The Health Benefits of Grass-fed Beef

Today we have a guest post from Megan Bucknum of Philly Cowshare discussing the benefits of eating grass-fed beef. In this post, Megan will give a little bit of background on her organization and what they do, as well as the differences in production and health between a grain-fed cow versus a grass-fed one, and why grass-fed meat costs so much more.

I have been a customer of Philly CowShare for almost a year and what initially drew me to order from them was that their beef was not only grass-fed, and humanely raised, but also grass-finished. That's the important point to make here. In the greater Philadelphia area it's hard to find grass-fed meat in the grocery stores; let alone 100% grass-fed meat. Whole Foods has a decent selection, but even their grass-fed meat is still grain-finished. Cows were not meant to eat grains and even a little bit of grains into their diet produces unhealthy animals.

I will buy an eighth of a cow comes at a time which comes as two boxes (roughly 40 lbs of meat total); which fits neatly into a standard size freezer when unpacked. One box is made up of ground beef and burger patties. The other box is roasts and steaks. These orders have been done as part of an entire cow purchased with seven other people at CrossFit Delaware Valley.

Included in the total order, we usually get an extra box of organs, bones and fat - if you're into that sort of thing, and I am - that is free for the taking. Liver from a grass-fed/pastured animal is probably the most nutrient-dense animal protein you can find. The bones are great for adding to stews, using to make stocks or bone broths which are also rich with minerals and collagen.

Enter Philly CowShare

Greetings from Philly CowShare!

Philly CowShare connects the local community of responsible farmers and butchers, with the urban community of people who want to simply eat well. We sell bundles of grass-fed beef, called CowShares, including cuts from across the cow. Our beef is dry-aged for 2 weeks and is free of hormones and antibiotics. Our cows are raised on healthy pastures within a reasonable drive of Philadelphia. 

Sharing the yield from an animal with people you know is an old-fashioned way of buying meat, but until now was not very accessible to people who live in urban communities. Whole animal distribution allows for a transparent and communal buying experience with less waste. Our shares come in 1/8, 1/4, 1/2 and whole cow packages and whatever size you decide this bulk buying method can make this delicious product more affordable than buying a cut at a time from a grocery store or butcher. You may be asking yourself how does grass-fed beef differ from conventional grain-fed beef?

Cows are ruminants, which means they are designed to eat grass, plants and shrubs – all high in fiber.  This diet differs greatly from the starch-heavy, fiber-low grain-based diet that is fed to the majority of commercial cows in feedlots. Changing the way nature intended cows to grow invariably has affects on the nutritional quality of commercial feedlot beef. 

Grain-fed cattle eat mainly corn and soy, allowing them to get to their ideal weight very quickly through gaining fat in their muscles. In addition to grain, feedlot cows are given hormones to assist with rapid weight gain, resulting in additional muscular fat content. Grass-fed cattle are not exposed to this kind of diet, so they are on average 25% lower in fat than their grain-fed counterparts. 

The green plant based diet of grass-fed cows has positive affects on grass-fed beef, such as being higher in Vitamin E, calcium, magnesium and potassium and lower in saturated fats linked with heart disease.  Allowing animals to go back to their natural diets also allows for a healthy ratio of Omega 6 to Omega 3, as well as a higher occurrence of conjugated linoleic acid, which has been found to reduce high blood pressure, cardiovascular disease, osteoporosis and insulin resistance. 

So why is pastured grass-fed beef more costly than conventional grain-fed beef?

In order to produce healthy grass-fed beef in harmony with the land, cows are raised on pasture where they can graze, fertilize the land and increase the soil health. Grass grows on land and land can cost a lot of money! 

In the conventional method, the food is brought to the cows rather than the other way around. Cows are placed in a central feedlot (i.e. CAFO) and cattle feed comprised of corn and soy are shipped in and rationed accordingly to promote rapid weight gain. In a grass-fed system, the grass stays put and the cows are rotated from pasture to pasture eating the tops of the grass stalk where the most energy is stored. Eating just grass and forage takes longer for the cow to gain enough weight for market, 18 – 24 months versus 12 – 15 months in a feedlot. In addition, the number of cows per acre is significantly lower than in a feedlot system. The cost of this land, more time needed to raise cattle and the reduced number of cattle per acre all increases the cost of producing grass-fed beef and therefore final price tag. 

