We’re a family of carnivores, firmly rooted in the camp that considers animals edible simply because they’re made of meat. And if you’re anything like us, everything from Grandma’s bolognese to breezy summer barbecues just wouldn’t be the same without ground chuck, round and short ribs to complement them.
Turns out small amounts of red meat are actually pretty good for you, which is hi-five-worthy news for red-blooded Americans everywhere who consume more than 100 lbs. of meaty goodness per year on average. You can thank protein, vitamins and iron for that, but before you gleefully induce the meat sweats with bacon-wrapped meatery, take note that moderation is key. Different cuts, feed and fact content factor into that too, and frankly, it can be confusing.
Good thing beef farmers just outside Chicago are producing the red meat we serve our families, and through the Illinois Farm Families City Moms (formerly Field Moms) program, are sharing unrestricted access to their farms.
Four years ago, I had the opportunity to be part of the year-long flagship program that was just planting seeds in the social media space in an effort to answer the questions parents-as-consumers have about the processes that take their food from farm to table. (Better yet, the learnathon continues for alumni, resulting in an ongoing dialogue between farmer and consumer.)
And when it comes to beef production, it turns out there’s a lot farmers actually want you to know.
- The recommended serving size for lean red meat is just 3-4 oz., which translates to a deck of cards.
- A 3-oz. serving of red meat provides us with half the recommended daily protein intake our body needs, and is an excellent source of Vitamin B6 and B12 (energy boost!), zinc (maintains the immune system), and iron (helps oxygenate the blood). And get this. Ground beef actually has 8 times more Vitamin B12, 6 times more zinc and 2.5 times more iron than chicken.
- Ground beef is actually ranked third for foods that have the best source of iron, which puts it on the list with fortified cereals and grains.
- There are more than 50 different cuts of meat on a cow. The five most popular among les Americans are chuck pot roast, top loin steak, top round steak, top sirloin steak, and t-bone steak.
- Meat comes with all kinds of labels, including USDA Prime, Choice and Select. All have to do with mouth-watering characteristics like tenderness, juiciness and flavor. Prime refers to beef that comes from young cows and has significant marbling (fat), which makes it good for grilling and broiling. Choice beef has less marbling than Prime, and works well for braising and roasting. Select beef is tender-ish, but has less marbling than either Prime or Choice, which makes it good for marinating.
- USDA-inspected labels on beef can be misleading (big surprise), mainly because all beef has to be inspected by the USDA before going to market. Having USDA on it basically doesn’t mean anything special. The term grass-fed beef is also questionable, because at some point, all cows are fed grass and roam around in pastures where inevitably, they eat it.
- The fat in your steak is actually monounsaturated, which is good for you in moderation.
- More than 98% of cattle in the U.S. are given hormones to aid their growth and strength. That being said, you would have to eat 2,900 lbs. of implanted steer to equal the amount of hormones in birth control pills. Think of this way: Beef from a steer treated with estrogen contains 1.9 nanongrams – a billionth of a gram – of hormones while the average girl has 54,000 nanograms of estrogen naturally occurring in her system before puberty.
- A dedicated cattle nutritionist (yep, you can specialize) creates a very specific feed recipe for cows to keep their meat optimal. Farmers and veterinarians are working to reduce antibiotic use in cattle by focusing on good nutrition and the use of vaccines in comprehensive preconditioning programs – before they get big enough for us to eat.
- Nutrition wise, there is really no difference between organic beef and non-organic beef because antibiotics pass through cattle before they’re allowed to be sold for meat.
Consider learning more about farms by checking out farm tour recaps from current and alumni moms at watchusgrow.org.
Disclosure: I’m proud to partner with IL Farm Families, and am being sponsored for my posts. All opinions expressed are my own. Check out DGOE’s full disclosure policy here.