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Does Animal Protein Quality Matter?

Does Animal Protein Quality Matter?

Chances are when ground beef, chicken breast, or pork chops appear on your grocery list you wheel your cart over to the butcher’s section of the grocery store and grab a few packages of “fresh, all natural” meat and go on your merry way to get the rest of the items on your list.

Have you ever stopped to think of where that meat is coming from?  You honestly probably don’t what to know but knowledge is power so I am going to drop some quick truth bombs for you. A good consumer is a knowledgeable consumer so here we go:

Conventionally raised meat

  • What the animals you eat consume while they are alive is essentially what you are ingesting when you eat them. This includes their diet as well as any medications or hormones they are administered.
  • If you are buying your meat from a grocery store, it is most likely from a Concentrated Animal Feeding Operation (CAFO). At these CAFOs, the animals are usually kept in very compact areas and fed grain (usually including high amounts of soy and corn) to fatten them up prior to slaughter. More meat, more fat = more product.
  • Because these animals are in such confined quarters, they are more prone to disease and sickness so they are given antibiotics regularly as well as other drugs and hormones in order to get them to grow faster and thus “produce” more meat.
  • At the end of the day, it’s about making money for these CAFO just like any other business. We are a faceless consumer and because these businesses are owned by large corporations vs. small family farms, the animals are often treated very poorly.

Poultry farm (aviary) full of white laying hen


Grass fed, pastured, and free-range meat labeling and access

  • The biggest issue in classifying this type of meat is the regulation (or lack of) with the labeling.
    • The USDA regulation on grass fed simply states “Grass-fed animals receive a majority of their nutrients from grass throughout their life…the grass-fed label does not limit the use of antibiotics, hormones, or pesticides.”
    • Regarding pasture raised, “the USDA has not developed a federal definition for pasture-raised products.”
    • For free range poultry, this one was the most disconcerting to me: “This label indicates that the flock was provided shelter in a building, room, or area with unlimited access to food, fresh water, and continuous access to the outdoors during their production cycle. The outdoor area may or may not be fenced and/or covered with netting-like material.” This does NOT mean the animals ate their natural diet of grass, plants, bugs, etc. In most cases at these CAFO the outdoor access is not even grass.
  • If you want to get the highest quality and healthiest meat, your best bet is to find a local farmer you can trust .


The benefits of buying high quality, farm raised, and pastured meat:

  • If you can afford the difference in price and find access to high quality meat that has been raised under humane conditions in it’s normal environment the health benefits are numerous, not to mention you are supporting a smaller business (and likely local) in the process!
  • Superior fatty acid profile
    • Grass fed beef for example contains a higher omega-3 (up to 5x the amount) than conventionally raised beef. Our modern diets are typically low in omega 3 fats which can lead to increased inflammation in the body.
  • Higher Micronutrient Content
    • We’ve talked about macronutrients before, but MICROnutrients are the vitamins and minerals found in our foods. It is very common for pastured meat to be higher in B-vitamins, beta-carotene, vitamin E, vitamin K, magnesium, calcium, and selenium.
  • No added antibiotics, hormones, or other drugs
    • Depending on where you purchase your meat you’ll have to confirm but most often pasture raised animals are not fed antibiotics, hormones, or other drugs.  These medications end up in our food when they are fed to the animals we will eventually eat.  This can potentially lead to health issues for us.



In A Nut Shell:

  • QUALITY matters when it comes to the meat you eat.
  • If at all possible, stay away from consuming animals raised at CAFO.
  • Find a reputable farmer or local business who has the connections for sourcing your animal protein needs.
  • The health benefits from consuming healthier and happier, antibiotic and hormone free animals are countless.
  • If you can’t source pastured, local, and/or organic meat, stick to the leaner cuts of conventional meat.

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