Most likely you’ve heard the saying, you are what you eat. Well, that may be partially true, but an even truer saying is – you are what you eat, eats. That saying is of course from the one and only Michael Pollan, a big proponent of eating natural foods. And while I advocate for a label-free way of eating and I indulge here and there in foods that may not be 100% natural, for the most part, I stick to a natural foods type of kitchen. And that includes buying organic, pastured or grass-fed meat. But do you need to buy organic meat and what is up with all the different labels on meat these days? What do they really mean? I’ll be answering that in this post and I hope you find it helpful, so let’s get to it…
Is Organic Meat Better For You?
Many many years ago, all meat was once organic and raised in natural conditions. But with the rise of industrial farming and a booming population, things quickly changed. And people have been enjoying meat for a long time and wanted to continue doing so. And with that, factory farming emerged as a way to give people what they wanted- meat. But this came at a price. The cost of meat hasn’t increased in a huge way (just look at how cheap fast food restaurants are), but something had to give. So the quality did.
Buying high quality, organic meat is something that I recommend as it is closer to how nature intended. But with all the different terms, it can be confusing to determine what you need to look for. So that’s why I’m breaking down each term so that you know what you’re buying and if it’s actually worth the increased price tag. In order to determine the importance of buying organic meat, let’s first look at conventionally raised meat.
What’s Up With Conventional Meat:
Before I get into the health issues of conventional meat, I want to touch on the social and environmental aspects. Factory farmed animals or Confined Animal Feeding Operations (CAFO) are hidden behind closed doors for a reason. They are not a place anyone would want to visit. The images we see on TV showing a cow in a big beautiful farm eating grass simply isn’t true for the vast majority of the cows that end up in grocery stores. Same goes for other animals like chicken, pigs and even factory farmed fish. I can remember reading the book “Eating Animals” which described in details how these CAFO work and it is not pretty. Prior to reading this and opening my eyes to the horrors of factory farmed animals I had no idea. Because it isn’t just how they are treated when they are alive that matters, but the slaughtering of the animal can also be done in a more ethical and humane way and that just doesn’t happen in CAFO raised meat. This is one major reason why I prefer to support local farms and farmers that take pride in raising their animals from the time they are born to the time they are slaughtered.
Omega 3 and 6:
When we hear of omega 3’s we tend to think of fish oil and if you are more invested in the health and wellness world, you may know that we generally are not getting enough omega 3’s. The typical Standard American Diet (SAD) does not contain enough omega 3’s and much more omega 6’s. Although we do need omega 6, we tend to get too much of it when we follow a diet that relies on too much processed foods. These foods are typically made with cheap, inflammatory oils that are high in omega 6’s. As a result, inflammation and inflammatory related diseases are on the rise. We need to include more omega 3’s in our diet. So how does this relate to meat exactly?
There was an interesting article (and studies) done on omega 3’s and 6’s found in conventional vs. organic/grass-fed meat. Here is what was found:
“Those that ate the grass-fed meat had significantly higher levels of omega-3 in their plasma and platelets than those that ate CAFO meat, despite the fact that the amount of omega-3 fatty acids in the two types of meat were not hugely different.”https://chriskresser.com/grass-fed-vs-conventional-meat-its-not-black-or-white/
What does this mean? First off, omega-6 and omega-3 fatty acids compete for the same conversion enzymes meaning the more omega-6 that is consumed, the less omega-3 is available to the tissues. So basically, if two people eat a similar diet in terms of omega 3 content, but one person has more omega 6’s in their diet, they will have less omega 3 in their tissues. If you want to increase your omega 3 count, you need to decrease the amount of omega 6’s you consume. This comes from other sources of the food you are eating, like the oils you cook your food in and the less processed and packaged foods you consume.
What About Antibiotics:
Another issue with conventional meat is the use of antibiotics. In Canada, the Canadian Food Inspection Agency (CFIA) monitors the use of growth hormones and antibiotics. The limits that are set are far below an amount that could pose a health concern. With that being said, I think that the issue with overuse of antibiotics rests on the notion of how the CAFO treat animals. Because of crowded feed lots, antibiotics are used much more because there is that increased risk of foodborne illness.
Also of note- in Canada, growth hormones are only allowed in cows (and not dairy producing cows). They are currently not allowed in other animals, so if you live in Canada and buy Canadian meat and you see hormone free on chicken for instance, that doesn’t mean anything as no chickens in Canada are given hormones. In the U.S. this is different.
