In part one of this series, we examined some of the findings from research conducted by a science team headed up by Dr. Stephan Van Vliet that had a goal of performing deep metabolic and nutritional profiling of grass-fed beef samples. In this article, I’d like to share even more detailed evidence from the study regarding the link between the health of our soils, our plants, our animals and our health.
What scientists have found is that plants respond biochemically to sunlight, rainfall, nutrients, other plants, and the herbivores that eat them, by producing a broad array of health-promoting phytonutrients. When the animals eat these plants, the phytonutrients are effectively incorporated into their meat and fat.
The research revealed that fresh forages contain anywhere from 5-20-plus times the total phytonutrients and antioxidants than the typical total mixed (feed) ration (TMR). Additionally, the antioxidants that were found in the total mixed rations were derived predominantly from hay in the ration and not the corn. This results in significantly higher antioxidants in grass-fed meats compared to grain-fed meats. Interestingly, soil produced metabolites (produced by diverse soil microbial populations) were found in significant quantities in the grass-fed beef. Since feedlot cattle are fed a TMR diet, they cannot benefit from these soil metabolites.
Soils in diverse pastures had significantly higher soil organic matter, total exchange capacity, zinc, iron, phosphorus and potassium when compared to soils in conventional corn fields.
When oxidative stress indicators were measured, it was found that these indicators were significantly higher in the feedlot cattle compared to the cattle finished on pasture. This explains why health issues are significantly lower in grass-fed cattle compared to feedlot cattle.
Presentation of Research Findings by Nutrient Category:
- Hippurate – Has strong antioxidant and anti-inflammatory effects, associated with improved gut microbial diversity and improves metabolism.
- Grass-fed beef is 57% higher in Hippurate than grain-fed feedlot beef.
- Cinnamoylglycine – Provides powerful anti-inflammatory effects and decreases risk of Parkinson’s disease and various cancers.
- Grass-fed beef is 65% Higher in Cinnamoylglycine compared to feedlot beef.
- Ergothioneine – An antioxidant with anti-inflammatory effects that helps to protect against an array of diseases and disorders. This compound is produced by soil fungi and microbes, so the healthier the soil the more ergothioneine in the meat.
- Grass-fed beef is 59% higher in ergothioneine compared to feedlot beef.
- 4-Ethylphenylsulfate – Has strong anti-fungal activity, so it confers fungal disease protection and produces a pleasant fruity taste (flavor profile) to the meat.
- Grass-fed beef is 85% higher in 4-ethylphenylsulfate than feedlot beef.
- Histidine betaine – An antioxidant and anti-inflammatory compound produced by soil fungi and microbes, and is highly dependent on healthy soil.
- Grass-fed beef is 67% higher in histidine betaine compared to feedlot beef.
- Dimethyl sulfone – An antioxidant and anti-inflammatory compound that is found in native plant species.
- Grass-fed beef is 71% higher in dimethyl sulfone compared to feedlot beef.
- Alpha-Tocopherol (vitamin E) – Antioxidant that is key in regulating cell function and provides immunity against a number of disease-causing organisms. It is important for immune function, heart function, eye health and muscle function and is found in fresh forages that animals eat.
- Grass-fed Beef is 64% higher in vitamin E compared to feedlot beef.
- Vitamin A (Retinol) – An essential nutrient that plays a key role in vision health, cell growth, cell division, reproduction and immunity. Carotenoids are a precursor to vitamin A and are found in abundance in fresh forages.
- Grass-fed beef is 34% higher in vitamin A compared to feedlot beef.
- Vitamin C – Anti-viral and antioxidant properties.
- Grass-fed beef is 33% higher in vitamin C compared to feedlot beef.
- Vitamin B3 (Niacin) – An essential nutrient that is important for lipid and cholesterol metabolism in our body. Provided by fresh forage.
- Grass-fed beef is 25% higher in niacin compared to feedlot beef.
- Vitamin B6 (Pyridoxine) – An essential nutrient and potent antioxidant that is important for glucose metabolism, nerve function, immune function, brain function, and red blood cell function. It is found in legume forages (clovers, native legumes).