Is there a way to make this great product more affordable? 

Yes!  Philly CowShare’s transparent approach to purchasing beef allows consumers to understand exactly what they are paying for and buying bulk decreases the overall price of the beef. Let’s face it; it’s not common practice to add up the amount of beef you buy over a year or how much you’ve paid for it. Buying a CowShare puts this information front and center. You pay one flat price for all the cuts and eat it slowly over time.   

Our shares come in 1/8, 1/4, 1/2 and whole cow packages and no matter the size, buying meat in bulk makes this delicious product more affordable than buying beef cut-by-cut at a grocery store or butcher.  Additionally, our business model returns 50% of the food dollar back to the farmers who produce the meat, this figure is 40% higher than commodity beef figures. Buying grass-fed beef from local farmers is good on your wallet, your plate, and your community.

If you're interested in being a part of a CowShare, please visit Philly CowShare.

How To Deal With Food Cravings

Here's a common scenario: You're feeling stressed from: work, family, school, friends, life - pick one, or all of them. With that stress comes a need to make yourself feel better, usually with food. And what are you craving? Probably the worst possible thing for you. Typically, the most unhealthiest foods are the ones we crave the most. Damn that Colonel Sanders.

It might be a cookie here and there, a slice or two of pizza, a few gulps of soda. A few hours go by and you realize you've had an entire sleeve of cookies, a liter of soda, an entire pizza. Do you even remember eating these foods? Did you enjoy it? Do you hate yourself now?

Food is not a reward or a punishment; it's simply food. In the most basic sense food is fuel, and to run optimally you want to put the best possible fuel into your body. If you pour sugar into the gas tank of a car, the engine will break (unless it's an 85' Delorean with a flux capacitor and a modified Mr. Fusion in the back). If you keeping pouring sugar into the gas tank that is your body, it too will break. 

A big trigger of cravings is stress, and when you're feeling highly stressed and overwhelmed you'll seek out some form of comfort food to ease the pain. But instead of opening your desk drawer and pulling out the M&Ms (you know they're in there), take 10 minutes to de-stress - drink a glass of water, take a lap around the block, and see if you still have that craving.

Just because you have a craving does not mean you have to indulge yourself. You're all big boys and girls, wearing your big boy and girl pants. If every single person acted on every single impulse they ever had, society would collapse. Restraint (and opposable thumbs) is one of the many things that separates us from the rest of the animal kingdom.

When it comes time to deal with and manage your cravings do so in a controlled manner. Be MINDFUL of your food. Enjoy it. Savor every bite or sip. Don’t over do it. Eat or drink only as much is needed to satisfy the craving.

If there is a gluten free/paleo version of what you’re craving, eat the gluten free/paleo version first. If that doesn’t satisfy the craving, try the real thing.

If what you’re craving is your grandmother’s homemade apple pie, there's no substitute for that. Eat one or two small pieces. Take your time with it. Tell her it was delicious, and say thank you.

Eat or drink something because it’s special to you, because you really want it, not because it’s simply in front of you.

It all comes down to: Is It Worth It? Ask yourself if what you’re about to eat is going to absolutely wreck you for the next one to three days? Yes? Maybe? I don’t know? Is it still worth it? Is this one little cookie going to lead to an entire bag? Is it worth it? Is that bag of cookies going to keep you from obtaining your goals? Is it still worth it?

The point of managing your cravings is not to cram as much crap in as possible. It’s to acknowledge your cravings, be present and mindful in what you’re eating, address the cravings in a controlled manner, and ask yourself: Is It Worth It?

Defining Happiness

“I have decided to be happy, because it's good for my health.” – Voltaire

For the past five weeks I've been running a challenge at CrossFit Delaware Valley called the Body Composition Challenge (BCC). It's a different take on a traditional Paleo challenge in that there are two criteria for scoring: Before and After photos and a short written self-assessment at the end of the challenge.

