The Many Benefits of Grass-Fed Meat

A higher content of omega-3 fatty acids, healthier animals and healthier grassland ecosystems are just some of the benefits of grass-fed meat, eggs and milk.

| April/May 2015

Grazing Animal

Eating nutrient-dense meat from animals that grazed on perennial pastures helped humans evolve into big-brained, upright creatures.

Photo by Fotolia/Tony Campbell

This story hinges on two numbers: 5.0 and 6.8.

At 5.0 — the figure that dominates today’s industrial food chain — both you and the environment suffer. For humans, it means more obesity, more diabetes, more heart disease, more weakened immune systems, more feeble brains and dementia, maybe even more cancer. For the environment, it means more carbon in the atmosphere, more floods, more erosion, more dying streams and lakes, more cruelty. Push that number to 6.8, however, and we can reduce all of those problems.

Ruminating on pH

These two numbers measure the health of an ecosystem that was the linchpin of human development through the hundreds of thousands of years of our evolution to our modern form. That ecosystem is still essential, because the fundamental facts of humanity have not changed: We are big-brained, upright mammals that thrive in grasslands.

Compared with other organs, the human brain is an energy hog, and because our brains are big, we need more calories and nutrients pound for pound than other animals do. Our upright posture places extraordinary constraints on our structure, especially our center, and dictates a small, muscular abdomen. No room for guts to process a lot of food at one time.

Grass is useless to us — directly. We can’t eat it. Its energy is locked up in cellulose, and we don’t have the intestinal fortitude (or magnitude) to break those calories loose. So here’s the deal evolution cut for us: We outsource grass digestion to the deer, gazelle, musk ox, elephant, caribou, elk, aurochs, goat, sheep and, now especially, cow.

All of those animals have in common a cavernous gut that is centered on a fermentation vat called the “rumen” — hence their name, “ruminants.” Like all fermentation vats, the rumen is an ecosystem. It works by harboring bacteria that have the unique ability to break down cellulose to more usable forms of carbohydrates. The bacteria depend on a friendly environment in the rumen, which, especially in cows, happens to be best measured by acidity: a near-neutral pH of 6.8.

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