The Grass Fed Difference

Posted Thursday, Jun 1, 2017

    The term ‘grass fed’ has become quite popular in recent years. Grass fed butter has become all the rage thanks, in part, to the sudden popularity of butter in coffee, and studies continue to come out that indicate the improved health benefits of both grass fed dairy and meat. 

    You may see many different labels on products that seem to indicate the same thing: 'grass fed,' 'grass finished,' 'pasture raised' or '100% grass fed.' In practice, grass finished implies meat that has been raised entirely on grass - and not finished on grain. 100% grass fed means the same thing, and sometimes simply labelling ‘grass fed’ is meant to imply this as well. 

    Pasture raised indicates the equivalent of grass fed for animals that don’t consume grass, such as hogs or chickens.

     In fact the label of ‘grass-fed’ is still relatively new, and throughout Canada the term ‘grass-fed’ is largely unregulated. It wasn’t until 2013 that the Canadian Food Inspection Agency approved the first certification label for grass-fed meat, through the certifying body Animal Welfare Approved. Alberta’s own TK Ranch was the first Canadian ranch to achieve this certification.

    Sunnyside Natural Market develops close relationships with our farmers and producers, and we get out to visit farms as much as possible. Growing these relationships ensures we can provide grass fed products that we trust. Keep reading to learn more about the benefits of grass fed dairy and meat, and what grass fed products you can find in the store. 

 

CSIRO ScienceImage 3401 Dairy cattle
Both grass-fed dairy and meat has been shown to have increased health benefits.

    Before talking about the health benefits provided to humans, let’s not forget about the animals that provide us with meat and dairy. 

    Simply put, ruminant animals such as beef, sheep, and goats, aren’t meant to eat the grain rations that conventional systems often feed them. Grass is their natural source of energy, and they are able to digest it and other fibrous material easily because of the “billions of bacteria, fungi, and protozoa” found in the rumen - the first stomach and primary site for microbial fermentation in ruminant animals. 

     The inclusion of grains in ruminant feed can have serious health effects on the animal. Grain-heavy diets increases the chance of acidosis, a disease that is caused when the pH balance in the rumen becomes acidified causing a host of problems including stomach ulcers, liver abscesses, diarrhoea, and lethargy. Acute acidosis leads to depressed appetite, extreme weight loss, and ultimately death. 

    The bottom line is that grass feeding and finishing is the more humane way to raise ruminant animals. Before even thinking about the health benefits for human consumption, grain-feeding ruminants is an unnecessary cruelty that disregards the health and happiness of the animal. 

Visit here for more information on rumen acidosis.

    In Canada we’re lucky that all milk, whether it be organic or conventional, must be antibiotic and growth hormone free under CFIA regulations. Exclusively grass feeding dairy cows goes above and beyond - both for the health of the animal, and the consumer. 

    The Globe and Mail asked the question, ‘is it healthier to drink grass-fed or organic milk?’ The answer: yes.

    What is really comes down to is the proper balance of omega 3 and 6 fatty acids. These fats are essential for our health. The human brain is 50% fat, and of that, over 10% is omega-3 fat. 

     Conventional milk, meat, and many processed foods contain a “surplus of omega-6 fats” which crowd out omega-3 fats and prevent proper metabolization. The typical North American diet contains “up to 20 times more omega-6 fats than omega-3 fats, an unfavourable ratio that’s thought to increase the risk of heart disease, diabetes and cancer.” 

    Studies have found grass-fed cows produce a milk higher in alpha-linolenic acid (ALA), an omega-3 essential fatty acid that has been shown to reduce inflammation, lower risk of heart disease, stroke, and type 2 diabetes. Grass fed milk contains double the fatty acid content of conventional milk, and a study out of the University of Toronto found that grass fed whole milk had an “omega-6:omega-3 ratio of 1.8:1 compared with conventional milk that tested as high as 6:1.”

    Grass fed cows also produce milk with more conjugated linoleic acid (CLA). This fatty acid has been connected to protection from colorectal and breast cancers, diabetes, and heart disease. Some studies have also found that grass fed milk contains more vitamin E, selenium, and beta-carotene than conventional milk.

milk can 1990072 1920
Milk from grass-fed dairies has been shown to have more balanced levels of omega-6 and omega-3 fatty acids.

    Dr. Richard Bazinet, an associate professor with the University of Toronto, spoke at this years Organic Alberta conference, and shared his findings when testing grass finished or pasture raised Alberta meat and poultry, and grass fed Alberta dairy. 

    The study showed that grass-fed and pasture raised animals have a “dramatically different fatty acid profile as compared to conventional feeding.” The favourable omega-6:omega-3 ratio found in grass-fed dairy is also found in grass fed and finished beef, and pasture raised pork and chicken. 

    Bazinet measured the fatty acids found in steak from grain finished beef and found it had levels of omega-6 fat that was dramatically higher than omega-3 fat. The steak from cattle only fed grass had a much more nutritionally balanced ratio. Below are the omega-6 and omega-3 comparisons for both steaks.

31 c4df16bf51
On the left, grain-fed steak is shown to have dramatically more omega-6 than omega-3. On the right, the more balanced fatty acid levels can be seen in grass-fed and finished steak.

    The omega-6:omega-3 ratio were also more balanced in pasture raised chicken and pork when compared with conventionally raised animals. 

    Bazinet also measured the fatty acids found in grass fed Alberta dairies, including the one and only Vital Green Farm, and found it had a much more balanced ratio of fats when compared to conventional milk. 

A summary of Bazinet’s lecture can be found here.

    While the cold winters and unpredictable Albertan weather make it harder for local farmers to grass feed their animals, there are several that provide us with year-round grass fed products, or, seasonally available grass fed dairy.

Similarly, the following ranches or suppliers provide us with pasture raised items:

    We also do an annual half-lamb box with Ewe-Nique Farms that provides one of Alberta’s only grass fed & finished lamb meat. If you missed the sign-up for this years lamb-share, don’t delay next spring!

Matt Gigg Posted Jun 1, 2017