Here at Paleo Hero HQ we believe that food quality is important, particularly when it come to animal proteins and fats. We'll cover quality fats another day but for now let's take a look at animal proteins. Get ready to delve into the differences between organic, certified organic, free range, grass-fed, grain-fed and the in-between.
We are what we eat. We have all heard this term before and it's true as the food we eat contributes to creating every cell in our body. It determines the level of inflammation and the nutrient status of our cells. If we want optimum health and wellness, we must consume animal products from healthy animals. This means they must be eating the diet they were designed for and maintaining a lifestyle that contributes to their health and wellness like roaming outdoors and having appropriate exposure to sunlight. Just like humans, animals store toxins from in their fat. So when they're jacked up on excess synthetic hormones and antibiotics we will be then consuming and absorbing it too. Not only is the way these animals are raised a food quality issue, it's also an animal welfare one.
Unfortunately in Australia the term 'organic' is not regulated under Australian law. Products are not required to follow specific regulations or standards in order to claim the term ‘organic’ so if you are wanting a product that is grown or manufactured free from synthetic pesticides, herbicides, hormones and antibiotics, look for the 'certified organic' label. Livestock must be free to range and pasture-fed, seed must be non-GMO and the process must be water efficient and biodiversity friendly. So there's that.
The term 'free-range' is again, not very well policed and can mean anything from animals (mainly pigs & chickens) being allowed to roam free inside a shed, to animals being able to have free rein of the outdoors completely. There are no guidelines on how many animals are allowed to be 'ranging freely' in a particular space and their can still be components of supplemental feeding happening of grains, etc. to these animals to encourage faster growth rates. Additionally, there aren't any restrictions around the uses of antibiotics or hormones in these animals.
Grain-fed beef need to be fed grain for at least the last 60 days of their life to be considered 'grain-fed'. This grain-finishing has been suggested to undo most of the good that has come from a largely grass-fed life in regards to the highly inflammatory omega-6 content of the meat. In Australia we are lucky enough to still have a lot of grazing land and even grain-fed beef spend at least 80% of their lives outside grazing (this is NOT the case in the USA). Feeding cattle grains results in a whiter fat, a more marbled meat and a higher omega 6:3 ratio which we'll explore more soon. There also aren't any restrictions around antibiotics or hormones in these animals and no restriction on the feeding of GMO grains. Grain-fed meat pales in comparison to its grass-fed counterpart in terms of antioxidants and vitamin and mineral content.
Grass-fed cattle can be supplemented with grain if the grass quality is poor UNLESS they have the PCAS grassfed certification, which ensures that these animals are never allowed to be fed grain. Grass-fed meat will have a higher omega 3:6 ratio which is anti-inflammatory rather than pro-inflammatory like we see in grain-fed cattle. Again, no restrictions on the use of antibiotics or hormones here either. Grass-fed beef is a fantastic source of CLA (conjugated linoleic acid), which has been shown to protect against heart disease, diabetes and cancer.
In a nutshell, certified organic is the holy grail of meat quality in terms of health benefits and animal welfare. If organic is out your budget, look for the PCAS grass-fed certification or animals that have been grass-fed AND grass-finished. We feel pretty strongly about supporting local businesses that are doing the right thing in terms of sustainability, food quality and animal welfare so we would recommend checking out SIWA Organics for your lamb, if you buy the whole lamb it works out to around $16/kg for 100% certified organic meat. Also, the epic team at Australian Natural Food Co are one of our fave places to grab meat for the week.
*Australian Natural Food Co are offering a 15% discount to all Paleo Hero peeps for this month only, just use the code paleohero at the checkout. We strongly suggest you try their bacon and the chicken!