Over the past five weeks I've given a weekly talk to the BCC participants, covering various topics of health and wellness and how they relate to body composition. Last night was the final meeting and the topic was on happiness. I drew the flowchart pictured above on the board and went through the exercise with the group. I told them to take a moment and evaluate different areas of their life: family, personal relationships, work, and your life as a whole, as it relates to the flowchart. 

It's a pretty simple but effective sequence; if you're truly happy, keep doing whatever you're doing. If you're not happy, change something.

I recently had lunch with Stephanie Vincent who told me about her weight loss experiences. During our lunch she said something that really stuck with me. She said that you have to at least like yourself. If you don’t like yourself, how do you expect to take care of yourself? Nobody wants to take care of someone they don’t like. 

The crux of my talk last night was that over these past five weeks one of the indirect goals was not so much losing weight or inches, but in gaining happiness with yourself. I tried to define what happiness might look like in broad strokes, but defining happiness is going to be different for everyone. 

I presented the following list in no particular order:
  • Living a long, healthy, active life
  • Giving and receiving love from a companion
  • Doing work that is fulfilling and that makes a difference 
  • Financial freedom and independence
  • Surrounding yourself with people who support you/Avoiding toxic people
  • Expanding your scope of the world through travel, learning, food, and culture
  • Spending the majority of your time doing the things you enjoy
I think the last one may be the most important of them all. However you decide to spend the majority of your day it should be spent doing the things that you enjoy, that are important to you, and that matter to you. On their death bed, no one ever said that they wished they spent more time in the office. If what matters to you most is doing something that gives you a sense of fulfillment be it raising a family, building a community, or exploring the world, then own up to it and embrace it.

Your time is just as important and valuable as anyone else's. If you're spending the majority of your time doing things you can't stand, change something.

The quote that started this post sounds a bit metaphysical but it's dead on. You choose to be happy, just as much as you choose to be sad, angry, depressed, or frustrated. If you're not happy with your situation, change something.

Convenience is Toxic

This is a story about coffee, but it applies to all foods and food choices we make on a daily basis.

I like coffee as much as the next person, but I'm not crazy about it. It's good, but I can just as easily drink tea if I want a caffeinated beverage. I'm impartial. I like them both equally, as friends.

Last weekend I went to a local coffee shop that I had been to once before and had been meaning to go back to. This place is a coffee snobs mecca - very limited menu with no prices, top of the line espresso maker, Hario V60 kettles and drip cones to serve the single origin, hand ground beans in a very calculated, laborious, slow process to make a single cup of drip coffee. I wouldn't call myself a coffee snob but I'm pretty good with Google.

My order - a 12 oz cup of coffee - took about five minutes to make. And I'm not just saying that as a gross exaggeration. I didn't time them but it was probably in the neighborhood of five minutes. Compare that to the turnaround time for Dunkin' Donuts or Starbucks and it would probably feel like a week to some people. Good thing I wasn't in a hurry.

The coffee was good. Real good. Good coffee doesn't need anything added to it. It's just good by itself.

Starbucks coffee tastes burnt to me and it's a bit overpriced for what I consider a shitty product. Dunkin' Donuts is decent for what it is: cheap and fast. You get what you pay for. When it comes to coffee, it should come from a single origin source (No blends. Blends are bad.) from either a wet (washed) or natural process. This will give you the best quality, and best tasting coffee, with the least amount of toxins. Quality matters.

Dunkin' Donuts and Starbucks are convenient. Not having to get out of your car to get that cup of coffee is convenient. Buying prepared food is convenient. A sandwich is convenient. Convenience is easy. Easy is lazy. Lazy gets you into trouble. Convenience is toxic, and not in the Britney Spears sort of way. Convenience is killing you slowly.

A cup of coffee that came from a blend of beans from who knows where, sprayed with who knows how many chemicals, sitting in a coffee pot for however long doesn't taste nearly as good (or make you feel as good) as a clean sourced bean that was ground in front of you, carefully and perfectly prepared with craftsmanship. That's art. That's worth the extra couple minutes, even if you're in a hurry. Convenience is toxic. Quality takes time.

A Double Dose of Reading Today

I've got two articles up today, but neither are on this site. 

How To Keep a Workout Log is up on CrossFit Delaware Valley.

Mother First, Athlete Second: Tanya Wagner is up on the CrossFit Games site.

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