When I was a child, red meat was demonized. Everyone knew that eating well meant eating chicken — lots of chicken. “Heart healthy” cookbooks cropped up everywhere, each one full of the same advice.
Of course, these days, science has shown us that the original lipid hypothesis — the idea that eating saturated fat and cholesterol leads to heart disease — is simply false. (source)
We now know for example, that our bodies use cholesterol to heal and repair damage to our cell walls. Simply because cholesterol is present at the site of the injury, doesn’t mean that it’s responsible for the harm done. It’s like saying our white blood cells cause infection, when in fact they are our body’s defense mechanism to fight infection and keep it at bay. Because most cell wall damage happens in the form of inflammation (which can lead to atherosclerosis, the hardening of the arteries), you can think of cholesterol like firemen. They’re on the scene to put out the fire, and are not themselves responsible for the fire.
If you’re still hesitant to eat more traditional levels of saturated fat and cholesterol in your diet, try reading this in-depth series of articles by Stephen at Whole Health Source:
- The Diet-Heart Hypothesis: Stuck At The Starting Gate
- The Diet-Heart Hypothesis: A Little Perspective
- The Diet-Heart Hypothesis: Subdividing Lipoproteins
- The Diet-Heart Hypothesis: Oxidized LDL, Part 1
Thus far in the series, Stephen has demonstrated using multiple scientific studies that:
- Dietary intake of saturated fat and cholesterol does not raise blood cholesterol levels in humans,
- That cholesterol levels in the blood are not predictive of, nor do they cause, heart disease,
- That what matters in blood cholesterol lipoprotiein levels are the size of the molecule, not the kind (fat, fluffy LDLs protect against heart disease, whereas small, dense, oxidized LDLs seem to cause it).
- That eating more saturated fat — not less — increases levels of the protective kinds of LDLs and HDLs
I can’t wait to read how the series concludes, but I have an instinctual feeling he will tell us all to eat a healthier balance of fats. Based on all the evidence we have, the key factors to eating a healthier balance of fats are:
- Keeping our Omega 6 to Omega 3 fatty acid ratio at less than 4:1, and
- Keeping our polyunsaturated fat intake to less than 4% of our diets
What does all this have to do with eating healthy meat?
Everything! As it turns out, industrialized meats have an Omega 6:3 ratio of 20:1, whereas traditionally raised meats that have been pastured, foraged, or wild caught have an Omega 6:3 ratio closer to 1:1.
What else is wrong with industrialized meat?
Besides the abnormal fat content of industrialized meat, there are a host of other problems that make it less than ideal, including: the levels of antibiotics used to raise them, the heavy environmental impact of manure lagoons, and the vast sea of monoculture crops used to feed animals in feedlots that strip off inches of topsoil per year. Whatever the concern, there’s a lot of evidence that industrialized meats are the product of cruelty and environmental irresponsibility.
Healthy Meat: What to Buy
Looking at all the evidence above, and considering the health benefits of pastured/foraged/wild animals, this part is rather simple. As with most food choices, it turns out that the best ones cause us to eat the kinds of foods our ancestors have been eating for thousands of years.
BEST CHOICE: The meat from grass-fed/pastured/foraged/wild animals. This can often be expensive if you’re buying it by the cut, so I can not stress highly enough the need to get your hands on a large freezer and buy in bulk directly from farmers. With your grocery savings alone, you’ll probably pay for that freezer in less than a year or two. Economize even more by hunting wild game. Or, if you have land, consider raising your own animals to feed your family and a few neighbors. If you’d like to find out more places to buy good meat in bulk, check out these online resources.
