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    Archive for the ‘beef’ Category

    Surprise! You Just Ate (Junky) Cat Food!

    In this wacky world of crop subsidies, all species are subject to an ever-abundant medley of corn, wheat, and soy byproducts.  The Big Food companies — regardless of whether they serve humans, canines, or felines — love these byproducts because of their low cost and great ability to serve as fillers in a variety of processed foods.

    It turns out those small cans of cat food you’ve seen in your local grocery or drugstore’s “pet food” aisle contain strikingly similar ingredients to what some fast food chains dish out to Homo sapiens.

    Continue Reading »

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    You Ask, I Answer: “Grass-Fed” Labeling

    naturalorganicmeatsDo the words “grass fed” on a package of beef mean anything, truly?

    Are there strict guidelines, or is it a very loose term?

    — Annie Balzer
    Sacramento, CA
    (Via Twitter, @anniebalzer)

    Twitter’s 140-character limit was definitely not enough space to cover this topic, so I told Annie I would have to answer her question on the blog.  Not surprisingly, this is not as cut-and-dry (does that classify as a bad grass-related pun?) as you may think.

    The United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) legally defined the term “grass-fed” in October of 2007, as follows.  I have bolded certain parts for further discussion:

    “Grass and forage shall be the feed source consumed for the lifetime of the ruminant animal, with the exception of milk consumed prior to weaning. The diet shall be derived solely from forage consisting of grass (annual and perennial), forbs (e.g., legumes, Brassica), browse, or cereal grain crops in the vegetative (pre-grain) state. Animals cannot be fed grain or grain byproducts and must have continuous access to pasture during the growing season. Hay, haylage, baleage, silage, crop residue without grain, and other roughage sources may also be included as acceptable feed sources. Routine mineral and vitamin supplementation may also be included in the feeding regimen. If incidental supplementation occurs due to inadvertent exposure to non-forage feedstuffs or to ensure the animal’s well being at all times during adverse environmental or physical conditions, the producer must fully document (e.g., receipts, ingredients, and tear tags) the supplementation that occurs including the amount, the frequency, and the supplements provided.

    Whew.  Let’s break this down.

    “Grass and forage… consumed for the lifetime of the ruminant animal.  The diet shall be derived solely from forage.”

    This definition means that beef labeled “grass-fed” must be from cows that consume grass throughout their entire life.  This is to prevent grass-finished or grain-finished beef from being labeled “grass-fed”.  “Grass-finished” means that a cow eats grain for most of its life, but is then fed grass the last few months.  Prior to this 2007 ruling, some unscrupulous individuals would do this and label their products “grass-fed”.

    “Grain-finished” is a more common practice, in which cows consume grass until the last few months of life, during which time they are fed grain.  The grain diet bulks up cows (which means more weight, and therefore, more money when sold), but ultimately negates the health-effects of a grass-exclusive diet (mainly lower levels of saturated fat and higher levels of heart-healthy conjugated linoleic acid).

    “Animals must have continuous access to pasture during the growing season…”

    This is one of the more vague and controversial parts of the definition.

    “Access to pasture” is not the same as “pasture-raised”.  Per USDA laws, “access to pasture” can mean that cows are confined indoors, but a gate that leads to pasture is open.  Sure, the confined cows are eating grass or hay — as opposed to grains — from a trough, but their mobility is severely restricted.  This usually comes as a surprise to people who equate “grass-fed” with “pasture-raised”.

    If incidental supplementation occurs due to inadvertent exposure to non-forage feedstuffs or to ensure the animal’s well being at all times during adverse environmental or physical conditions, the producer must fully document (e.g., receipts, ingredients, and tear tags) the supplementation that occurs including the amount, the frequency, and the supplements provided.

    This is also rather unsettling, for it appears to indicate that all the farmer has to do is document instances where cows may have eaten grains.  There is no mention of a farmer being forbidden from selling that meat as “grass-fed”.

    Then, of course, there is the issue of what is not said in the definition.  “Grass-fed” does not indicate an absence of antibiotics or growth hormones.  That falls under the definition of “organic”.  So, organic grass-fed beef is certainly different from grass-fed beef.

    The American Grassfed Association is very unhappy about that tidbit, and has therefore implemented its own third-party verification system.  You can read their standards here (specifically, read pages 3 to 9 to become familiar with their criteria). You can view a rather lengthy list of producers who meet their criteria here.

