If we eat meat or if we’re plant-based but still eat dairy products, it’s worth being up to speed on the different ways animals are reared on farms. It’s not just for interest or because we care about animal welfare. We need to buy the right kind of meat and/or dairy if we’re serious about fixing our gut.
If we buy ‘regular’ meat or dairy it means the animal it comes from was probably reared in intensive, industrial farming conditions and quite possibly finished on a feedlot, a place where hundreds or thousands of animals are penned tightly together and fed a cocktail of agrochemicals to gain weight as fast as possible.
Cows, for example, are fed grain in these feedlots, which is not their normal food but helps to make them fat. These conditions also make them sick so they need antibiotics. In the US (but not currently in UK) cows are also given growth hormones.
A grass fed cow lives outside in the fresh air and eats grass. The equivalent for pigs and chickens is ‘outdoor reared’.
The question for today is which is better for gut-healing, industrial or outdoor-reared, or are they the same?
This debate raises important ethical considerations about the treatment of animals but that’s not the focus of this post. I personally feel extremely uncomfortable about the way animals are treated in industrial farms, but I also recognise that food needs to be produced at an affordable price. We all need to keep food on the family table without blowing our monthly food budget apart.
Meat from industrially-reared animals contains the residue of antibiotics that were fed to them, and as we know, antibiotics upset the delicate balance of friendly bacteria in our gut.
Industrial meat also contains residues of pesticides and herbicides. These irritate our gut. Animals in the US are also fed genetically modified crops and growth hormones, which can further upset our own internal ecosystem.
The big food manufacturers state confidently that the levels of these contaminants in our meat are safe for us. While they might be relatively safe for the average person, these contaminants are not ok for us while we’re struggling with gut problems. They irritate the inflamed gut lining and disrupt our already-unhappy microbiome.
Also, if we have leaky gut these little molecules of high-tech agrochemicals pass more easily into our bodies, where they cause more damage and inflammation.
It’s true that ‘grass-fed’ has become a Paleo buzzword that you might well be skeptical about, but if our gut is in bad shape and our budget allows, grass-fed is definitely the best choice.
What if we’re plant-based but eat dairy?
If we follow a plant-based diet and eat some diary products such as milk, cheese or yogurt, we still need to be aware of whether these products come from a grass-fed herd of cattle or an industrially raised herd.
This is because the residue of all those gut-bothering toxins – pesticides, herbicides, hormones and antibiotics – pass through the cows’ bodies and into the milk.
If you’re not sure whether or not diary products are helping your get, check out Should I Stop Eating Dairy?
Animal-based collagen supplements
Another time to consider grass-fed is when we’re choosing a collagen supplement. Collagen is a kind of gluey protein that humans and other animals produce inside their bodies to construct bones, skin and all sorts of connective tissues.
Collagen is also believed to be an important building block in our gut wall. For that reason it’s frequently taken as a supplement by folks with chronic leaky gut. Supplements generally come in the form of collagen extracted from chickens, cows or fish.
If you’d like to try this supp, the best kind is sourced from grass-fed cows, for all the reasons mentioned in this article!
If you’re plant-based and don’t like the idea of taking a supplement derived from an animal, don’t worry, there are plenty of other ways to boost your gut-healing progress.
How To Find Grass-Fed Meat And Dairy
It takes a little extra effort to find grass-fed meat but it’s totally worth it. So where do we find it?
Outdoor-reared meat and dairy products are generally not available in typical supermarkets so head over to a health store, butchers or local farmers’ market. Ask your butcher where their meat comes from, or look up the brand of meat yourself.
Here’s where it gets confusing…Organic meat is not the same as grass-fed or outdoor-reared. For example, organic cattle might be fed organic grain rather than actual grass.
So being organic is less important than being outdoor-reared (grass-fed in the case of beef). But organic is still a much better option than regular meat. This applies to both meat and diary products
By the way, avoid products with meaningless or misleading labels like ‘farm fresh’, ‘country fresh’, ‘natural’ or ‘corn-fed’.
Where does ‘free range’ fit into this? Free range animals are slightly better off than their most intensively farmed brothers but they can still be in an overcrowded barn with no natural light, poor air quality, being overfed GM corn with no access to the outdoors.