SECOND CHOICE: Buy meats that are certified organic or specifically claim to be “raised without the use of antibiotics or hormones.” I say this because one very deceptive practice that totally gets me angry every time I think about it is labeling meat, such as chicken, “naturally raised,” “hormone-free,” or “antibiotic-free” with a tiny little asterisk after the claim. First of all, “naturally raised” is not a regulated term and doesn’t necessarily mean anything. Furthermore, the modifying language for the asterisk often isn’t even on the product packaging. You have to go to the company’s website or read their literature to find out that they simply mean they don’t use hormones or antibiotics in the processing of the animal. This has nothing to do with how the animal was raised, and everything to do with how it was cut up and packaged. In other words, it’s a completely empty claim. For who uses antibiotics or hormones when packaging meat? A couple major brands near me that do this are Fran’s Fryers and Buddy’s Natural Chicken. I’m sure there are others. Don’t be deceived! You’re paying a premium for something not substantially different than any other industrialized meat.
So, by sticking to a certified organic meat or one that specifically claims to be “raised without the use of antibiotics or hormones,” you are at least guaranteeing that these potentially harmful and toxic substances aren’t in the fat, marrow, or meat of the animal you’re eating.
THIRD CHOICE: Buy meats that are additive and preservative free. Avoid MSG, nitrates & nitrites, etc. by carefully reading labels. Sometimes even these labels can be deceptive, particularly in the case of lunch meats and sausages. (For this reason, my family doesn’t buy deli or lunch meat any more. Instead, we’ll make our own using roasts. Or, we sometimes slice up liverwurst, braunsweiger, or other organ meat sausages from grass-fed animals. To find roasts or sausages, check out these online resources.)
Where to Buy Healthy Meat
The best place to begin looking is at your local farmer’s markets. Ranchers and farmers are often there, selling meat by the cut. Ask them about their bulk rates. You can also find individual cuts of meat at upscale natural food stores, although they’re a bit too much on the pricey side for my budget. It’s also a good idea to contact the chapter leader of your local Weston A. Price foundation chapter, as they’ll often have a list of local farmers and ranchers that may not come to farmer’s markets, but still sell directly to the public.
If finding local sources comes up short, I have two go-to online sources for all things pasture-raised.
The first, U.S. Wellness Meats, has been working with me and my readers for over a decade! They’ve got everything from grass-fed meats and cheeses to bone broth to Whole30 approved bacon to wild game. Their store’s got more variety than any other online grass-fed meat retailer, and they’re always adding new and exciting products.
(Click here to visit U.S. Wellness Meats)
The second, Farm Foods Market, is all about transparency. You’ll “meet” the farmers, find out exactly what they feed their animals and how they farm, and know exactly which cuts of meat you’re buying came from which farmers. They carry grass-fed beef, pasture raised chicken, pasture raised heritage breed pork, and seafood.
(Click here to visit Farm Foods Market)
Want more like this? Here’s the ever growing list of Healthy Foods: What to Buy:
- Healthy Eggs: What To Buy
- Healthy Milk: What To Buy
- Healthy Cheese: What To Buy
- Healthy Seafood: What To Buy
- Where to Buy Butter from Grass-fed Cows
Rebecca T. says
thanks for this post. The fat/cholesterol hysteria is so overblown, we have some customers buying our expensive, pasture-raised eggs and not eating the yolks! Imagine that! Where all the nutrients and Omega 3s reside and they don’t eat it because their doctors tell them not to. Anyways, I wanted to mention our ranch- TLC Ranch- where we raised pastured pigs and chickens, along with the occasional lamb or beef steer. You can find more about our farm and practices at http://www.tlcrancheggs.com
Earth Friendly Goodies says
I really have to stop reading this blog late at night (when I actually have some time after the kidioes are in bed) that scrumptious juicy steak is driving me crazy! 🙂
I’ve heard a lot about Omega 6’s vs 3’s lately, but one thing has me a bit confused. At a seminar on toxins we were told grape seed oil is a good alternative for baking since coconut oil is a solid much of the year in the frozen tundras of Minnesota . 😉 But when I went to buy some the other day the label was comparing it to olive oil showing the grape seed oil has a greater amount of Omega 6’s, so why for one is that a good claim to make. If most people already have an imbalance of Omega 6’s why would they advertise that fact, unless they are just playing on people’s ignorance in a “wow look at how much more Omega 6 fats it has it must be good for me” kinda sense.
