Many of you have heard that you should eat at least 1 serving of fish per week to protect your heart and that you should avoid all red meat because it is fatty and bad for your heart. But then you hear that fish has a lot of mercury in it so don’t eat too much. So what do you do? What if I told you that it is not quite that simple?
Fish is bad for and red meat is good for you…and red meat is bad for you and fish is good for you. Confused yet? Do you know what we feed most animals? Conventionally raised animals are fed corn or some blend of corn and some other grains plus any essential nutrients to keep the animals alive and promote growth (a lot). Do you know why?….$$$$$. For example, a cow, if weaned onto grass will take about 4-6 years to reach a slaughter weight of 1200-1400 pounds. This animal is very lean (similar to deer actually, which is also a red meat), on average 2.5 grams of fat per 4 ounce serving. About 1.5 grams of that fat are in the form of omega-3 fatty acids (the same that make fish good for you). I am sure that you have noticed that your grocery store meat has quite a bit more fat on it than that. That is because it was likely weaned onto corn which would take it to a weight of 1400-1800 pounds in 18 months. Because it was still so young, the meat will be very tender at slaughter (though it toughens as it sits, which has to do with the enzymes from the grains), but it will also be very fatty, about 14 grams of fat per 4 ounce serving. Virtually none of that will be in the form of healthy omega 3’s. So these two methods produce two completely different meats as is concerned to your health. What is interesting is that the fatty acid ratios and contents of the grass fed beef are nearly identical to tuna (good for you).
So how does that compared to other land grazers? Most of them are comparable (Lamb and pork are always fatty, though lamb does have a favorable ratio of good to bad fat when grass fed). Deer, bison, elk, mouse, and carabobo tend to be slightly leaner at about 1.5 grams of fat per 4 ounce serving (they have not been breed to be fatty as cattle have) with about 1.2 grams of omega-3’s per serving. Elk actually has the best omega 3 content of all land animals currently tested and is better than tuna. It’s a little hard to find, but bison is close behind and is readily available in most places now. Just be careful, if it looks fatty, it has been fed corn, though less likely. The great thing is that you can now find all of these on the internet. In addition, many grocery stores are starting to carry grass fed beef and bison in their health food sections. If you are adventurous, many “recreational” farmers in the southern states grass feed until time to sell their meat, and then the slaughter houses will corn feed them for 3 months to fatten then up. So if you drive by a local farm and see cows grazing, it may be worth the stop, as most farmers are willing to take a cow to be processed for you and it will be much cheaper (and fresher). ½ a cow will typically last a family of 4 most of the year (if you eat a lot of beef).
So what about the fish? Well, honestly it is not much different. Most people never notice that “Atlantic salmon” has white lines between the layers of muscle while wild Alaskan salmon does not. Those white lines are saturated fat. The “Atlantic salmon” is actually not wild, it is raised in floating pins a few miles off the coast of many of our northeastern states. At the top of this pin is a feeder which delivers a mixture of corn, other grains, fish meal, and a synthetic form of astaxanthin (similar to beta carotene and gives salmon its color). This produces a salmon that has about 14 grams of fat per 4 ounce serving versus 2 grams of fat for the wild Alaskan salmon. Fortunately, because of the small amount of fish meal, it does have about 2 grams of omega 3 fats though the ratio to bad fat is very poor and therefore sacrifices some of its primary benefit.
So be sure to look for grass fed grazers and wild fish when you shop. Though these options will make a slightly large dent in your wallet, they will also make a big dent in your risk for cardiovascular disease (a reduction of about 30% from one or more servings per week). This is accomplished through a variety of ways including, lowering your cholesterol, improving fat and sugar metabolism, and decreasing inflammation through the anti-inflammatory actions of omega 3’s. In addition, if you switch exclusively to these meats, you are looking at an average annual calorie reduction of just over 17,000 calories per year (6 pounds of weight loss per year) without making any major changes to your diet. Just be sure to keep your cooking temperature below 250 degrees to preserve a wonderfully tender, tasty meat. Enjoy!