* Thank you so much to our Marketing and Program Development Coordinator Lilly Brice for contributing this post.
Grass fed and pasture raised animal products are hot-button topics right now in the health and wellness space. However, it can be difficult to decipher which food labels are worth paying attention to and which are marketing ploys. So, are “grass fed” or “pastured raised” meat, dairy, and eggs worth consuming?
Simply put, we are what our food eats.
The health of the animals we consume directly affects their nutrition profile. Factory-raised chickens, pigs, and cows are fed grains and corn rather than grass to reach a desirable market weight at the cost of the animal’s health. When these livestock inevitably get sick from poor diet and lack of exercise, they are often injected with antibiotics that then affect humans who consume them.
On the other hand, animals with healthy diets and ample exercise contain less harmful bacteria than those confined to small spaces where pathogens can easily spread. Free-range and grass-fed animal products also contain more B12, vitamin D, iron, antioxidants, and anti-inflammatory omega-3 fatty acids compared to industrially-raised.
Unfortunately, simply knowing these health benefits does not make navigating the endless list of grocery store labels that much easier. Even when we are trying our best to eat healthy, it is rarely as simple as reading the front of the package.
That being said, here is the list of terms provided by the Humane Society of the United States that serve as your own personal roadmap when buying your animal products.
The standards required under this program provide meaningful
improvements over factory farms for how much space animals must be provided, as well as the quality of bedding material and enrichments. Animals are never confined in cages or crates and are free to display natural behaviors. They are not given growth hormones or antibiotics.
USDA CERTIFIED GRASS FED:
Animals have unlimited outdoor access during the growing and can only eat grass and forage, with the exception of milk before weaning. This term does not provide guidelines for other aspects of animal welfare, such as confinement outside of the growing season or the use of antibiotics and hormones.
Animals have continuous free access to the outdoors for a minimum of 120 days a year. The term does not define any standards for how much space each animal should be provided, nor the quality of the land accessible to the animals.
Animals are given access to the outdoors. The term does not define any
standards for how much space per animal, frequency or duration of how much outdoor access must be provided, nor the quality of the land accessible to the animals.
On eggs, this term means chickens can move freely indoors with unlimited
access to food and water during their production cycle. It does not define how much space each bird is provided unless accompanied by a third-party seal such as Certified Humane.
HORMONE-FREE, RBGH-FREE, RBST-FREE AND NO HORMONES ADDED:
These labels mean the cows were not given artificial hormones to increase milk production. These practices do not have significant relevance to the animals’ living conditions, and they are not relevant for chicken, eggs or pork, as producers are not legally allowed to use hormones.
NATURAL AND NATURALLY RAISED:
These label terms are not regulated and do not accurately convey anything about animal welfare.
This term does not convey anything about animal welfare.
Remember, the goal is not perfection. The goal is doing your best with the knowledge you have :)
We also have you covered with a recipe (for my veg and vegan friends, we've got you covered with a faux meatballs below!)
GLUTEN FREE MEATBALLS:
1 pound grass fed ground beef
1 grass fed egg
1/4 cup gluten-free breadcrumbs
3/4 teaspoon coarse sea salt
4 teaspoons minced garlic
1/4 teaspoon ground black pepper
2 teaspoons dried parsley
2 tablespoons water, as needed
24 ounces marinara sauce
1. Preheat oven to 400F. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper and spray with cooking spray. Dice onion.
2. Combine meat, egg, breadcrumbs, salt, garlic, onion, black pepper, and parsley in a bowl. Stir just until combined; do not over mix. Add water as needed to keep a wet mixture.
3. Use a medium cookie scoop or spoon to scoop the meat. Form into 1 1/2 inch balls and place on the pan.
4. Bake uncovered for 17-20 minutes, or until no longer pink in the middle. Turn halfway through, so the bottoms don't brown.
5. Remove meatballs from oven. Simmer meatballs with marinara sauce for 10 minutes.
VEGAN/RAW "MEATBALLS" & ZUCCHINI NOODLES:
1/2 cup walnuts, coarsely ground
1 cup sundried tomatoes
1 Tbl nutritional yeast
1 Tbl cold pressed, extra virgin olive oil