By Stanley A. Fishman, author of Tender Grassfed Meat
Our culture has a phobia about animal fat. The horrid nutritional guidelines just issued by the U.S. government tell us to eat meat only occasionally, and eat only lean meat. This is truly a shame, because animal fat from pastured animals contains many vital nutrients that are easily absorbed and hard to get elsewhere. Animal fat from grassfed animals also gives great taste, tenderness, and satisfaction (unlike the lumpy, greasy fat so prevalent in factory meat).
All grassfed meat is leaner than factory meat. Many producers advertise how lean their grassfed meat is. Some grassfed meat is much leaner, and some contains more fat. So which is better? For our ancestors, the choice was simple. Fat meat was desirable and cherished—lean meat was eaten to avoid starvation or thrown to the dogs.
For me, the answer is also simple. Most of the nutrients in grassfed beef are in the fat. Fattier cuts of grassfed meat have more flavor and come out more tender. The fattier the better, when it comes to grassfed meat.
Grassfed Fat vs. Factory Fat
There is a great difference in the content and composition of the fat of grassfed animals and the fat of factory animals finished in the feedlot.
The fat of grassfed animals has a much higher ratio of omega-3 fatty acids to omega-6 fatty acids, has much more CLA, and is much richer in other nutrients. The fat of feedlot-finished factory animals has a much higher omega-6 to omega-3 fatty acid ratio, much less CLA, and contains substances from the feed that get stored in the fat.
The fat in grassfed meat appears both as a covering over the cut of meat, and in small white flecks that can be seen in the meat itself. These small flecks are called marbling. The fat of feedlot-finished factory meat also appears as a covering, but it can often be seen in the meat itself as thick, blocky veins of fat, or lumps of fat. No grass finished meat has this appearance.
I personally find the fat in grassfed meat to be delicious and satisfying. It smells so good when the meat cooks that it makes me very hungry. I find the fat in feedlot-finished factory meat to be greasy, unpleasant, and downright disgusting. Factory meat does not satisfy me, and leaves me hungry and bloated. Grassfed meat always leaves me feeling satisfied and good—which is one of the main reasons why I only eat grassfed and grass finished meat.
What about the Studies?
The media often publicizes studies that claim that eating meat, especially fat meat, is unhealthy.
While I never blindly believe any study, knowing how flawed and biased they can be (though some are completely valid, you just have to study the details), I have noticed two important points that make them inapplicable to grassfed meat and fat:
- All of these studies include the eating of highly processed factory meat, meat that is full of preservatives and chemicals, such as luncheon meat. It is impossible to know if the negative results claimed by the studies come from the meat or the chemicals.
- None of these studies are limited to the eating of pastured meat processed without the use of chemicals, but are based almost totally on feedlot-finished factory meat that has been raised with artificial hormones, chemicals, antibiotics, species-inappropriate feed, and other factors that were never used by our ancestors. It is impossible to know if the negative results claimed by the studies come from the meat or the hormones, chemicals, antibiotics, species-inappropriate feed, or other factors, or any combination of them.
The main studies we have on the nutritional effects of traditional meats, fats, and diets are the customs of our ancestors, and the vital research of Dr. Weston A. Price. These traditions and the research of Dr. Price support the health benefits of eating traditional unprocessed animal fats.
Why Fattier Grassfed Meat Is Better than Leaner Grassfed Meat
Once again, the traditions of our ancestors are the key to understanding. Every traditional meat eating culture preferred fat meat to lean meat. Traditional recipes for meat always make sure that it is cooked and eaten with plenty of fat, with roasts being inevitably covered by a glorious crown of their own magnificent fat. The most prized, luxurious cuts of meat were always the fattest.
Traditional Inuit were known to reserve the organ meats, fatty meats, and fat for themselves, while throwing the really lean meat to their dogs.
The most valued traditional foods included the fats of pastured animals, with lard, beef tallow, goose fat, duck fat, and chicken fat being heavily used for cooking in traditional Europe. The Native Americans used bear fat, bison fat, and the fat from other game. Lamb fat was prized in the Middle East, where breeds of lamb were raised that had huge tails composed almost completely of fat, which was used in all kinds of cooking. Lard was the most important fat in China, used for cooking almost everything.
I am convinced that cooking traditions reflect the collective experience of the people who have them, representing thousands of years of trial and error, passed down from parent to child, from teacher to student. The wisdom of these traditions was proved by Dr. Weston A. Price, who discovered that traditional peoples eating their traditional diets were completely free of the chronic diseases that afflicted modern peoples, remaining healthy and vigorous into extreme old age. Every one of the peoples studied by Dr. Price only ate meat with plenty of fat.
An example of this wisdom is pemmican, a staple preserved food of the Native Americans who lived on the Great Plains of the United States. Pemmican consisted of dried bison meat, dried cherries, and a great deal of bison fat. The Native Americans knew that the fat was absolutely necessary for the pemmican to sustain life.
Most of the nutrients in grassfed meat are in the fat, not the meat itself. Very lean grassfed beef, that has no visible marbling, will have fewer nutrients than grassfed meat that is nicely marbled. A roast that has all the fat cover trimmed off will have fewer nutrients than a roast cooked with a cover of its own natural fat.
I have found that the fattier the grassfed meat, the more tender and tasty and satisfying it is. You can make lean grassfed meat tender and delicious, with the proper technique and marinades. But the grassfed meat that has the little flecks of fat in the meat will be more tender, and more tasty, and more satisfying. The grassfed roast cooked with a cap of its own magnificent fat will always come out much better that the totally trimmed roast. Our ancestors knew this, and it is a delicious and healthy tradition to follow!
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