Is Organic Meat Better: The Bottom Line
Studies that have been done to test the difference of organic vs. conventional meat have shown minimal difference in regards to pesticides and contaminants. However, there has been research indicating that organic meat has more unsaturated fat, including the anti-inflammatory omega 3’s. There is an unquestionable difference in how the animals are treated when it comes to conventional, factory farmed meat and that which is produced organically. And for that reason, I would still argue that buying organic meat is important.
All the Different Terms & What They Mean:
There is no doubt a lot of terms used out there to label meat. Let’s take a closer look at what they mean.
Grass-Fed: In a perfect world, the term grass-fed would mean something and wouldn’t be used in a misleading way. But the truth is all cows could technically be called grass-fed, as cows generally do eat grass at some point during their lives. However, is that the core of their diet? And what about grass finished? Grass finished could mean that the cows were fed grains, up until a week before being slaughtered when they were then fed grass and thus are considered “grass-finished.” My advice is to learn to trust where you are getting your meat from. Ask questions about what specifically the cows were given in terms of food. If the term 100% grass fed is used, that would be an indication that the meat is of high quality. Again, it is about learning where your meat is coming from and not being afraid to ask questions about how the animals were raised and what they were fed.
Organic: When shopping for organic products, it is a good idea to look for “certified organic.” That means that there are specific rules and regulations in place to deem the food as truly organic. Unless, you are buying from a trusted source (and probably a smaller scale farm) that can’t yet afford the certified organic designation and you trust them and they do follow organic principles. When you buy organic meat, that also means that the food given to the animal must be Non-GMO as well. Because GMO’s don’t belong in organic farming. It also means that the animals have a lot more space to roam around and access to the outdoors.
Antibiotic Free: As I stated above, when something is labeled antibiotic free it does mean something, however it is also not a direct indication of the quality of the food.
Hormone Free: As I stated above, hormone free means something different in Canada than in the U.S. which does matter, but again it isn’t an indication of the quality of the food. There are hormones in all meat regardless.
Natural: This term is one of the most overused ones and it doesn’t mean anything at all. It is an unregulated term that tells us nothing of the qaulity of the food.
Pastured: When it comes to the quality of a product, pastured can tell us a little bit in terms of how the animals were treated and the access they have to the outdoors to forage naturally. For example, buying organic and pastured eggs are great. However, the term isn’t regulated meaning there is no standard that producers need to meet to label something as “pastured.”
Overall, I recommend looking for things that can be regulated, such as certified organic and 100% grass fed.
Where Do I Suggest Sourcing Your Meat From?
If you have access to a farmers market and want to really see where your meat (and produce) is coming from, I like heading there to talk to the farmers and producers. However, this isn’t always practical, so luckily I have found some other ways to find high quality meat and seafood.
Local Options with truLOCAL:
In Canada, I have found a company called truLOCAL which sends you high quality, local meat products right to your door in Ontario, Alberta and B.C. They ship using dry ice, so your box stays frozen during delivery and even if you’re not home when the delivery arrives. When it comes to beef, they proudly use 100% grass-fed beef. I received a box of their meat and I was impressed with everything. It came frozen and the products were all high quality and tasted amazing. You can also customize your own box with things that you want (or don’t want) and the frequency of delivery as well.
As for the pricing, it breaks down to $55.90 per week for a regular sized box once a month. If you compare this to other options like meal delivery, eating out or even buying at a grocery store or butcher shop, you definitely end up saving with truLOCAL.
Any downsides? With truLOCAL, I think the only thing I didn’t love about it was the frozen fish. It could be personal preference, but I much prefer buying fresh fish when I want it. I find that when I cook from a frozen fish, it has too much water in it or something. It just doesn’t cook as nicely for me. Seafood is great frozen, but fish (like salmon) I personally prefer buying fresh.
Overall, I recommend truLOCAL 100%. I was really impressed with the quality of everything and of course the taste as well. Plus, I really like supporting not only high quality products but also local as well. If you want to order your own box (and you live in Ontario, Alberta or British Columbia), you can use my code HOLISTICFOODIE10 to save 10% off your first order.
On my blog I do share affiliate links, however, I will never use an affiliate program or link to products unless I truly love the brand. I can never be paid for a positive review and do not collect a commission on any item I do not whole-heartedly love and support.
Please note that truLOCAL did send me a free box of meat to try, however, all opinions are my own.