    In essence, the American Grassfed Association label means that beef is from cows that:

    • Solely subsist on grass their entire lives
    • Do not consume antibiotics
    • Are not injected with hormones
    • Are pasture-raised

    FYI 1: Let me once again remind you that “vegetarian-fed” is not the same as “grass-fed”!

    FYI 2: Keep in mind, too, that this is all about certification.  It is very plausible that a local farm which labels its beef as “grass-fed” and does not carry an AGA label still meets all of their requirements.  If they don’t take the initiative to apply for certification, they won’t display the AGA seal of approval.

    The problem isn’t that all beef labeled “grass-fed” is subjected to hormones and antibiotics, but rather that, due to loose standards, beef labeled in such a manner doesn’t necessarily have to abide by standards that some people erroneously assume come with that term.

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    Moooooot Point

    tboneOver the past few months I have seen an increasing number of beef products at the supermarket labeled “vegetarian-fed”.

    It really is the sign of a messed up food system when a cow eating the way it’s supposed to (all cows are naturally vegetarian) commands a special sticker and a premium.

    What disturbs me even more, though, is that “vegetarian-fed” cattle could still be — and very likely, are — eating a very unhealthy diet.

    It is very probable these cows are subsisting on a vegetarian diet of corn and wheat, two foods their digestive tracts are not used to, and therefore can cause a multitude of health problems.

    I have a sneaking suspicion that “vegetarian-fed” advertising is meant to confuse customers into thinking they are purchasing grass-fed beef products.

    FYI 1: In case you’re wondering, some cows in feedlots are not only fed that unnatural corn-and-wheat diet; they also have ground up meat and bones included in that mix!  You can thank that aberration for the developing of mad cow disease!

    FYI 2: Since “vegetarian-fed” is not a claim regulated by the United States Department of Agriculture, the lack of that statement on a beef product does not necessarily mean you are purchasing meat from a cow that ate ground up bits of its own kind.

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    You Ask, I Answer: Choline

    1B7796CD98BAE223AFF6643CFAF1A7What is choline?  Why is it good for us and which foods contain it?

    — @Monica_San Diego, @noelty5
    Via Twitter

    I received these tweets soon after I tweeted that 90 percent of adults in the United States do not get sufficient amounts of choline in their diets.

    Choline is an essential nutrient (‘essential’ meaning we must get it from food) that is often referred to as a “vitamin-like organic substance” that has a lot in common with the B vitamins (it is not, however, an out-and-out B vitamin).

    Choline has a number of important functions, including:

    • Proper functioning of neurotransmitters
    • Overall liver and gallbladder health
    • Fetal neural and spinal development
    • Cell permeability (allowing cells to absorb fats adequately and excrete necessary metabolites)
    • Phospholipid synthesis (necessary for cellular structure)
    • Cardiovascular health (choline helps lower homocysteine levels; high homocysteine levels are a significant risk factor for heart disease)

    As far as food sources go, these are your best bets:

    • Beef
    • Broccoli
    • Cauliflower
    • Egg yolk
    • Lentils
    • Salmon
    • Shrimp
    • Soy beans
    • Peanuts
    • Wheat germ
    • Salmon

    Men should aim for 550 milligrams a day. Women, meanwhile, need to shoot for 425.

    Multiple research studies have concluded that consistent, long-term deficiencies increase one’s risk of developing fatty liver, liver cancer, and heart disease.

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    In The News: The Antibiotic Discussion That Makes ME Sick

    SuperStock_1538R-57462Today’s San Francisco Chronicle reports that “a New York congresswoman is trying to rally support for a federal bill that… bans feeding antibiotics to cattle, hogs and poultry to increase their growth.”

    It specifically demands that “in the absence of any clinical sign of disease, farmers be forbidden from using any of seven classes of antibiotics, including penicillin, tetracycline and macrolide for routine infection prevention.”

    The US Food and Drug Administration concedes that “giving anti-microbials to animals when they are not sick is inappropriate – and even worse, contributes to more drug-resistant infections in people.”

    The American Medical Association and Food & Drug Administration have also expressed their support for this bill.

    Sweet awesomeness, right?  Not quite.

