You Are What Your Food Eats

grass fed beef, pasture raised, free-range, pesticides

You’ve probably heard the saying “You are what you eat”. This statement is true, but what about what our food eats?

Caged vs Free-Range Animals

The food that farm animals are fed has a dramatic impact on the nutrient composition of their meat, aka what we eat. Cows, chickens and pigs can be kept indoors and fed a diet consisting of grain, corn and/or soy or they can roam free outside and eat their natural diet of grass, fruits, vegetables, seeds, insects, etc. When animals are fad the latter diet, their meat is more nutritious and has more positive health benefits when consumed by us humans.

Beef from grass-fed cows, gram for gram, actually has fewer calories than that of grain-fed cows. Where grass-fed beef really shines is in the fatty acid composition. It contains less monosaturated fat and up to five times as much omega-3’s (those super amazing healthy fats that we need). Grass-fed beef is also found to contain higher levels of vitamins such as vitamin A and E and also tends to be richer in antioxidants.

When seeking the best quality poultry, look for free-range or pastured raised. Free-range chickens are allowed to roam outdoors as opposed to being cooped up in cages. Free-range and pasture raised poultry typically has a higher protein content than it’s grain-fed counterpart. It also tends to have less cholesterol. Some people claim free-range chickens actually taste better, in part due to lower cortisol levels from the stress-free lifestyle (think chickens on vacation). Due to their diets chickens that are free to roam have higher amounts of vitamins and minerals like vitamins B, D, A, and potassium. The meat is also safer for human consumption because free-range chickens are not given artificial supplements and growth hormones. Pasture raised chickens also produce healthier eggs. Bonus! (more on eggs in a later post).

Similar to cows and chickens, free-range, or pasture -raised, pork comes from pigs who were raised with free access to the outdoors. Access to roam free leads to higher quality meat. Free-range pork is generally leaner and, like grass-fed beef, tends to have higher levels of healthy fats. Pork from pigs that are allowed to eat grass and leaves contains higher amounts of vitamin D and A and is found to have up to 74% higher levels of antioxidants.

In most cases, animals who are allowed to roam free are better taken care of, have better living conditions, are antibiotic free, and are show more humane practices when being slaughtered. Not to mention, with all varieties of farm animals, when they are allowed to roam free they get more exercise meaning they are naturally going to be more lean.

The Soil

Fruits and vegetables “eat” as well. Nutrients are provided through the sun, air, water and soil in which they are grown. Healthy soil full of nutrients and organic matter is going to produce more nutritious plants. Soil that is over farmed and riddled with chemicals, on the other hand, is going to produce plants that are less nutritious.


Pesticides contaminate much more than just the plants they are sprayed on. They are found in the soil, water and other vegetation and consequently affect wildlife including birds, fish, helpful insects and other plants in the ecosystem. Pesticides have even been found in our drinking water, as a result of surface water run off and groundwater contamination from treated plants and soil.

How can we reduce our risk to these harmful chemicals? Until we take a stand against pesticides, farmers and regulators will continue encouraging their use. A few things you can do include:

  • Buy organic when you can
  • Visit your local farmers market
  • Trim the fat from meat where pesticides might collect
  • Wash fruits and vegetables before consuming
  • Select foods from a variety of sources to avoid potentially high levels of exposure to a single chemical

Is Variety Important?

It’s important to eat a variety of foods, not only for the purpose of avoiding harmful pesticides. A purple carrot has different nutrients than an orange carrot. A head of broccoli offers different benefits than a bowl of oatmeal. And we need all of these things. When we eat the same few foods over and over we are missing out on vital nutrients our bodies need to function properly. By consuming a wide range of vitamins, minerals and nutrients we are better able to fuel our bodies and fight off diseases.

Eating a variety of foods also keeps things interesting with different textures and flavors, making us less likely to get bored and “cheat” on unhealthy processed foods.

As a reminder – I am not a doctor. If you have special dietary needs or would like to discuss a plan specific to you, please consult your physician.

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