Tips to Choose the Healthiest Red Meat
People avoid red meat for many different reasons: health, digestive, animal rights and financial reasons come quickly to mind. According to CNN Money, "Americans are predicted to eat around 55 pounds of beef per person in 2013, down from about 58 pounds in 2012, according to USDA estimates."
So, should you eat beef? You have to answer this question for yourself. You can absolutely rock a healthy body without eating meat, and I am all for that if it works for you. That said, if you enjoy being a carnivore, there are many pros to eating a steak as a part of your healthy diet as well. Lean red meat is a good source of vitamin B-12, niacin, zinc, iron, protein and omega 3 fatty acids. If you stick to a high quality four ounce serving two or three times a week and choose a filet, tenderloin or lean ground beef, you can feel good about making a healthful choice. Research shows that lean red meat (trimmed of visible fat) does not increase cardiovascular risk factors.
"Conventional beef," "natural beef," "grass-fed beef," "no hormones," "organic beef." Huh? All these buzz words in the meat industry might have you feeling confused. What do they mean, and which ones are best? Here are some tips for decoding and determining the options that are best for you.
"Conventional Beef" a.k.a. "Natural Beef"
When buying beef "conventional beef" is NOT my first choice. Conventional beef is often labeled as "Natural Beef." The United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) defines Natural Beef as "minimally processed containing no additives." All fresh beef found in the meat case that does not have an ingredient label (a label is added if the product includes a marinade or solution) is Natural Beef. With this conventional/natural beef, the cows can be given antibiotics and growth hormones. According to CNN, most conventional beef cows are "finished at a feedlot on a concentrated mix of corn, soy, grains, and other supplements, plus hormones and antibiotics." On feedlots they are fed mostly corn and grains that are not fit for humans to eat. Corn has more calories than a cow's natural diet of grass, which gets them to gain weight more quickly. "Conventional beef" is the beef most of us grew up on. It is generally considered safe to eat, but may not have all of the nutritional benefits associated with grass-fed or organic beef. There are also occasional foodborne illness outbreaks as it is more challenging to keep the volume of meat sterile at a large-scale conventional slaughterhouse, and therefore contamination is more likely than with meat that comes from smaller scale operations.
"No Hormones" and/or "No Antibiotics"
If you see "no hormones" written on beef labeling it means just that — no hormones were given to the cows. Similarly "No antibiotics" means that the animal was not given antibiotics to fight disease or infection. Be careful of the wording when reading labels, however. "Antibiotic-free" is meaningless as this specific claim never authorized by the USDA, it has no clear or consistent meaning on labels. Two other misleading phrases: "No antibiotic residues" and "No antibiotic growth promotants." Neither claim is USDA-approved nor insures that no antibiotics were used during the animal's life.
This type of beef comes from cows that eat primarily grass and other foods that are naturally eaten by cows. According to the USDA, animals certified as grass-fed "cannot be fed grain or grain byproducts and must have continuous access to pasture during the growing season." Environmental Working Group writes that grass-fed beef has fewer antibiotics and hormones. What's more, a March 2010 report in the Nutrition Journal found that "Beef from grass-fed animals has lower levels of unhealthy fats and higher levels of omega-3 fatty acids, which are better for cardiovascular health. Grass-fed beef also has lower levels of dietary cholesterol and offers more vitamins A and E as well as antioxidants."
Certified organic meat must also come from animals that have continuous access to pasture and must be fed only organically grown feed. This means the cows cannot be fed any grass or grains that have been genetically modified or have been grown with synthetic fertilizers or pesticides.. What's more, organic meat and poultry cannot be treated with hormones or antibiotics (sick animals must be treated but cannot be sold as organic). According to EWG, "While organic meat and dairy may come from 100 percent grass-fed cows, some comes from animals that spend part of their time in feedlots eating a grain-based diet, which does not provide the same nutrition benefits as a natural grass diet. Unless the label states that meat is both "grass-fed" and "organic," it may not be.
The decision about whether or not meat fits into your diet is a personal one. As with everything you eat, it's important to become as informed as possible, so you can make the most educated decisions about what is best for your body and your health. Meat may be something you decide is worth the extra effort to buy high quality and/or organic.
Do you eat red meat or not? If you do, do you choose conventional beef or grass-fed and/or organic beef? Let me know by leaving a comment below.
Keri is a contributing editor and advisory board member for Women's Health Magazine, and is the Nutrition and Health contributor for NBC's New York Live. She is regularly featured on national television programs including NBC's The Today Show, ABC's Good Morning America, Access Hollywood Live, The View, The Talk, The Chew, Dr. Oz, The Doctors, The Rachael Ray Show, The Steve Harvey Show, MSNBC, The Fox News Channel, and CNN. Keri hosts an original series called "A Little Bit Better" which is featured on Youtube's LIVESTRONG Woman channel.
Keri resides in New York City with her children, Rex and Maizy. Whether she is training for a marathon, going to the farmers' market, or drinking her nightly cup of herbal tea, Keri lives and breathes a Nutritious Life while inspiring others to do the same.