Lie #1: Grass-fed beef is better for you.
The truth: Cows raised entirely on grass pastures really do produce superior meat higher in heart-healthy beneficial fatty acids and vitamin E. But just don’t trust a generic “grass-fed” claim on a beef product label. If you do, you could unknowingly be eating factory- farmed beef from cows raised on feedlots, desolate, grassless patches of land where thousands of cows are crammed and fed an unnatural diet of corn and soy. The end result? Meat higher in unhealthy saturated fats that could also be more likely to harbor the lethal strain of e. Coli 0157:H7. “All beef cattle in the U.S. are grass-fed at one point in their lives, before they are transported to the feedlots,” explains Charlotte Vallaeys, director of farm and food policy at The Cornucopia Institute, a sustainable farming watchdog group. “So technically the majority of beef cattle are grass-fed but not grass-finished.”
Eat this instead: For truly grass-fed beef, seek out the American Grassfed label from The American Grassfed Association. The organization prohibits any grain feeding. For more info, check out the Guide to Buying Grass-Fed Beef.
Lie #2: White meat is always a healthy alternative.
The truth: A 2012 Johns Hopkins University study studied the feathers of imported chickens to determine what the birds ingested before slaughter. They were surprised to find traces of antidepressants, painkillers, banned antibiotics and allergy medication. Researchers said Prozac is sometimes used in imported chicken to quell anxiety in chickens raised in tightly-packed, factory-farm conditions. Stress causes the chickens to grow more slowly, hurting profits. Scientists also uncovered caffeine in about 50 percent of samples taken. Why? Caffeine keeps chickens awake so they can grow faster.
Eat this instead: To find more humanely and naturally raised chicken, look for local grass-fed poultry farmers who don’t use routine antibiotics or arsenic in feed. (LocalHarvest.org is a good resource.) If you’re in the grocery store, opt for organic—standards for organic include bans on the use of antibiotics, arsenic, and many other unappetizing chicken-farming practices. In addition to organic products, Animal Welfare Approved and Certified Humane certifications ban the use of antibiotics in healthy animals, too.
Lie #3: No nitrates or nitrites = a healthier hot dog.
The truth: The cancer-promoting preservative compounds are undoubtedly found in conventional hotdogs, but the truth is they’re found in natural and organic dogs, too. Conventional food manufacturers typically use synthetic compounds, while organic producers use a process that includes celery juice or celery seeds and bacteria, which results in varying levels of the same unhealthy ingredients. Organic and natural food producers are limited in the language they can use on the label, usually resorting to the United States Department of Agriculture-approved “uncured” or “no nitrates or nitrites added” claims.
Eat this instead: If you’re hankering for the occasional hot dog, look for makers of organic and grass-fed products so that the health benefits—more beneficial fats and no antibiotic, hormone, or pesticide residues—help level out the ill effects of nitrates.
Lie #4: Natural and organic lunchmeat is good for you.
The truth: The American Cancer Society recommends avoiding processed meats (including lunchmeat) as much as possible, thanks to the products’ association to colon cancer. While it’s a huge plus that organic lunchmeats are free of genetically engineered ingredients, pesticides, hormones, and antibiotics, they still likely harbor nitrites. Plus, many poultry-based lunchmeats also contain carrageenan, a seaweed-derived additive used to bond the meat together. There’s strong evidence that carrageenan creates inflammation and causes digestive diseases, including ulcerative colitis.
Eat this instead: It’s best to limit the amount of lunchmeat you eat, but when you do, opt for an organic lunchmeat option that doesn’t list carregeenan on the ingredients label, such as Applegate’s roast beef, Genoa salami, or uncured ham products. Avoid carrageenan in other poultry products like chicken strips, too.
Lie #5: Mad cow disease isn’t a threat in the U.S.
The truth: There is a current practice in the meat industry that does raise Mad Cow Disease concerns. “There’s a loophole in the federal standards that allows parts of downed or dead cattle from the dalughterhouse, meaning dead upon arrival, which cannot be used for human consumption, but can be used in animal feed,” explains Vaalaeys.
Eat this instead: Go the organic route, since The National Organic Program bans the use of feeding animal byproducts to livestock. You can also find a local farmer you trust who raises cows on pasture, not grain that could contain animal byproducts.