Before factory farming took hold in the 1960s, cattle were raised on family farms or ranches around the country. Young calves were born in the spring and spent their first months suckling milk and grazing on grass. When they were weaned, they were turned out onto pastures. The calves grew to maturity at a natural pace, reaching market weight at two to three years of age. After the animals were slaughtered, the carcasses were kept cool for a couple weeks to enhance flavor and tenderness, a traditional process called dry aging. The meat was then shipped in large cuts to meat markets. The local butcher divided it into individual cuts upon request and wrapped it in white paper and string. This meat was free of antibiotics, added hormones, feed additives, flavor enhancers, age-delaying gases and salt-water solutions. Mad cow disease and the deadliest strain of E. coli did not exist.
Today’s industrialized process brings cattle to slaughter weight in just one or two years. But it reduces the nutritional value of the meat, stresses the animals, increases the risk of bacterial contamination, pollutes the environment and exposes consumers to a long list of unwanted chemicals, hormones and antibiotics.
That hamburger in the supermarket looks fresh, but it may be two weeks old and injected with gases to keep it cherry red. Take a closer look at that “guaranteed tender and juicy” filet of beef. The juiciness may have been “enhanced” with a concoction of water, salt, preservatives and other additives.
More ominous, the beef also may be infected with food-borne bacteria, including E. coli. Some experts believe this toxic E. coli evolved in cattle that were fed high-grain diets. Every year, hundreds of thousands of pounds of beef products are recalled.
Artificial manipulation of beef begins prior to conception. Many cows are treated with synthetic hormones, such as “melengestrol acetate,” that regulate the timing of conception, allowing all the calves to be born within days of each other — a “more efficient” process. In many ranches, herd bulls have been replaced by artificial insemination, which is a fast way to improve herd genetics. The goal is consistent size, tenderness and marbling.
Hormones are just one way to speed the growth of young calves. Another strategy is to feed them an ultra high-grain diet, the standard fare in most feedlots. One reason calves are switched from grass to grain is that grain is a more concentrated form of energy. Calves fattened on grain reach maturity months ahead of grass-fattened calves. The less time cattle spend in feedlots, the greater the profit they return. Corn is the grain of choice because it’s especially high in energy. But unnatural high-grain diets have a major drawback: They make cattle sick. To prevent or reduce the symptoms caused by grain-feeding, they are given a steady dose of antibiotics in their feed — adding yet another drug to the mix.
Why does grain-feeding cause health problems?
Cattle, sheep and other grazing animals have a specialized stomach chamber called a “rumen.” The rumen is designed to convert fibrous plants such as grasses into a nutritious, easily digested meal. Replace the grass with grain and the rumen becomes too acidic. After several months, the condition can progress to “acute acidosis.” Cattle with acute acidosis develop growths and abscesses on their livers, stop eating, sicken and even die.
Finding an alternative to industrial beef takes effort. The cattle industry is highly consolidated, with the largest 25 feedlot companies now supplying 40 percent of all U.S. beef. The packing industry is even more concentrated. The top four beef packers (IBP/Tyson, Excel/Cargill, Swift/ConAgra and U.S. Premium/National Beef) harvest more than 80 percent of the meat.
What can you do if you want to keep beef in your diet?
Opt for organic. The use of growth-promoting hormones and antibiotics is not allowed in certified organic beef production. Nor is feed made from animal by products, that includes meat, blood and bone meal from chickens, pigs and ruminants.
Go for the grass. Choose beef from cattle that were 100 percent “grass-fed”. ” These animals are raised on their natural diet of grass from birth to market, and are not routinely given antibiotics and hormones. Look for a comprehensive grass-fed label from the American Grassfed Association.
Look at labels. Check for phrases like “Naturally Raised,” “No Hormones Added,” “Raised Without Antibiotics” and “Never Fed Animal Byproducts.”
Comb your community. Ask your local producers how they raise their beef. You can find producers near you at farmers markets and on the Web.
I buy my beef from these two farms: http://www.grasslandbeef.com/Page.boktemplate=about and http://www.goodearthfarms.com/.
Many mainstream supermarkets now carry organic, grass-fed beef.
Does this mean that beef is totally bad for you?
