Three years ago I used to proudly proclaim that I didn't each much meat, that I loved whole grains, veggies, and tofu. I felt this is what my body needed, and eliminating the saturated fats from meat kept my inherited high cholesterol (thanks, pa) at bay. I really believed that this was the optimal diet to follow, at least that is what I learned from doctors, media, and the USDA food pyramid (oh, puleez).
Today, I am much better informed. I had all the wrong information, about meat, about cholesterol, and sugar. But the beauty about mistakes is that they can be fixed. And I slowly started making changes.
A discussion about why a low fat diet for me was about as helpful as eating dirt is meant for another day, and I wanted to share something that is a little more applicable for you right now. So here we go...
Who Moved My Meat?
I don't know about you, but the second I hit the meat department at the grocery store, my eyes glaze over and my brain freezes. No hormones added. All Natural. Minimally processed. No antibiotics used. Grass fed. Pasture-fed. Organic. It is enough to convert a meat-eater to a vegan.
However, for some of us, meat is essential to healthy functioning and healing. Therefore, one must learn to navigate the muddy waters of meat purchasing. The purpose of today's article is to provide you with a short breakdown of what the multitude of labels mean along with some reputable links if you would like to research further.
Hormone Free – It is actually illegal to give birds hormones or steroids. It sounds really good on a package, though. No worries, even your processed chicken McNuggets are hormone free.
Raised Without Antibiotics – This is actually a legitimate label, as most conventional chickens are given antibiotics daily, not necessarily to cure/prevent disease, but for weight gain (believe it or not).
Free Range – What a lovely image, birds free to flap around in a nice field and peck at anything they desire. According to the USDA, free range just means that the birds must have continual access to the outdoors during their production cycle. So when you get a free range bird, your bird may have indeed frolicked the fields (from a reputable distributor), or more likely, it might have, if lucky, found the doggie door amongst the crowd that leads to a little fenced in, outdoor enclave. There is is a reason that mice are used to do research when it comes to finding the cheese in a maze. You don't hear many stories about chickens finding their cheese (aka doggie door to the outside world).
Organic – Again, your chickens have a doggie door, but they may not use it. Basically, what organic can mostly guarantee is that your chicken was fed a non-GMO diet.
Cage Free – This refers to birds that are egg layers for egg production. No chickens raised for meat purposes are kept in cages.
Vegetarian Fed – Uh, chickens are meat eaters. They like bugs, not genetically modified grains.
Pastured – What we hope this means is that the birds were raised in a field, eating some greens and digging for grubs, which is what chickens in their natural environment do. (Please note that some protein is added to their diets in almost all cases.) This is the best kind of chicken to eat as it is the most nutritious. You can also rest assured that it was a happy bird during its time on earth. However, you need to know your sources. 'Raised on pasture', is supposed to mean the same thing, but sometimes companies get a little elusive in order to market their products.
Naturally Raised – This is a stamp from the USDA that suggests the animal is raised without growth hormones or unnecessary antibiotics. However, it does not regulate the animal's diet, so you may find you cow has been fed GMO grain (which is not their native diet).
Raised Without Added Hormones – It is illegal to give pigs hormones so your pork, just as your poultry, will always be 'hormone free'. However, animals have hormones too, so no living creature is really hormone-free. This label on beef is valid, though some research does suggest that one would have to eat massive amounts of beef to be impacted by added hormones.
Grass Fed – Grass fed beef has slightly higher Omega 3 levels than conventional meat, however, the conventional meat has way more Omega 6 fats than the grass fed beef. Americans are eating way too much Omega 6 fats, which is contributing to diabetes, arthritis, depression, and other health issues. Thus grass fed meats are nutritionally better for you, more Omega 3's, less Omega 6's, as the cows are eating their native diet.
Vegetarian Fed – Bad news for the chickens, but not really meaningful when it comes to beef. It is not an official USDA term, and it is like putting a sticker on your shirt that says, “I eat vegetables”. Duh.
Organic – Pretty much the same as the poultry definition. It does not guarantee type of diet, just that it is non-GMO. However, it does mean that your cow has had outdoor access. The term organic is more applicable to produce, and it costs a great deal to be organic certified. Many vendors use organic practices but don't pay for official certification. Therefore, it is always good to ask.
I have included some links below if you would like to do more research.
Until next time...
Happy Meat Shopping!
Visit this article in Mark's Daily Apple for more information about poultry. He really goes into much more detail than I have.
Visit this article from Chris Kresser that discusses conventional versus grass fed beef.
USDA Organic Definitions: http://www.ams.usda.gov/AMSv1.0/NOPConsumers