It’s universally accepted that wild fish like salmon, which eat the algae and plankton at the bottom of the sea, are a healthier source of protein over their coastline fish farm-raised counterparts. Over their life span of eating sea greens, these fish accumulate a wonderful concentration of essential fatty acids in their muscles. When we take in these essential fatty acids (also known as ‘good fats’), these health benefits are conferred to our bodies: These healthy fats create lower inflammation in our blood vessels.
Inflammation is a major factor in many diseases including heart disease, cancer, emotional illness and auto-immune conditions. In fact, inflammation is more of a factor in heart disease than even cholesterol. Healthy fat intake from fish has been shown to be an important factor for better brain function, and strongly suspected as the main reason populations who eat more fish-based diet have lower levels of anxiety and depression too.
What About the Beef?
What many people do not know, however, is that when cows eat green plants like grass, they will also accumulate healthy fatty acids in their muscle tissue in a way that is similar to the way the fish do it. The same for chicken. The problem is, most of the meat and chicken we eat come from animals that are fed grains, corn and genetically modified soy. When range animals are fed these grains, corn and soy, they do not collect these same unsaturated healthy fats in their muscle tissue, and instead collect more saturated, unhealthy fats. In natural food stores, these meats are touted as “antibiotic and hormone free,” “natural,” “organically-fed” and “grain-fed.” Meat that is labeled this way simply means that the animals were not treated with nasty hormones or antibiotics to help them grow faster (by the way, 70 percent of the total antibiotics used in the world are used specifically to make livestock grow faster).
While natural meats are certainly a step up from the regular antibiotic and hormone treated animals, being "natural" doesn't necessarily help the fatty acid profile of the animal meat — which may be the most important piece for our health. The problem here is that most meat labeled “organic” typically comes from animals that were still fed grains — not grass or plants. So this meat will not have the healthy unsaturated fats we humans need for lower inflammation and healthy arteries.
What You Can Do: Eat Grass Fed Meats
At the health food store, look for “grass fed,” not just “natural,” “organic,” or “antibiotic free” for your meats — your brain and heart will thank you. If you cannot find these, there are online companies who ship fresh-frozen grass-fed meats.
Peter Bongiorno ND, LAc, father of Sophia, practices in New York, and authored Healing Depression: Integrated Naturopathic and Conventional Therapies His new book How Come They’re Happy and I’m Not? will be out in the fall of 2012. He can be reached by visiting InnerSourceHealth.com.