You Are What Your Food Once Ate
March 11, 2020
March 11, 2020
We’ve all heard the phrase before: you are what you eat (if you’re like me, that conjures up some pretty humorous images). However, what many fail to understand is that it goes even deeper - in reality, we are what our food has eaten. This goes for everything we consume including fruits, vegetables, fish etc. but the focus here will be on meat - we’re talking beef, pork and poultry.
Unfortunately, a lot of confusion exists surrounding this topic. Companies have taken advantage of society’s new found interest in eating for wellness and created misleading ways to drive sales. Like many other industries, there is very little regulation of the various terms used, which leaves people confused and potentially purchasing products they don’t align with.
The most recognizable and confusing distinctions are "Conventionally Raised,” “Pasture raised,” “Grass-Fed,” and “Grass-Finished.”
Let’s dive deeper into what each one means.
Typically, you will not see something referred to as “conventionally-raised,” but if there are no distinctions being made on the label, it is probably safe to assume the product falls within this classification.
Unfortunately, this category can be misleading in and of itself as the phrase “conventionally raised” conjures up the idea that this is how animals are supposed to be raised - it implies a sense of normalcy. However, this couldn’t be further from the truth. It also lacks specificity and leaves the consumer guessing.
In reality, these animals are being fed an entirely unnatural diet consisting of enormous amounts of corn, soy and grain. The goal, of course, is to produce the largest animals, in the shortest period of time, at the lowest cost to the farmer and the buyer.
Typically, these animals are being kept in “feed lots” along with thousands of other animals. As a result, they receive a steady diet of antibiotics due to the unsanitary living and the prevalence of sickness throughout the populations. With barely enough room to move, they continue to get fatter. Simultaneously, the environment creates stress, which triggers a cortisol response - this in turns creates even more fat. And it doesn’t end there - to ensure the largest animals are being produced, they are given synthetic hormones for rapid and unnatural growth. Altogether, this is a recipe for disaster and something Fieldlab simply can’t align with.
When we eat “conventionally-raised” animals, we are consuming the unnatural diet, hormones, and antibiotics they were raised on. This can be extremely detrimental to our functional health and lead to inflammation, digestive issues, and other chronic conditions. If you are someone who is trying to avoid corn, soy and grains, but haven't made the switch, it may be worth taking a closer look at your protein.
As health conscious individuals looking to fuel our full day, avoiding conventionally raised meat is a crucial aspect to optimizing our functional health. And don’t be fooled - while it is possible to purchase “organic,” “antibiotic-free,” or “hormone-free” conventionally raised meat, it was likely still fed a diet of corn, soy and grain and lived in feed-lot conditions. Looking for better alternatives is still a must.
The term, “Pasture-raised” falls into a gray area and leaves out a great deal of what actually may be going one. At the very least, this typically means the animals were given far more space, kept in open fields and allowed to feed on whatever was in their environment. We see this classification mostly associated with pork and poultry, which would include pigs, chicken, and turkey. Unlike cows, lambs and goats that can live exclusively on grass, these animals require more than just grass for feed. This is why you will likely never see pork or poultry labeled “Grass-Fed” or “Grass-Finished.”
In nature, these animals would consume bugs and whatever they could forage for, however, in most farming situations they are receiving a supplemental diet of grains. Ideally, these grains would be organic and not include corn or soy, but again, this is not always the case and it is hard to know simply by reading “pasture-raised” on the label. The details are not well-defined and two separate products from two different farms could have drastically different origins, but still be called “pasture-raised.”
While the animals certainly had a greater quality of life and the meat produced is more nutrient rich than a conventionally raised animal, if you’re somebody avoiding grains, soy or corn, more investigation to be absolutely sure is required. Look for clues like "organic," "corn or soy free," and "antibiotic or hormone free" - these may give you a better insight into the health quality of the meat. If you don’t know, do the research.
The term “Grass-Fed” is typically used in relation to cows, lambs, and goats as these are animals that can subsist on grass alone. While on the right track, grass-fed still leaves a bit of uncertainty on the (dinner) table. The reality is that the use of the term "Grass-Fed" is not well-defined or regulated. This could mean the animal began its life on grass but was finished on grain or subsisted primarily on grains but was given some amount of grass. Essentially, if the animal was given grass at any point, it has earned the right to be called grass-fed according to current practice. It also may mean they lived in feed-lot conditions for a portion of their day or life.
While the final product is providing more of the essential nutrients we are looking for, the possibility still remains that the animal was given an unnatural diet and lived in poor conditions, which could be harmful to our functional health. In order to ensure we are nourishing our body with the highest quality protein and fat sources, it is best to stick with grass-finished when it comes to beef, lamb or goat.
Choosing grass-finished is the surest way to know you are receiving the highest quality product and the essential nutrients, Omega 3 fatty acids, and protein needed to fuel your active life.
Grass-finished indicates that the animal never consumed anything other than grass and various plants in its environment at any point. These animals spend their days roaming the pasture and live in a far less stressful environment, much closer to how they would naturally. As a result, the final product available to the consumer is more nutrient dense and beneficial to our functional health. This is something Fieldlab can support!
Keep an eye out for the labels on packaging as they can sometimes be challenging to understand - look for grass-finished and if you don’t know, do some research. If a company is producing a grass-finished product, they will be happy to tell you about it and explain their process. In addition, it never hurts to find a local farmer raising their animals on a natural diet and support them by purchasing directly. Formulating that connection and understanding the origins of your food is hugely beneficial to your health and is a great reminder of all the pieces required to create wellness.
Cost matters - we totally get it! While the switch to “Grass-Finished” or “Pasture Raised” may seem like a significant expense, consider these factors:
Bottomline - building our personal health ecosystem is complex and requires careful attention to the details. Living a functional lifestyle is the surest way to get there, but requires that we place function at the center of our decision making. The way we fuel our bodies is a huge piece of that equation and should be considered a priority. Choosing our meat in alignment with that goal will promote optimal health at all levels and elevate our overall function.