I have been thriving on a vlc paleo diet, and I do wholeheartedly believe that the paleo diet is the healthiest that I can offer to my family. I am, however, finding it very hard to keep up my high standards of where my meat comes from, from a financial standpoint.
A little background: I have a potato allergy, and a pretty strong intolerance to starchy foods in general, and I am a bit dairy sensitive (though I can handle cultured/raw dairy somewhat), so I am pretty limited to meat and veggies, plus some fruit in the summer. I am working on recovering from a thyroid imbalance, and have another 5-10% body fat to lose. I am also feeding my two perpetually ravenous sons (3 and 1 years old), and my husband who LOVES his carbs.
So, my question: Is it more nutritious to eat more organic veggies and a smaller amount of organic, grass-fed meat, or a moderate amount of CAFO meat and less veggies? I can definitely start making more sweet potatoes etc., to round out meals for my family, but I am still stuck needing to get a good amount of fat and protein myself to feel well. I am really hesitant to feed my children CAFO meat for health reasons, but I also don't like to eat it myself, as it isn't a food system that I think deserves my money and support.
So, paleo peeps, what would you do?
Generally speaking, I go for grass-fed meat and I get regular veggies. I try and wash them really well, and I'm sure there are studies out there on the nutrition of organic veggies vs. pesticide plastered ones, but in my non-educated opinion, the 12-1 ratio (or worse) of CAFO meat is not something that can be "washed off," and I try really hard to avoid that stuff, even if I have to compromise on veggies.
I also try and go for veggies with "thick skins," or stuff I can peel--carrots, onions, avocado. My theory (un-researched) is that the skin itself protects the veggie from pesticides, and that I can get the outside off of other types of veggies. I don't really peeol all that much, though--I'm much more likely just to chuck a carrot in whole rather than peel it.
I was unable to enjoy grass fed beef until fairly recently.
Especially in the winter, my purchases tended to be pork roasts and brisket- I cooked them slow and rendered the fat.
Now, I realize this runs counter to most paleo recommendations, but the skewed fat composition in commercial meat seems to be easier to counter-act than the problems with grains, legumes, and dairy. Cut out the Omega-6s from industrial oils and supplement with fish oils. Animal fat is a mixture- mainly saturated- the whacked out ratio of omegas sounds horrible, but the actual amount isn't that much. We get more Omega-6 fats from chicken fat than we do pork or beef- that's why poultry fat tends to be so soft.
Budget constraints being what they are, not to mention the tendency to cheat when we don't eat enough fat to be satisfied, this approach, while not perfect, did help me become healthier and lose a lot weight.
You can make smart decisions with your veggie choices like buying frozen veggies and gobbling up a lot of low cost organic foods. Even at regular supermarkets, organic carrots tend to super cheap so you can make those a regular addition to meal time. Buying out of season produce may not be the most nutritionally sound choice coming from a broken system but for those of us on a budget looking to cut corners, I say work that broken system.
Your cut of meat choices can greatly vary the grocery bill as well. Say you are looking to make a chicken stir fry and you want free range, organic chicken. Well chicken breasts run around $8/pound for that high of quality BUT chicken tights run about half that. There are some recipes that call for the actual breast for shape and what not but if you're dicing the meat up, why spend the extra money? Drumsticks are a great source of cheap protein and fat as well. Put a spicy dry rub on them and bake them in the oven, there is enough natural fat that they will be juicy and tasty without any sugary BBQ sauce.
How adventurous is your husband and kids? Organ meat is always a possibility there. Some, like the heart, are a bit chewy but a good marinade can help with that. Stir fry is a great option for this as well.
As far as saving money on produce, how much space do you have for a garden? Even grabbing a few big pots and growing a tomato and pepper plant or two can give you a TON of fresh produce for pennies on the dollar. I'm holding off on buying my plants another week because I work at a greenhouse and am hoping to snag a few plants for free before they get dumped (hehe) but now is a great time to buy because greenhouses are slashing prices to sell as much stock as they can. I plan on getting a few pepper plants and freezing the extra produce so I will have locally grown, organic peppers for the next few months at no additional charge. My grocery bill should drop during the fall, me thinks.