No, not at all. Beef is a great source of protein, zinc, selenium, iron and B vitamins. The key to enjoying beef and not increasing your risk for cardiovascular disease is to choose grass-fed leaner cuts of beef, such as round steaks and sirloin steaks. Serving size is equally important. One serving size of beef is only three to four ounces, or about the size of a typical deck of playing cards. You might be scratching your head right now, mentally comparing that juicy 10-ounce T-bone steak to a little three ounce piece of steak. While the round steak is a healthier choice, it doesn’t seem like a tasty option, does it?
Well, meat lovers, while your taste buds may not thank you for giving up the T-bone, your heart surely will. Actually, enjoying low-fat beef isn’t so tough (no pun intended) and here are a few healthy recipes with Italian seasonings for making three-four ounces of low-fat beef really seem like a “tasty dish”.
The fat in grass fed beef has a much different consistency than the fat in commercial, grain fed beef. Because of that, grass fed steaks must be grilled at a lower temperature, more slowly than you would steaks from grain fed beef. Set the grill to medium, and your steaks will be seared on the outside, without risking drying them out and toughening them up on the inside. You will still see the dark grill marks that make the presentation of a grilled steak so inviting. Grilling at the lower temperature, however, you need to know that it will take a little bit longer to get the steaks to the desired doneness, but watch them closely, you don’t want to overcook them.
Sirloin Steak with Bell Peppers
Good served over egg noodles.
- 1 pound sirloin steak, trimmed of fat and cut into 1-inch chunks
- 2 teaspoons fennel seed, roughly chopped or coarsely ground in a spice mill
- 1 teaspoon kosher salt, divided
- 2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
- 2 tablespoons minced garlic
- 1 ½ cups reduced-sodium beef broth, divided
- 1/2 cup dry red wine
- 4 bell peppers vary the colors, cut into 1-inch squares
- Freshly ground pepper, to taste
- 2 tablespoons Wondra all-purpose flour
- Rub steak with fennel seed and 1/2 teaspoon salt, turning to coat on all sides. Heat oil in a large skillet over medium-high heat. Add the steak in a single layer and cook, turning once, until browned on the outside and still pink in the middle, 2 to 4 minutes. Transfer to a plate and cover with foil to keep warm.
- Add garlic to the pan and cook, stirring constantly, until fragrant, about 30 seconds. Add 1 cup broth and wine, scraping up any browned bits with a wooden spoon. Add bell peppers, the remaining 1/2 teaspoon salt and pepper; bring to a simmer. Cover, reduce heat to maintain a simmer and cook until the peppers are tender-crisp, 4 to 6 minutes.
- Whisk the remaining broth and flour in a small bowl. Add to the pepper mixture, increase heat to medium-high and bring to a simmer, stirring constantly. Return the steak to the pan. Adjust heat to maintain a slow simmer and cook, turning the meat once, about 2 minutes for medium-rare.
Steaks with Caramelized Onions & Gorgonzola
Serve with garlic mashed potatoes and broccoli.
- 2 tablespoons olive oil, divided
- 2 large onions, sliced (about 4 cups)
- 1 tablespoon brown sugar
- 1/2 cup reduced-sodium beef broth
- 1 tablespoon balsamic vinegar
- 1/2 teaspoon salt, divided
- 1/4 teaspoon freshly ground pepper
- 1 pound beef tenderloin, (filet mignon) or sirloin steak, 1-1 1/4 inches thick, trimmed and cut into 4 (4 oz.each) steaks
- 1/4 cup crumbled Gorgonzola, or blue cheese
- Heat 1 tablespoon oil over medium heat in a large skillet. Add onions and brown sugar and cook, stirring often, until the onions are very tender and golden brown, about 15 minutes. Add broth, vinegar and 1/4 teaspoon salt and cook, stirring, until the liquid has almost evaporated, 3 to 4 minutes more. Transfer the onions to a bowl; cover to keep warm. Clean and dry the pan.
- Sprinkle the remaining 1/4 teaspoon salt and pepper on both sides of each steak. Heat the remaining 1 tablespoon oil in the same pan over medium-high heat. Add the steaks and cook until browned, 3 to 5 minutes. Turn them over and top with cheese. Reduce heat to medium-low, cover and cook until the cheese is melted and the steaks are cooked to desired doneness, 3 to 5 minutes for medium-rare. Serve the steaks with the caramelized onions.
Grilled Filet Mignon with Vegetable Kebabs
This low-fat cut is actually perfect weekday fare: it cooks up fast, stays juicy and carries other flavors perfectly. The kebabs are a mix of lemon, herbs and fresh vegetables. Serve with rice.