And two if grape seed oil isn’t a good baking alternative oil what is? Oh that reminds me, what about the oils that seem to have Omega 3’s added – I think I saw a canola oil with an Omega 3 claim on the label – I thought that was one of the no no oils (maybe better than some of the others but still not on par with coconut oil)
Ok, enough food for thought there or what? 🙂 Let the discussion begin…
.-= Earth Friendly Goodies
Vin - NaturalBias says
I think it’s great that awareness is spreading about the diet-heart idea and the lipid hypothesis being false. It just doesn’t make sense that the foods we evolved on could be so disastrous to our health (unless they’re from low quality sources).
Anyone interested in an informative and humorous account of the flawed lipid hypothesis should check out the Fat Head documentary. It actually uses fast food to prove a point and doesn’t discuss food quality, but is interesting and entertaining nonetheless
.-= Vin – NaturalBias
Vin — I have been trying to see that movie FOREVER. It’s been at the top of my Netflix cue for 6 months, but has been sitting there with a “long wait.” Ack!
Earth Friendly Goodies — I think they are playing on people’s ignorance. Baking with coconut oil year round isn’t so hard. You just have to heat it up in a saucepan to melt it.
Rebecca T. — How tragic! I can’t imagine not eating yolks!
Michelle @ Find Your Balance says
Thanks for clearing up confusion, especially about the labeling. I have found 1 place in Boston that specializes in local, grass fed beef. Other than that, it’s the farmers market for sure!
.-= Michelle @ Find Your Balance
Am I the only one who thinks farmers’ markets are actually the worse place to find grass-fed meats? I’ve gone to a few this year here in the Littleton, Colorado area. I’ve only found 2 vendors who were selling meats and neither were grass-fed. One was a company selling sausage but wasn’t produced locally.
I’m pretty sure most of the veggie vendors weren’t selling local veggies. Tomatoes in early July from Colorado? Doesn’t seem right. Some of the vendors selling the veggies didn’t know whether the vegetables had been sprayed or were organic. I always thought the vendors were the actual farmers who grow the produce!
Maybe it’s just the Farmers’ Markets near me that aren’t good. I’ve seen the popcorn vendor, newspaper man trying to get you to buy a subscription, a distributor selling really expensive olive oil from Italy, a vendor selling baskets to carry your non-local veggies and grain fed meats in.
Farmers’ Markets in my area seem to be where you go if you want to buy a lot more for out-of-state veggies and CAFO meats…
Rebecca T – I can’t believe anyone would throw out egg yolks! I get pastured eggs (not from a Farmers’ Market – they aren’t sold there) and all we eat are the yolks! I pay $4.50 per dozen and we eat 4 dozen a week. Once in a while we’ll use the whites but mostly we whip up smoothies with raw milk (not from a Farmers’ Market – it’s illegal) and raw egg yolks!
Dang, I buy from one of the local farmers and his eggs are only $2. $4.50???? wow
#1 and #4 above seem to contradict one another.
So saturated fat does or does not raise cholesterol levels (which include LDL and HDL). Which is it, is he stating?
IMO, I’ll say saturated fats most certainly increase both LDL and HDL! It wasn’t UNTIL I ate a ton of saturated fat did my cholesterol totals improve (my total was too low for years)
Ellen — I can see why you think the two statements are contradictory, but they are not mutually exclusive. It is possible for eating saturated fat to raise the good kinds of cholesterol (the fluffy, larger lipoprotiens), while simultaneously not having any consistently measurable effect on total cholesterol levels.
thanks for clearing that up Kristen 🙂
Walter Jeffries says
Thanks for the great post. The “nitrates & nitrites” issue is an interesting one. For millenia these were used to preserve food and prevent food poisoning. Back in the 1970’s we were told that these were bad chemicals because they appeared to cause cancer in lab rats when the foods were heated to high temperatures. More recent research shows that many vegetables are naturally far higher in these than bacon, hams and other preserved meats.
