Argentine Grass-Fed Beef --- Hype or Healthy?
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Argentine Grass Fed Beef --- Hype or Healthy?

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August 23, 2013, last updated May 13, 2016
By MAX GRUBER, Contributing Columnist and A. Lee, Contributing Columnist

From the country of tango, Maradona and Messi and meat, Argentines are well known for their passion along with their voracious appetite for beef.

The sheer amount of beef eaten per person last year in Argentina stands at a staggering 129 pounds, which is about a 2 pound piece of beef a week. This number dwarfs the mere 57.5 pounds of beef eaten by Americans last year. It therefore comes as no shock that there is an estimated, 51.2 million cows currently in Argentina, which is greater than its human population of 40 million. These figures are somewhat shocking when considering the recent publicity surrounding whether or not eating beef is healthy, and the Argentines current  disregard of the warnings.

In the US, which consumes almost 50% less beef than Argentina,  the American Heart Association and other health organizations have waged a relentless  campaign to reduce beef consumption and in general, overall meat consumption. And with good reason. Red meat consumption has been linked with increases rates of heart disease, stroke and even erectile dysfunction. (Read more about surprising ways to eat meat to make it healthier.)

In contrast, in Argentina, health authorities largely are silent on the issue of beef consumption.  To fully understand why alarm bells are clanging in North America while silence reigns in South America over the issue of beef consumption, it is important to understand one essential difference between the cows Argentineans eat and those that the Americans consume. That difference can be summed up in one word --- grass.

How Argentine Cattle Are Raised

In the large Pampas of Argentina, raised on traditional Gaucho Estancias (ranches), the sizeable cattle population grazes on grass or at least receives a majority of grass within its diet.

The cows are able to freely roam the green pastures and although it takes longer for them to reach an adequate weight than grain-fed cows, it can be said that they live in healthier conditions.

Grain-fed cows, such as the majority of cattle in the United States, begin their diet on a majority pasture diet much like their grass-fed companions.

However, once they reach the required weight of about 650 to 750 pounds, which usually takes about 1 year,  the cattle are moved to the often bleak and controversial feed lots where in approximately three to four months, their weight will rocket to well above 1200 pounds.

The grain that the cows are fed usually has as the main component, corn. However, from this grain base, nutritionists add all manner of ingredients with reports of old candy and their wrappers, cotton by-products as well as peanut shells being found in the so-called grain.

The rather unlucky grain-fed cows find themselves in usually overcrowded feed lots, with their manure being left to rot and with all manner of sickness being passed from cow to cow. It comes as no surprise that such shocking conditions have been unearthed when the main purpose of a feedlot is to maximize weight gain whilst reducing the costs.

There is no doubting that feeding cattle grass is a more humane way of raising the cattle, however, an important point of conflict is whether or not grass-fed beef is in fact healthier than grain-fed beef.

The obvious starting point is over the contentious matter of marbling. Grain-fed cattle tend to have more internal fat, or marbling, which in turn results in a more tender meat than a grass-fed cow of a similar age.

As a result of their free-to-roam, natural habitat and conditions, grass-fed cattle are leaner and lack the extent of marbling found in feedlot cattle. This has the added health benefit of lower fat content and less of a strain on the levels of calories within the beef steak that you are going to eat.

Grass-fed cattle also have higher levels of conjugated linoleic acids as well as having significantly more omega-3 fatty acids.

Grass-fed cows reign above grain-fed cows when it comes down to analysing the micro-nutrients within the two cuts of beef. The grass-fed cows that wander the fields and nutrient filled landscapes of Argentina are also eating a wide variety of other grasses, herbs and shrubs each with their own individual nutritional profile. This adds to the often leaner consistency and 'beefier' taste of grass-fed beef which can be said warrants its hype as being healthier to the grain-fed alternative.

Whilst ensuring on limiting the chance of health issues such as heart disease, higher calorie levels and strokes, supporting grass-fed beef producers, you will also be helping sustainable and more humane farming activities. As your support for grass-fed beef increases, the availability of such products will become more accessible and readily available, and will also ensure that the small, local farmer is able to make a living within an industry that is dominated by intensive farms backed by large supermarkets. As an Argentine sits down to one of their many grass-fed beef steaks, he or she is reaping the benefits of a fairer, healthier and more humane farming method than their North American neighbours.

Health Benefits of Grass Fed Beef

1.    Grass-Fed Beef Elevates Omega Fatty Acids. Omega-3 fatty acids help to lower the amount of LDL ("bad") cholesterol in your blood stream and to elevate the amount of HDL ("good") cholesterol. As a consequence, consuming omega-3 fatty acids from at least 3 servings of fish per week has now become a featured part of a heart-healthy diet recommended by the American Heart Association.

Feeding cattle on grass, in contrast to raising them on  corn and other grains, tends to raise the amount of omega-3 fatty acids in their beef, according to several studies, including a 2010 study from the College of Agriculture, California State University led by Dr. C.A. Daley and Dr. A. Abbott. 

2.    Grass-Fed Beef Has Precursors of Vitamin A and Vitamin E.  Vitamin A and E are powerful anti-oxidants, which have been implicated as anti0-cancer agents in numerous studies. Now, researchers have discovered that the beef of grass fed cows contains precursors to Vitamins A and E.

3.    Grass-Fed Beef Has a Different Composition of Saturated Fat. Saturated fat is the type of fat that, generally speaking, raises the levels of bad cholesterol in your body. But that is simply generally speaking. At a more precise level, not all saturated fat affects the levels of cholesterol in your body in the same way. There are at least types of saturated fat: myristic, palmitic and stearic.

Myristic and palmitic fat are the two culprits responsible for raising your bad LDL cholesterol levels and clogging your arteries.  The third saturated fat--- stearic --- actually has no impact at all on your cholesterol levels.  Scientists have discovered that grass-fed beef has the same total amount of these three saturated fats as corn or grain fed beef but  --and it's  a huge "but" - grass fed beef has much more of the neutral, harmless stearic fat.

Grass Fed Beef Is Not a Health Food

It's important to state the obvious. Though grass-fed beef is far healthier saturated fat profile than corn-fed beef, it is still, well, beef. And beef is important to your diet in that it provides iron and other nutrients that are hard to replace completely from non-meat sources. However, grass-fed beef is not a health food. Rather, it is the lesser of two bad choices for the main protein of your diet.  For a heart-healthy diet, you should still limit the amount of red meat you eat to no more than two or three servings a week, and increase the amount of omega-rich fish such as salmon in your diet to at least 2 or 3 servings a week.


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