    Many farms and ranchers — part of the ever-powerful agricultural and beef lobbies that appear to have Congress on puppet strings — have their own set of arguments against this bill, most of which are quite infuriating to read: increased prices of meat, higher rates of illness among cattle, animals who will be smaller in size and offer less meat if they become sick and eat less, etc.

    Talk about not addressing the real issue!

    Cattle and other animals get sick and need massive amounts of antibiotics because of their deplorable living conditions.

    Remember, most cows in this country spend their entire lives standing in one spot eating an unnatural diet of corn and grains until the day they are slaughtered.  Ironically, this is often sold as “all-natural” beef.

    This corn and grain diet is extremely unhealthy and makes cows very ill, hence the need for antibiotics in the feed.

    Why do farmers retort to such diets?  Two reasons, both of which come down to the almighty dollar:

    1. Since corn and wheat are subsidized by the government, they are extremely cheap.
    2. This feed bulks up cows, thereby allowing farmers to sell more pounds of meat

    As far as I’m concerned, this is even more of a reason to dispose of agricultural subsidies that do nothing towards health promotion (they are mostly used to feed cattle an unhealthy diet or to make lots of cheap high fructose corn syrup and oils used in nutritionally empty junk food).

    Anyone who believes the elimination of agricultural subsidies will result in millions of people going hungry MUST read this brief article that details what happened when New Zealand got rid of their crop subsidies in the mid 1980s.

    As for beef prices potentially increasing, I don’t see what the problem is.  There are endless sources of protein — just as afforable, if not more — other than red meat available in the food supply.

    It’s time to think about the real cost of food.  Is saving a dollar on meat worth the inhumane conditions these animals live in and the possible health complications for humans from having antibiotics in the food supply?

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    Obama Eats A Burger — And Reaffirms His Masculinity

    ObamaThe scene from yesterday’s  NBC White House special that stood out to me most was that of Barack Obama ordering burgers and French fries at popular East coast chain Five Guys.

    It struck me as odd and carefully orchestrated, particularly since many articles during Obama’s presidential campaign pointed out the healthfulness of his diet.

    When discussing  nutrition, it is imperative to also examine the cultural implications of food, particularly as they apply to gender, class, and ethnicity.  These are intangible, yet pervasive, factors that affect who eats what.

    This slightly dense, yet fascinating, essay discusses the masculinity of meat and its political symbolisms. A highly recommended read.

    I am not chastising President Obama for eating hamburgers.  Nor am I making the point that our eating habits are always a reflection of gender.  I am, however, pointing out the underlying messages in food choices (particularly in situations like this ones) as well as what I consider unfortunate cultural symbolisms that affect eating habits:

    • “A real man” eats beef, large portions, and does not care about calories or nutrition
    • Healthy eating is elitist
    • A “true American” supports his country by eating meat

    Thoughts?

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    Different Day, Same Cow?

    Would you ever eat the meat — or drink the milk — of a cloned cow?

    Heck, why am I even asking? You really have no choice!

    One of George W. Bush’s last decisions as Commander-in-Chief included quietly passing legislation allowing the meat and milk of cloned animals to be sold to consumers without being labeled as such.

    The Food and Drug Association’s argument is that since food from cloned cattle is no less healthy than that of “conventional” cattle, there is no need to differentiate between the two.

    In fact, some documentation quotes scientists as saying cloned meat can actually be better, since it often results in tender, juicier steaks (right, I am sure this was the driving force behind animal cloning).

    The main line of reasoning behind cloning is to provide more food to the American public.

    Really? The food industry is already supplying an average of 3,900 calories per person — almost double the requirement for most people. Do we really need more food? And if we do, why is red meat the chosen one?

    The chances of you having consumed food from a cloned animal is low, as the number of them is currently too low to enter the food supply.

    However, don’t expect any special announcements once this happens.

    Industry response to concerns from consumers? “If you don’t feel comfortable eating food from a cloned animal, buy organic.”

    Thoughts?

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    You Ask, I Answer: Ostrich/Bison Meats

    An “upscale” burger place I like to go to offers ostrich and bison meat.

    I like the taste of both and have heard they are better for you than beef.

    Is that true?

    — Robert (last name withheld)
    New York, NY

    Ostrich (popular in Asia and Southern Africa) and bison/buffalo meats are considered a rarity in the United States.

