So, you’re walking about in the grocery store, carrying on that inner dialog about what to purchase…when you notice the meat counter. You have a choice now: do you purchase the Angus ground beef, the grass fed beef, or the organically grown grass fed beef? The Angus is less expensive and its high saturated fat content means your grilled burgers will stay moist, but you’ve been wondering if there is any health benefit to the organically raised meat. Sound familiar? Today, I’m going to present a point of view based on the available facts that researchers have shown us, using concepts from my book The Symbiont Factor. And, I’ll try to make it as practical as possible!
A study was just published about the prevalence of the phylum Proteobacteria being a direct indicator of gut and general health. More Proteobacteria is a bad thing, in other words. Why is it bad? This phylum includes the notorious microbial outlaws Helicobacter (ulcers, anyone?), Vibrio, Salmonella, E. coli (all causing gastrointestinal distress) and Yersinia (plague…) How would you know your own levels of Proteobacteria? A simple uBiome test can provide a percentage measurement that correlates with the Shin study mentioned above. How would your Proteobacteria get elevated, you might ask? Well, two major factors that we are aware of: antibiotic exposure and high fat/sugar diet (aka “the Western Diet”, which is the laboratory standard for creating disease).
Going back to your choice of ground meat, some guidelines for a choice are now apparent. Grass-fed beef is much leaner, though this will also require a slightly different cooking method to have it palatable. It tends to have more flavor, which some people call “gamey-ness”, though from my point of view it is how beef should taste as cattle should eat grass and not grain. Wild meat such as venison has even more flavor. When accustomed to it, grain-fed beef is utterly bland. So, the reduction in fat content in the grass-fed beef is less likely to promote an overgrowth of Proteobacteria. Because of the effect of higher fat content, the choice for this reason would be grass-fed. In addition, the fatty acid profile of grass-fed beef promotes less inflammation, as the meat has a higher percentage of Omega-3 and DHA fats.
The second item to consider would be antibiotics. Meat that is not organic has antibiotic residues that, when consumed, exert an antibiotic effect on the human. Antibiotic exposure has been found to promote overgrowth of Proteobacteria, so this is bad! In addition, antibiotic exposure promotes the development of antibiotic resistant species, which is a further health risk. Overgrowth of Proteobacteria causes a suppression of beneficial bacteria as well, creating a disease-prone condition.
At this point the only remaining factor is cost. The healthier product costs more, though now even Hardee’s and Carl’s are advertising a grass-fed organic hamburger-an obvious example of the power that consumers wield. Don’t jump to conclusions, though, as prepared “the fast food way” it will likely still have a high enough fat and calorie content to make it a not-healthy choice. Still, it’s a step in the right direction and will be healthier than the regular burgers they serve!
The easiest way to balance the cost-vs.-health equation is to either buy a sufficiently smaller quantity of the grass-fed meat that your budget is unaffected, or view the extra cost as the cost of health and disease prevention. After all, the doctor bills that occur in later life certainly can outweigh the added cost of the healthier meat choice! The benefits in quality of life, however, are priceless.