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In brief, there is not a single study showing that people who eat grass-fed beef are healthier than those who eat factory-raised meat.  For reasons described below, it may be true that grass-fed beef is less harmful to your health than grain-fed beef, but less harmful is not the same as beneficial.

If you are working towards reversal of heart disease, the Ornish Lifestyle Medicine does not include any meat

Animal Protein vs. Plant Protein 

The research on plant protein vs animal protein supports the choice of a plant-based approach to eating. A study comparing people that ate a diet high in animal protein to those that ate a diet low in animal protein there was a 75% increase in overall mortality and a 400% increase in cancers and in type 2 diabetes in the high animal protein group.  This effect was less or none if the proteins eaten were from plants. (note: this study did not separate out for factory farmed vs grass fed meat).

Most Meat = Factory Farmed

The vast majority of the meat that is available in the United States is factory farmed.  So for many, the option of humane raised meat does not exist. According to Nil Zacharias of One Green Planet, factory farms currently raise 99.9 percent of meat chickens, 97 percent of laying hens, 99 percent of turkeys, 95 percent of pigs, and 78 percent of cattle currently sold in the United States. On a global level, according to the Worldwatch Institute, 74 percent of the world’s poultry, 43 percent of beef, 50 percent of pork, and 68 percent of eggs were factory farmed (as of 2006).

If grass fed meat is available and affordable than grass fed meat appears to have a more healthy fat profile than grain fed meats.

Grass Fed vs. Grain Fed Meat

In the absence of studies that examine health outcomes for people eating factory farmed vs. pasture raised meat, we can look at the fats present in meat from animals that eat grains vs. grass. There are some startling differences. A study done in Australia compared grass fed beef to grain fed beef and found that cuts from long term grain fed beef had higher levels of less healthy fats (saturated, monounsaturated, trans-fats, pro-inflammatory omega-6 fats) and lower levels of the more healthy fats (anti-inflammatory omega 3 fats) then grass fed beef.

Summary

It really depends on your goals. It really depends on your goals. If you are working towards reversal of heart disease, the Ornish Lifestyle Medicine program (Intensive Cardiac Rehabilitation) does not include any meat, and this information on grass fed meat is not compelling enough to change our guidelines. If you are following the Ornish ‘Spectrum’, then you have a broader variety of food choices that might include occasional meat. If grass fed meat is available and affordable than grass fed meat appears to have a more healthy fat profile than grain fed meats.

Contributed by

Ben Brown, MD
Medical Director, Ornish Lifestyle Medicine

To your best health!

in collaboration with...

Dean Ornish, MD.
Program Founder

Awareness is the first step in healing. Just Ask!

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