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Nutritional benefits of a grass diet for foraging animals

Because the beef animal is a ruminant (cloven hooves, four stomach compartments and chew the cud) the large and small intestine are designed to accommodate large amounts fiber. During the normal digestive process, copious quantities of saliva aid in moistening the feed and keeping the rumen at the proper neutral pH (6.5-7.2). Symbiotic microorganisms in the rumen of cattle, bison, or sheep produce fatty acids which are absorbed directly through the rumen wall supplying 60-80% of needed energy. Protein and essential amino acids are also produced by the microorganisms along with vitamins B and C.

Grain and high fat diets are not natural for their digestive system. Health resarchers know that the diet of an animal directly affects the chemical aspects of the meat. Antioxidants, omega-6 and omega-3 fatty acids and conjugated linoleic acid (CLA) are becoming household words and are being widely used in food labels and advertising. We're all becoming very health conscious.

Pasture with treesFree foraging cattle are nearly as lean as wild game, with overall fat content similar to antelope, deer and elk. Consider the ratio of omega-6 to omega-3 fatty acids. A high ratio has been linked with an increase risk of cancer, cardiovascular disease, allergies, depression, obesity and auto-immune disorders. A ratio of 4 units or less of omega-6 to 1 unit of omega-3 is considered ideal. The grass-fed beef ratio is about 2 omega-6 to1 omega-3. Compare this to the grain-fed ratio of 14 omega-6 to 1 omega-3.

When cattle are taken off grass and shipped to a feedlot to be fattened on grain, they immediately begin losing the omega-3s they have stored in their tissues. As a consequence, the meat from feedlot animals typically contains only 15-50% as much omega-3 as that from grassfed livestock. So as the cattle lose the omega-3, the ratio to omega-6 climbs into more dangerous levels.

"Ground beef and milk from grass-fed cattle also have more conjugated linoleic acid (CLA). Recent data suggest that CLA may help prevent breast cancer, diabetes and other ailments. Moreover, grass-finished meat is higher than grain-finished meat in vitamin A and vitamin E, two antioxidants thought to boost resistance to disease." - TIME, The Grass-Fed Revolution, June 11, 2006

Researchers reported that a key benefit of vaccenic acid is its ability to reduce the production of chylomicrons -- small particles of fat, protein and cholesterol formed in the gut that transport fats to various tissues of the body. - LA TIMES Health, Natural trans fat may be good for you, May 19, 2008

Other benefits of grass-fed nutrition include:

Lower in total fat
Lower in saturated fats linked with heart disease
Higher in beta-carotene
Higher in vitamin E (alpha-tocopherol)
Higher in the B-vitamins thiamin and riboflavin
Higher in the minerals calcium, magnesium, and potassium
Higher in total omega-3s
A healthier ratio of omega-6 to omega-3 fatty acids (1.65 grass vs 4.84 grain)
Higher in CLA (cis-9 trans-11), a potential cancer fighter
Higher in vaccenic acid (is transformed into CLA, the main transfat in human milk)