We make an all natural Nitrate-Free / Nitrite-Free hot dog out of our pastured pork. But all the reading I’ve been doing about the nitrates & nitrites is making me question the scare of the 1970’s. It may be one of those things that are fine in low quantities, and not burnt. In any case, don’t grow up to be a lab rat. 🙂
Sugar Mountain Farm
in the mountains of Vermont
Amy Rose says
Great article on healthy grass fed meats. I am never disappointed when I order my grass fed steaks. I consistently get healthier steaks that are a wonderful source of lean protein. I know a great place to buy steaks online if you are looking for grass fed, hormone free, antibiotic free, pesticide free meat. While I do work for LaCense Beef, I can honestly tell you that they offer great steaks. I have been ordering online from them for years. My children have learned that you can enjoy your food if you make healthy choices.
Mmmm, that steak looks amazing. You cannot beat some quality lean steak from the local butchers. Always go to the small independents, they tend to take more pride in the quality of their meat than the big supermarkets.
I must live in a really ideal place. I usually buy a whole pig ($300, 300 lb live weight) or a half for $180. It lasts me any where from a year to a year and a half.
Sadly, some of our small farmers and now unable to sustain their farms and are selling off their animals. I can now buy a whole cow (before butchering) for $500.
I don’t think this post is complete with out a 4th choice: Vegetarianism. Studies show that vegetarianism/veganism greatly reduces ones risk of heart disease, Type II diabetes, many cancers, etc. Additionally, the environmental toll of the animal industry is quite profound! Of course healthy meats as described here are far safer and more preferable to meat from animals raised in CAFOS, but I think many would agree that vegetarianism/veganism is the healthiest choice and should be considered in an article like this!
Mary Light says
I would love to know more about traditional cuts – the kind with lots of collagen and elastin that most of us dont see much any more but that older generations and traditional people may have used. I ‘ll keep researching! Inspired by reading “Deep Nutrition” recently .
Mary Light says
Micah- I was a vegetarian for over 25 years, so now as a proponent of traditional diets (basically close to my early childhood, largely due to immigrant grandparents) I think I have the experience of both sides of the fence. A delicious beefy stew simmers in the crock pot as I write- complete with a 5 kinds of added vegetables plus herbs. A real eye opener might be to read “Deep Nutrition” and see the difference between how Dean Ornish has aged (@ early 60’s) vs. someone the same age eating traditional foods. While some, but not ALL, vegetarians/vegans make an effort to eat healthfully, it is likely healthful eating in general- not avoidance of meat- which contributes to overall health and relative freedom from disease. Pure veganism also has a tremendous carbon footprint- unless you personally are finding lentils, sesame seeds, alfalfa, and year round fruits and greens in your own backyard (wow! tell me if you are! (: ), they must be flown or trucked in at tremendous fuel and environmental price. Something to think about.
Mathew A says
Overall great article, and I agree that grass fed is the best way to go. That being said, meat isn’t the primary source of Omega 6’s in the diet, and eating grain fed meat isn’t going to throw you off much. Far better to cut out all the vegetable oils (especially when cooking). All high heat in bad for polyunsaturated (yes that includes grape seed oil for the comment earlier).
Why did my previous post get deleted….??
Anna Voisard says
Hi! By accident I found your site & couldn’t agree more with all you say re. meat consumption! My husband is quite well read & very passionate abt nutrition & he has been saying exactly same thing regarding cholesterol but it seems to fall on deaf ears most times ! Pharma has done a really good job of brainwashing !! We have seen several of our friends & people in general suffer from effects of statin drugs but it’s so hard to help them understand that they are the real culprits. I loved what you said abt “naturally ” raised meats, it means absolutely nothing or even the ever popular “close to home ” slogan on many products that totally fools people into thinking, well I’m not quite sure what, but that the products are better. In a way they are as they don’t travel so far to get to consumers & maybe retain more nutrition but at same time these products are not grown/raised without pesticides and or antibiotics etc!
So what are health benefits in long run of “being closer to home”! ?
What a bunch of nonsense!
We’ll, I think I’ve said enough for now, thanks for reading this.
And thank you for your passion!
Maxwell Keilholtz says
Hey there deliah!