- 1 lemon, zested and juiced
- 2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
- 1 tablespoon dried oregano
- 1/2 teaspoon salt
- 1/4 teaspoon freshly ground pepper
- 16 cherry tomatoes
- 10 ounces white mushrooms, stemmed
- 1 medium zucchini, halved lengthwise and sliced into 1-inch pieces
- 1 small red onion, cut into wedges
- 1 pound filet mignon steak, 1 1/2 to 2 inches thick, cut into 4 pieces
- 1 tablespoon steak seasoning, such as Mrs. Dash
- Preheat grill to high and reduce heat to medium just before placing meat on the grill.
- Combine lemon zest, lemon juice, oil, oregano, salt and pepper in a large bowl. Reserve 2 tablespoons of the marinade in a small bowl. Add tomatoes, mushrooms, zucchini and onion to the remaining marinade; toss well to coat. Thread the vegetables on to eight 10-inch skewers. Drizzle the vegetables and steak with the reserved marinade. Sprinkle steak seasoning on meat.
- Grill the steak 4 to 6 minutes per side for medium. Grill the vegetable kebabs, turning frequently, until tender and lightly charred, 8 to 12 minutes total. Remove the vegetables from the skewers and serve with the steak.
Italian Beef Skillet
Makes 4 servings.
- Olive oil cooking spray
- 1 pound beef round steak
- 2 cups sliced fresh mushrooms
- 1 cup chopped onion
- 1 cup chopped green pepper
- 1/2 cup chopped celery
- 2 cloves garlic, minced
- 1 14-1/2 ounce can low sodium diced tomatoes
- 1/2 teaspoon dried basil, crushed or 1 tablespoon snipped fresh basil
- 1/4 teaspoon dried oregano, crushed or 1-1/2 teaspoons snipped fresh oregano
- 1/8 teaspoon crushed red pepper
- 2 tablespoons grated Parmesan cheese
- Hot cooked pasta (optional)
Trim fat from round steak, then cut meat into 4 serving-size pieces. Spray a cold large skillet with nonstick spray. Add meat pieces to skillet; brown both sides of each piece. Remove meat from skillet. Add mushrooms, onion, green pepper, celery, and garlic to the skillet. Cook until vegetables are nearly tender. Then, stir in tomatoes, dried herbs (if using), and red pepper. Add meat to skillet, spooning vegetable mixture over the meat. Cover and simmer about 1-1/4 hours or until meat is tender, stirring occasionally. Stir in fresh herbs, if using. Transfer meat to a serving platter. Spoon vegetable mixture over meat and sprinkle with Parmesan cheese. Serve with pasta, if desired.
Italian-Style Grilled Steak
Yield: 4 servings (serving size: 3 ounces steak, 1 teaspoon oil)
Grilled mushrooms are a good addition.
- 1 (1-pound) lean beef rib-eye steak, trimmed
- 1 tablespoon finely chopped fresh rosemary
- 1 tablespoon finely chopped fresh thyme
- 2 tablespoons fresh lemon juice
- 1 garlic clove, minced
- 1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
- 1/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
- Cooking spray
- 4 teaspoons extra virgin olive oil
Cut beef across grain into 1/4-inch-thick slices. Combine beef, rosemary, thyme, lemon juice, and garlic in a large zip-top plastic bag; seal. Marinate beef in refrigerator 1 hour, turning occasionally.
Prepare grill. Just before adding meat, reduce heat to medium.
Remove beef from bag, discarding marinade. Sprinkle beef with salt and pepper. Place beef on an oiled grill rack. Cook 1 minute on each side or until desired degree of doneness. Drizzle oil over beef.
This is good with a saute of peppers and onions on the side.
- 1 (1 pound) beef top sirloin steak
- 1 tablespoon olive oil
- Salt and Pepper
- 1/2 teaspoon dried oregano
- 1 cup marinara sauce
- 1/4 cup shredded Sargento Italian 2% reduced fat cheese blend
- 2 tablespoons chopped basil
Brush steaks with olive oil and sprinkle steaks on both sides with salt, pepper and oregano.
Grill over medium heat for 2-4 minutes on each side or until meat reaches desired doneness (for medium-rare, a meat thermometer should read 145°; medium, 160°; well-done, 170°).
Meanwhile, heat sauce in a small saucepan. Spoon over steaks; sprinkle with cheese and basil.
- Is Grass-Fed Beef Good for You? (lef.org)
- Stemple Creek Ranch: Natural Beef Done Right (karenpavonesfoodforthought.com)