If you're worried about getting more fat into their diet and you are somewhat dairy tolerable, look into adding more butter and cream into your and your family's diet. I remember growing up with creamed vegetables all the time. If you can make creamed carrots and serve them with your chicken thigh stir fry then you just gave your family a tasty meal on the cheap that doesn't compromise nutritional value.
I agree w Laura. You will get more pesticide and other chem exposure from CAFO meat than from non-organic veg because pesticides concentrate up the food chain. To make sure you get the least pesticides from the veg/fruit you buy non-organic, just avoid buying the "dirty dozen" - the bottom 12 on this list - http://www.foodnews.org/fulllist.php
Look for those organic, grow in a garden, avoid and replace or check with your local farmers and farmers market for organic but not labeled as such.
USDA certification is very expensive. Many small farmers grow that way but can't say so. Ask them about their growing practices, or ask if they use pesticides. If they grow organically they will definitely tell you so (but may not use the word because of regs.)
I too try and eat only grassfed meat but let me put an idea forth that Kurt Harris i think echoed on his blog a while back. (Putting ethical treatment of animals aside for a moment and focusing on the nutrition of the meat that the OP brings up) I know that the n3s drop a good deal in a CAFO cow compared to a fully pastured healthy super cow. However, the n3s that are indeed dropping only accounted for approximately 3% of the total fat in the meat when it was pastured anyhow. Should a drop from 3% to 1% be something we worry about?
In other words, should we reassess and realize that there is so little actual n3 in beef even in the best of circumstances, that when we lose that little bit when the animal is a poor CAFO critter, perhaps we're barking up the wrong tree? I know im focusing on omegas here, but it seems that you see this in a lot of advertising, and it comes up in conversation quite a bit.
I would say avoid CAFO meat if you can. The fat that they offer isn't really the type of fat you are after. One strategy I employ is going for the more economical cuts of meat or buying in bulk. You may want to save up and do a cow share with a group of friends--you will have a freezer full of grass fed beef and a year supply of food if you do it right. My standby is often the ground beef which is much cheaper than the steaks (and usually comparable in price to super market stuff). You could also go for bigger brisket cuts and things that can feed the family and make left overs. And there there are organ meats which are usually absurdly cheap. Also buy whole roaster chickens which offer a much better deal than individual cuts.
If ever look at the cost per pound of the much trumpeted boneless skinless chicken breast, you get the feeling we've all been conned.
Have you considered some seafood options as well? Sometimes you can find wild-caught salmon on sale, though I guess it wouldn't be a staple. Canned sardines are great too and I can usually find some for a little over a dollar for ~100g.
Like you, I need a good amount of protein and fat to feel well. I also can't afford to buy grass-fed. And as much as I'd love to buy from local farmers all the time, I can't do that either. So I buy grocery store meat most of the time, 'supplemented' by local and/or grass-fed from time to time, and also take krill oil and make an effort to add seafood as a side dish whenever I can. A prescription for steak + shrimp or scallops is not so bad :)
I eat less veg, so usually get organic and/or local. If/when I buy any dairy, it's usually organic/local as well. I am more interested in local than organic, really.
I think focusing on what makes you feel best health-wise is paramount. In the long run, eating mainly grocery store meat is not going to lead you down the path to illness. And there's no point in breaking your budget either, if it isn't feasable for you. You have to meet (meat?) yourself where you are.
But... you could look around and see if there are any meat CSA's in your area, or share programs with local farmers, that offer grass-fed. See if you can round up any neighbours to share with!
To all those who claim grass fed meat is metabolically advantageous I have one simple question. Where's the beef?
Show me the proof son!
Here, read this and weep --> Study shows ground beef from grain-fed cattle healthier than grass-fed
“There really were no negative effects of feeding ground beef from the pasture-fed cattle,” Smith said. “We did see many positive effects in men that consumed ground beef from corn-fed cattle. The ground beef from the USDA Prime cattle increased HDL cholesterol and LDL particle diameter. Both effects are protective against cardiovascular disease. The Prime ground beef also decreased insulin, so it may have some protective effect against type II diabetes.”
Stick that in your pipe and smoke it.
I think all the elite grass fed meat Nazis out there who denigrate regular USDA cattle, disparagingly call it "poison meat" and turn up their collective noses at the rest of us need to reevaluate their holier than thou positions.