    In case you’re having a Jessica Simpson moment, remember that buffalo wings are made from chicken (they originated in the city of Buffalo, hence the name.)

    Compared to traditional (cow’s) red meat, both of these options are healthier alternatives.

    Whereas three ounces of beef clock in at 240 calories and 15 grams of fat, that same amount of ostrich adds up to 97 calories and 1.3 grams of fat, while three ounces of bison contain 140 calories and 2.5 grams of fat.

    Since bison subsist only on grass — the overwhelming majority of cows in the United States are on a literally lethal corn-based diet — their meat offers low amounts of saturated fat and higher levels of Conjugated Linoleic Acid.

    Although ostriches do not eat grass, their meat is very lean since fat builds up outside their muscle tissue, making it very easy to remove prior to cooking.

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    Top of the Mocks

    A mere decade ago, faux meats were mostly a fringe food, sought after at small health food stores by vegetarians and vegans.

    Some tasted great, others were as appealing as dog food.

    I remember my first veggie hot dog, back in 1997, purchased at a speciality vegetarian supermarket. It reminded me of potpourri with salt.

    Over the past decade, vegetarianism (even if occasional) has been adopted by millions of people around the world, consequently resulting in a wider variety of much tastier faux-meat products available at conventional supermarkets.

    While they definitely fall into the “processed food” category and therefore should not be daily staples, they are okay to have once in a while.

    One of my absolute favorite products is the soy beef crumbles available from the folks over at Boca Burger and Morningstar Farms.

    I especially like to add some to my vegan chili.

    As I always like to say, you know a soy product is good when steak enthusiasts gobble it up, can’t believe that’s ground SOY beef they are eating, and ask for seconds!

    Now, let’s compare and contrast.

    Two ounces (two thirds of a cup) of Boca ground soy beef crumbles contribute:

    • 60 calories
    • 0 grams of saturated fat
    • 270 milligrams of sodium
    • 3 grams of fiber
    • 13 grams of protein

    The same amount of Morningstar farms soy crumbles adds up to:

    • 80 calories
    • 0 grams of saturated fat
    • 240 milligrams of sodium
    • 3 grams of fiber
    • 10 grams of protein
    • They are also fortified with half of the daily B12 requirement!

    If you were to use that same amount of 70 percent lean ground beef in a recipe, you would be adding:

    • 153 calories
    • 4 grams of saturated fat
    • 14.5 grams of protein

    This is not to say all your animal meat dishes should be replaced with vegetarian options.

    However, soy beef enables you to satiate your taste for red meat in a different way.

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    In The News: Rain, Taxes, Death…. and Contaminated Beef

    It’s time for another round of “ground beef recall“!

    You guessed it — E.Coli 0157:H7 has reared its ugly head once more.

    This, by the way, is the same strand that, back in 1993, caused the death of 4 children who consumed contaminated meat at fast food giant Jack in the Box.

    How do these outbreaks happen?

    It’s quite simply, really. Any healthy-looking cow can carry E.Coli in its intestinal tract.

    Once the animal is slaughtered and its meat is ground up, E. Coli germs intermingle with it and, voila, E.Coli-infested beef is shipped off to your local grocery store.

    To make matters more difficult, E.Coli-infested beef does not look, taste, or smell “funny”.

    This is why cooking beef to an internal temperature of 160 degrees Fahrenheit is crucial (it kills any living organisms).

    Additionally, be sure to use separate cutting boards for meat and vegetables so as to not cross-contaminate your raw salad greens with any bacteria present in raw meat.

    Of course, on a much larger scale, if our food production system was better regulated and not hell-bent on accruing profits while jeopardizing cattle and human health, we wouldn’t be constantly facing these outbreaks.

    Not only are cows in feedlots practically living on top of one another (significantly increasing the spread of disease among a single population), they are also on a completely unnatural corn diet, which appears to increase their chances of contracting E.Coli 0157:H7 (the corn diet makes for a more acid stomach environment, which the E.Coli strain loves).

    I believe the personal is often the political. Our hard-earned dollars are an extremely powerful vote.

    If you choose to eat meat, purchasing local organic grass-fed beef (if within your price range) can help bring some peace of mind to your health and support more natural and sustainable practices.

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