- Grass-fed beef is 27% higher in vitamin B6 compared to feedlot beef.
- Eicosapentaenoic Acid (EPA) – An important omega-3 fatty acid with antioxidant and anti-inflammatory benefits. Helps lower the risk of heart disease, cancer, and liver disease and improves brain function. Found in the plan precursor ALA, so its levels are highest in animals eating fresh forages from diverse pastures.
- Grass-fed beef is 50% higher in EPA compared to feedlot beef.
- Alpha Linolenic Acid (ALA) – Essential fatty acid for our diet, ALA is a potent omega-3 fatty acid that helps reduce risk of cardiovascular disease and improves healthy brain function. Can be found in fresh forages from cattle grazing on pastures.
- Grass-fed beef is 69% higher in ALA compared to feedlot beef.
- Arachidic Acid – Associated with decreased risk of diabetes and cardiovascular disease.
- Grass-fed beef is 52% higher in Arachidic Acid compared to feedlot beef.
- Heptadecanoic Acid – Associated with lower risks of cardiometabolic diseases.
- Grass-fed beef is 36% higher in Heptadecanoic Acid compared to feedlot beef.
- Conjugated Linoleic Acid (CLA) – Anti-cancer and anti-obesity properties. Rich in meat from animals eating fresh forages.
- Grass-fed beef is 75% higher in CLA compared to feedlot beef.
- Omega 6 to Omega 3 Ratio (O6:O3) – A lower O6:O3 ratio is considered highly beneficial for our daily diet. Higher levels of omega 6 in our diet lead to significant inflammation and an array of diseases and disorders. The American Medical Association and American Heart Association recommend an omega-6 to omega-3 ratio in our diets of 4:1 or less. The typical American diet has a ratio of 20:1 or higher. Grass-fed beef is a great way to lower omega-6 consumption and increase omega-3 consumption.
Grass-fed beef has a ratio of 2:1 omega 6 to omega 3 compared to a ratio of 11:1 to over 50:1 in feedlot beef (the ratio in feedlot beef varies dramatically depending on the ration the cattle are fed in the feedlot). The problem with feedlot beef is that the consumer has no idea whether they are consuming beef that is 11:1 or over 50:1.
Oxidative Stress Markers:
- Homocysteine – Higher homocysteine levels in the body are associated with an increased risk of cardiovascular disease. Lower levels reduce this risk and improve metabolic health.
- Grass-fed beef is 67% lower in homocysteine compared to feedlot beef.
- 4-hydroxyl-nonenal-glutothione (4-HNE) – Higher levels of 4-HNE are an indicator of oxidative stress and increased risk of metabolic disease. Lower levels are desired.
- Grass-fed beef is 20% lower in 4-HNE compared to feedlot beef.
- Malate – Higher levels indicate metabolic health benefits for the animal.
- Grass-fed beef is 53% higher in malate compared to feedlot beef.
- Palmitoylcarnitine – Higher levels are associated with improved cardiovascular health.
- Grass-fed beef is 46% higher in palmitoylcarnitine compared to feedlot beef.
- Linolenoylcarnitine – Higher levels are associated with improved cardiovascular health.
- Grass-fed beef is 50% higher in linolenoylcarnitine compared to feedlot beef.
In numerous nutrient categories, grass-fed beef is found to be significantly better for our health when compared to feedlot beef. When looking at important phytonutrients, vitamins, fatty acids, and oxidative stress markers, grass-fed beef is superior to grain-fed beef. This has significant health implications when considering our lifetime diet and resultant health status.
As discovered through rigorous research and data sampling, the application of regenerative principles and practices are resulting in healthy soil, healthy plants, healthy animals and healthy foods. The depth of this research shows that regenerative agriculture is beneficial to our ecosystems AND to our own health.
Very few farms have the depth and breadth of data to substantiate health benefit claims. Through this extremely rigorous research conducted by independent scientists, and the cooperating farms participating in the study, we now know that farms with greater biodiversity and soil health parameters are able to deliver food you can trust.