Vegetarian Recommends BEEF!   By Bonnie Beardsley, MPH, LDN, RD

The fat content of beef is the primary reason it has lost ground as a respectable entrée on America's dinner table.  Not only do most beef cuts have a high fat content, ranging from 33-74%, but the majority of it is saturated.  Interestingly, beef does have a moderate amount of monounsaturated fats, but it is offset by the equal or larger amount of the saturated fat content.

A quick review of fats:  All food fats are a blend of the different types, saturated and unsaturated.  Unsaturated fats include poly- and monounsaturated fats.  Omega-3s and 6s are types of polyunsaturated fats, called essential because we have to get them from food, our bodies can't manufacture them from other fats.  To simplify things, we label the specific food fat by the one present in the greatest quantity.  Olive oil, for example, we classify as monounsaturated fat because it contains 77% monounsaturated fats.  The rest of it is 14% saturated fat, 8% polyunsaturated fat, and 1% omega-3 fatty acids.  Butter is primarily saturated, 66%, with 30% mono, 3% poly, and 1% omega-3.  Fish, while generally a leaner food choice than beef, is heavily promoted as a good source of the omega-3 fatty acids.  So, even though salmon is a fattier fish choice, than say cod, it's still relatively low in fat, and a portion of its fats are the healthy omega-3 fatty acids.

In all probability we will add other descriptive names of fatty acids as we learn of their health consequences.  Twenty years ago we didn't talk about the omega-3 or -6 fatty acid content of the food we were about to put in our mouths, now we know that both are important to factor into a healthy diet.  The hot topic in fats today is the ratio of 6s to 3s, and the effect of that ratio on our health.  The typical American diet has too much omega-6 and not nearly enough omega-3.

Studies have shown these essential oils are critical to healthy skin, nerve cells, and brain function, including prevention of depression.  We also know that Omega-3s are important to the proper development of the fetus and infant.  Omega-3s can reduce the clotting factors that precipitate stroke and heart disease, and they can lower the LDLs while increasing HDLs in our cholesterol levels.  This essential fatty acid is also known to be effective in treatment of inflammatory diseases such as arthritis and allergies.  Inadequate Omega-3s, and or excess Omega-6s in relation to 3s can contribute to a host of other chronic diseases as well, such as cancer, obesity, insulin resistance and diabetes.

While it's critical to obtain Omega-3s in our diet, the amount we need, at a minimum, is somewhere around 2-4 grams per day.  Two - four grams is less than a teaspoon-worth of oil.  However, in foods it occurs in such small quantities, fractions of grams to just a few grams per serving, that it's difficult to “count” in our food.  So, we learn what foods are “rich” in Omega-3s, such as fish, flax seed, green leafy vegetables, and include them on a regular basis.  

But, back to beef!  Beef, as we know it today, comes from cattle that are finished in a feedlot on grain.  What that means to consumers is that the fat content is exactly as I mentioned above.  Grain-fed beef is higher in saturated fats, and further, its polyunsaturated fat content is low in the healthy Omega-3s, while higher in the less healthy Omega-6s.  Just as free-range poultry has become increasingly popular among health-conscious consumers, and some eggs higher in omega-3 fatty acids are being produced by changing the chicken feed or by letting chickens run free to eat grass and bugs that eat grass, there is at least one beef producer that is changing the fat content of its beef.

Slanker's Grass-Fed Meats has moved away from grain-fed cattle, keeping them on the “range,” where they feed on grass.  You might not realize what a significant change that could make in the fat content of beef, but Omega-3s in beef that feed on grass is 7% of the total fat content, compared to 1% in grain-only fed beef.  Grain-fed beef can have an omega-6 to omega-3 ratio higher than 20:1, well exceeding the 4:1 ratio where health problems begin to show up because of the essential fatty acid imbalance.  Slanker's beef has an omega-6 to omega-3 ratio of 1:1, the ratio science suggests is ideal for our diet.

This is cutting edge food technology, only it isn't technology, it's a natural return to feeding cattle what they have been grazing on since time began -- grass.  Technology has just helped us figure out why nature's way is better.

 Not yet available in stores, grass-fed beef is, well, at the grassroots movement level.  If you'd enjoy some beef that's actually good for your heart, that you can feel good about including in your diet, you can contact Slanker's Grass-Fed Meats at 903-732-4653 or visit their web site to find out more about how they raise healthier cattle and market healthier beef.  They can deliver!

Bonnie Beardsley's Professional Involvement Includes:

Louisiana Dietetic Association President, 1998-99
Outstanding Dietitian of the Year, 1999
Recognized Young Dietitian of the Year, 1994