Is free-range meat really a healthier option?

So I was hosting a dinner with some friends the other night. After a glass of wine, a perfectly cooked steak and some good conversations about food, a good friend started a new topic of conversation – meat.

Though it’s not new for me to be particular in choosing my meat, I must admit I haven’t really been THAT particular to think about my meat choices or to think about how it could possibly affect the environment and my overall health.

So I did some research to find out what the health and sustainable advocates are raving about free-range meat. Here’s what I found and I thought it’d be good to share with you.

First of all, what is ‘free-range’?

Free-range simply means the animals are free to roam outdoors and not confined in small cages without seeing the light of day and experiencing walking on grass. Of course, the outdoor roaming area is usually fenced, which makes it technically enclosed, but as compared to conventional farms where the movement of animals is very limited, free-range farms allow more opportunity for movement and sunlight. Since the animals are free to roam around, they also forage and have access to food in their natural environment. 

The term ‘free-range’ isn’t just used for meat. It is used for eggs and other dairy-farmed products too. Sometimes these products are also referred to as ‘cage-free’ and ‘pasture-raised’.

So is free-range meat really a healthier option?

It definitely is!

Free-range meat is free of antibiotics and GMOs. More importantly, free-range animals are not injected with hormones that can be very harmful to the human body, and they are also treated more humanely. Studies have shown that animals raised humanely contain higher amounts of vitamins and minerals, and they have less saturated fat. 

According to the National Institutes of Health, cattle with grass-based diets have more improved fatty acid composition and higher antioxidant content, thus, making their meat more nutritious as compared to commercially-farmed meats. Grass-fed animals have higher levels of Vitamin A and E, antioxidants, Conjugated Linoleic Acid (CLA) fats, and omega-3 fatty acids which are known to support heart health and help reduce the risk of heart disease, diabetes, high blood pressure, and even cancer.

Since the animals are free to be in their natural environment, they can forage for more nutritious food that enables them to have a better natural resistance to diseases. Several studies have demonstrated that grass-fed cattle raised outside of feedlots are less likely to be affected by bacterial contamination as opposed to animals raised in enclosed environments. 

Commercially raised animals have a 2% chance of being infected with disease-causing campylobacter bacteria, contamination of E. coli, and other germs which causes severe illness to humans. Through eating roughage like grass, the animals produce more natural digestive enzymes that contribute to their overall health and to the health of the human consumer, whereas on the other hand, fattening grain diets commonly used in industrial farming increases stomach acidity, which links to health conditions like dehydration and liver issues.

So, from what I’ve read, free-range farming does seem to produce healthier meat, which is a healthier option for us. 

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