A Guide To Buying Healthy Ethical Meats (Organic Vs. Conventional)

There is always controversy surrounding eating meat and whether or not it's healthy. Not all meat is created equal, there are some big differences between conventionally raised meats and organic meats. It gets confusing pretty quickly with terms like grass fed, free range, organic, raised without the use of hormones or antibiotics and grain fed. I wanted to create a go to guide that simplifies buying meat so if you're part of the 81% of people in the world eat meat regularly you can do so in a healthy and more ethical way.

Meat should be a condiment
It’s also important to keep in mind that a serving of protein is about the size of a deck of cards (3 oz), not the typical Fred Flintstone–sized portion size. Remember to keep your portions in check and eat plenty of plant-based foods with your protein, which provide you with the fibre, vitamins and minerals that aren’t found in meats.

Beef

Cows are supposed to eat grass, this is what their digestive systems are designed for.  Conventionally raised cattle are fed GMO corn, soy and animal bi products, instead of grass because it's cheaper, but it's not without consequence. This diet is tougher for their digestive systems to break down and can lead to major health issues for the animals because it creates a acidic environment. These health concerns can include liver abscesses, acidosis and ulcers. Overcrowded and unsanitary living conditions commonly found in industrial feedlots.

The majority of beef (about 97 percent) for sale comes from conventionally raised cattle that begin their lives grazing in grassy pastures but are then shipped to and packed into feedlots and fed mostly corn and soybeans for three months to almost a year. The animals are most likely also to be given antibiotics and hormones. That practice is considered to be the most cost-efficient way to fatten up cattle: It takes less time, labor, and land for conventionally raised cattle to reach their slaughter weight compared with those that feed on grass their whole lives.

When cows are free to roam the pasture and feed on their natural diet of grass, you get a more environmentally friendly product free from antibiotics and hormones that boasts significantly more health-promoting nutrients,

  • Two to five times more omega-3 essential fatty acids. These are important for regulating inflammation, hormonal balance and supporting a healthy heart.
  • Higher levels of CLA (conjugated linoleic acid). CLA is shown in studies to help lower cholesterol, reduce body fat and fight inflammation.
  • Four times more antioxidant vitamin E. Vitamin E is needed for a healthy cardiovascular system and vibrant skin.
  • Ten times more vitamin A. This vitamin is an important antioxidant required for healthy vision and skin.

Terms
Grass Fed- Like I mentioned above cattle are usually grass fed for a portion of their lives so essentially most beef could be labelled grass fed.

Grass Finished- This means that the cattle was fed grass throughout the entirety of it's life. It's important when buying meat to make sure that it's grass finished meat and has been eating grass over the course of it's life.

Organic Beef-

  • Born and raised on certified organic pasture
  • Never receive antibiotics
  • Never receive growth-promoting hormones
  • Are fed only certified organic grains (corn is a grain) and grasses
  • Must have unrestricted outdoor access

Cost:

Conventional $4.95 per pound
Without antibiotics $6.55 per pound
Organic $5.62 per pound
Grass-fed $7.38 per pound
Grass-fed organic $7.83 per pound
(According to consumer reports)

Chicken


We've all seen those value packs of chicken breasts, thighs and wings, but you should really think twice before purchasing. It's always tempting to save money at the grocery store, but if you buy conventionally raised meats they're subject to the same overcrowded and unsanitary living conditions and unnatural diets conventionally raised cattle are.

Labels can state free-range, free-run, 100% vegetarian feed etc., while the chickens are still being exposed to pesticides, antibiotics and GMO feed made with animal bi-products.

The organic label is the only one that ensures the product is

  • free of pesticides and herbicides;
  • fed organic feed containing no animal by-products;
  • free of antibiotics; and
  • free range.

The National Organic Standard, as set out by the USDA, makes rules for the humane treatment of livestock animals. Under these conditions, organic chicken farmers must provide living conditions that allow healthy and natural chicken behavior. Organic chickens have access to the outdoors, direct sunshine and sufficient space for grooming and exercise.

Terms

  • Natural- means there are no artificial ingredients or preservatives. That claim can be made for most chicken sold at grocery stores.
  • Hormone-free- Hormones are not legally allowed in poultry.
  • Farm-raised- This term doesn't mean much considering just about every chicken sold is raised on a farm.
  • Antibiotic-free-  has significance to those who are concerned about consuming an animal treated with antibiotics. An organic chicken cannot be treated with antibiotics.
  • Fresh means the chicken has never been cooled below 26 degrees Fahrenheit (-3 degrees Celsius).
  • Free-range chickens have access to the outdoors and a roost for resting with a minimum of two feet per hen.
  • Free-run chickens are not confined to cages and have free “run” of the barnyard floor, but may not have access to the outdoors.
  • Organic Chicken must be raised with certified organic feed that contains no animal by-products or antibiotics and any supplements, such as vitamins, must be approved by a certification body.

Cost:

boneless, skinless organic breast meat are averages around: $7.87 a pound
Regular chicken breasts: $3.18 a pound

Seafood/ Fish

Unfortunately pollution and fish farming have effected the quality of the seafood you can buy today. It's more important then ever to make healthy choices when picking your fish and seafood. 

  • Choose smaller fish, such as sardines, Atlantic mackerel, wild salmon and herring to reduce your exposure to heavy metals such as mercury. The larger the fish, the longer it has been in the ocean collecting heavy metals. The larger fish also eat the smaller fish and that accumulates heavy metals in their bodies. When toxic heavy metals accumulate in our bodies, they can cause digestive distress, chronic fatigue and impaired cognitive function.
  • Switch it up. Eating a variety of fish provides you with an array of nutrients and creates a more sustainable supply chain.
  • Make sustainable choices. Make sure there’s plenty of fish for future generations by buying fish that are harvested using sustainable practices. Here’s an awesome list of sustainable, low-mercury choices for seafood via the wonderfully resourceful folks at The Environmental Working Group.

Terms

Line- and net-caught fish: Line-catching includes hook and lines used for recreational fishing, longlining (a main line carrying several thousand short lines), and trolling (several unconnected lines slowly dragged behind the vessel). Line-caught fish are generally higher in quality than those caught in a net.

Farmed fish: Aquaculture―the practice of raising fish in enclosed ocean pens or freshwater ponds or tanks―has expanded dramatically in the last 30 years and now supplies about half of our seafood.

By practicing proper portioning, eating a ton of plants and buying high-quality meats, you will keep your body and your budget in balance. Listen to your body and eat what makes you feel your best, healthiest self.