When meat comes from animals raised on pasture, it can be part of a healthy diet for those who choose to eat it.
Unlike grain-fed meat, grass-fed and pasture-raised meats are good sources of anti-inflammatory omega-3 fatty acids. Meat that comes from animals raised on grains, like corn and soybeans, is high in pro-inflammatory omega-6 fatty acids.
Omega-3 and omega-6 fats are called "essential" because our bodies can't make them and they must come from our diet. Omega-3 fats reduce inflammation in the body, while omega-6 fats increase inflammation. And our bodies need both.
Inflammation can be a good thing: it helps our immune system fight bacteria and viruses that can make us sick, and it's essential for healing injured tissues. But we also need to be able to turn inflammation off once it's no longer needed.
Because inflammatory biochemical pathways in the body must be balanced with anti-inflammatory pathways, ideally, we should get omega-3 and omega-6 fats from our diet in equal amounts.
Most people in the United States get way too many omega-6 fats, and animal products are a big part of the problem. A study published in the New England Journal of Medicine found that eggs from chickens fed corn contained 20 times more omega-6 fats than omega-3 fats, while eggs from chickens raised on pasture contained roughly equal amounts.
As a general rule, omega-6s are found in grains and omega-3s are found in leaves, nuts, seeds, fish and seafood. So when animals are allowed to roam free and forage for their natural diet - which includes leaves, grass, nuts or seeds - their meat, milk and eggs are good sources of omega-3 fats. But when animals eat grains, their meat, milk and eggs contain excess amounts of omega-6 fats.
Consuming too many omega-6 fats from grains, grain-fed animal products and processed foods made with soybean oil or corn oil is certainly a significant factor in the current crisis of inflammatory illness. Chronic and deadly diseases linked to both diet and inflammation include cardiovascular disease, diabetes and cancer. Together, these three conditions currently kill two out of every three people in the United States.
To protect your health, seek out meat, milk and eggs from animals raised on pasture. These products are often more expensive than their grain-fed counterparts, but remember that quality is more important than quantity. It's better to eat smaller amounts of grass-fed meat than larger amounts of grain-fed meat. And a little meat can go along way, especially when added to soups and salads.
Think of it as a healthy condiment for a plant-based diet.
Simopoulos AP and Salem N Jr. n-3 fatty acids in eggs from range-fed Greek chickens. New England Journal of Medicine. 1989 Nov 16;321(20):1412.