential ones, which must come from the diet. It is crucial to have all of the essential amino acids in the proper ratios for excellent health.
Animal sources for protein, such as beef, poultry, eggs, fish, and dairy, are similar to the protein in the human body and are considered complete. They contain all of the essential amino acids that the human body needs to function at its best. Plant sources of protein from sources including, but not limited to, beans, seeds, and nuts, are considered incomplete as they lack one or more of the essential amino acids that meat sources contain.
Note: Some say that soy is a complete protein; however, two essential amino acids exist in only minimal amounts, so it is not comparable to animal protein as far as quality is concerned.
If you eat meat, grass-fed is the ONLY option
Is grass-fed beef a healthy option?
If there is any truth in the saying, “you are what you eat,” then choosing to eat grass-fed meats and milk products is the obvious choice. Most animals commercially raised for meat and dairy products in the United States come from Confined Animal Feeding Operations, also known as CAFOs. Animals raised in CAFOs often have no space to move around. The stress and abuse of these conditions are truly horrifying, and many meat-eating Americans choose not to think about it, which only perpetuates the cycle of mistreatment.
CAFOs contribute significantly to industrial waste and pollution. Studies have shown that people who live near factory farms may suffer nausea, depression, skin infections, respiratory problems, and sometimes death from the toxicity of their environment.
Commercially-raised animals are fed multiple antibiotics and growth hormones, which end up in the meat and milk. The overuse of antibiotics in the meat industry leads to the growth of drug-resistant bacteria strains, which make individuals more susceptible to previously treatable diseases.
According to the Institute of Medicine at the National Academy of Sciences, the United States spends about 30 billion dollars per year treating antibiotic-resistant infections.
Animals raised in CAFOs are fed diets mainly consisting of GMO grain and soy, far from their natural diets. What’s worse is that the feed often contains ‘byproduct feedstuff,’ which can include chicken feathers, candy, and even municipal garbage.
All of this eventually ends up in consumers’ bodies. The bodies of you and your family every time you enjoy a commercially-raised steak, burger, or glass of milk.
Conversely, grass-fed animals are fed nothing but natural, pesticide-free grasses and are given room to roam and graze. No antibiotics, growth hormones, or garbage are added to their diets. As a result, these animals are not confined and subjected to stress, grow at a natural pace, and are naturally healthy and free of food-borne diseases.
Choosing to eat grass-fed meats and dairy products means significantly more nutrition and eliminates the risks associated with antibiotics, growth hormones, pesticides, GMOs, and random feed additives. This choice also benefits the environment and community farmers and ranchers who are working hard to create sustainable and humane agricultural conditions.
The resulting meat from grass-fed animals is significantly higher in nutrients. Grass-fed beef has been shown to contain more vitamin E, vitamin C, and beta-carotene than its commercially-raised counterpart. It also contains omega-3 fatty acids and conjugated linoleic acid (CLA), which is a potent anti-carcinogen. Vitamin E is a fat-soluble antioxidant essential for the proper function of many organs in the body and helps cells live longer. Vitamin A is necessary for both eye and skin health.
A couple of key nutrients are found in meat but not in plants, including:
- Vitamin B12: Many people who avoid meat/seafood products are deficient in vitamin B12. Vitamin B12 has a number of vital roles in the human body, including supporting normal nerve function, the formation of red blood cells, and DNA synthesis. Getting plenty of B12 helps boost energy, keep your mind clear, and helps to keep heart disease at bay.
- Zinc: Zinc is found mainly in animal protein sources like beef and pork. It is easily absorbed and used when consumed from animal sources. Zinc is essential for a robust immune system and metabolism. It is also essential for wound healing and a sense of taste and smell.
Grass-fed beef is loaded with glutathione
Glutathione (GT) is a powerhouse protein in foods that can eliminate free radicals within the cell. Grass-fed beef is supremely high in GT and can protect cells from oxidized lipids or proteins, thus preventing DNA damage. Additionally, grass-fed beef is high in superoxide dismutase (SOD) and catalase (CAT), which work together as superpower antioxidants.
Healthy fat is healthy, and grass-fed beef has plenty of it
Studies done over the last several decades clearly show that neither saturated fat, including fat in meat, nor dietary cholesterol causes harm in humans. The old theory that told us to avoid meat, eggs, coconuts, and dairy stated that saturated fats raise bad cholesterol in the blood, and “bad” cholesterol gets stuck in our arteries which causes hardening and eventually heart disease.
In reality, saturated fats help to elevate good cholesterol and improve the ratio of triglycerides to HDL. They also help change small and dense LDL cholesterol particles that can clog arteries to large, harmless particles.
A study done at Harvard University concluded that “greater saturated fat intake is associated with less progression of atherosclerosis.” In countries where the highest amount of saturated fat is consumed, there is the least heart disease. Saturated fat does not contribute to heart disease.
The documentary Statin Nation: The Great Cholesterol Cover-Up, presented by Rethink Productions, provides strong evidence disproving the widely believed ideology that high cholesterol leads to heart disease.
It details how the scientific groundwork that this belief is based upon was heavily manipulated from the start and presents large-scale studies that clearly show the lack of connection between cholesterol levels and heart disease.
In short, mounting evidence shows that our focus on lowering cholesterol, and our growing reliance on statins, a class of cholesterol-lowering pharmaceuticals, is both drawing research focus away from investigating the actual causes of heart disease and killing us.
Statin Nation interviews medical experts from various fields, who each present a wide array of large-scale studies showing that there is no evidence-based relationship between high cholesterol and heart disease.
Studies have found that LDL ‘bad’ cholesterol is LOWER in heart disease patients than in the general population and that low cholesterol levels are associated with earlier death.
Here is a quick snapshot summary of the top reasons why everyone should include at least some meat in their diet. Yes, plants are important too because they contain nutrients not found in beef but consuming BOTH provides a fantastic basis for amazing health.
- The protein found in beef is complete – it doesn’t get any better than this!
- Beef contains heme iron which the body readily absorbs and helps to prevent anemia.
- High-quality beef may help to prevent muscle loss which accompanies aging.
- Consuming a high protein diet including beef may help to balance blood sugar.
- Beef is the #1 dietary source of zinc which is necessary for optimal immune system function and wound healing.
- Just one serving of beef provides half of the daily recommended value of selenium which helps to prevent cell damage, promotes proper thyroid production, and may even help prevent cancer.
- Eating a diet that includes protein found in beef has been found to promote long-term weight loss better than other diets.
- Animal products including beef contain the only natural source of B-12 which is important for healthy brain and nervous system function.
- People who don’t eat meat such as beef have lower levels of calcium, vitamin D, vitamin B-23, and omega-3 fatty acids which are vital for bone health.
Who’s ready for some delicious and nutritious grass-fed beef?
-The Backyard Garden Team
- Institute of Medicine, Food and Nutrition Board. Dietary Reference Intakes: Vitamin C, Vitamin E, Selenium, and Carotenoids. National Academy Press, Washington, DC, 2000.
- Institute of Medicine, Food and Nutrition Board. Dietary Reference Intakes for Thiamin, Riboflavin, Niacin, Vitamin B6, Folate, Vitamin B12, Pantothenic Acid, Biotin, and Choline. National Academy Press, Washington, DC, 1998.
- Effect of an energy-restricted, high-protein, low-fat diet relative to a conventional high-carbohydrate, low-fat diet on weight loss, body composition, nutritional status, and markers of cardiovascular health in obese women, American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, 2005
- Vegetarian diets and bone status, American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, 2014