Understanding Grass-Fed, Free Range & Health

I had a conversation the other day about wellness with the nicest gentleman. We were in a local health store, he had popped in to find out more about the concept of Keto and eventually, he made his way over to where I was browsing. He asked if I was doing a Keto diet and when I told him no, he wondered why I’d be in that store otherwise. That started a conversation about all the wonderful things you can find in a health store (I’m like a kid in a candy store in those places!) and we somehow got on the topic of grass-fed and free range. The confused look on his face took me by surprise at first, but then I realized how little I knew about it all before starting down this holistic path…which led me to writing this post. While I’m sure most people have heard of the terms, I’m also sure many aren’t exactly sure what they mean. I’m going to demystify each one and explain why they’re so important.

So, what the heck does it mean?

Grass-fed and free range are terms to describe how animals are farmed. They are given the freedom to roam in pastures (and/or in outdoor spaces) and to eat fresh “food”, as opposed to grain-fed animals who are fed only grain and often kept in unnatural living quarters, crammed into very small spaces with little or no time outside. 

The emphasis for grass-fed animals is for them to be able to graze on as close to a natural diet as possible. As a rule, grass-fed meat contains no hormones, antibiotics, or pesticides – not the case for grain-fed, commercially raised animals from a feed lot. Grass-fed meat is significantly more nutrient dense, an excellent source of Omega-3 and B vitamins, and is more flavourful than grain-fed meat.

Free range can refer to any animal, but I tend to associate it with poultry. The term simply means the animals are raised in more natural environments, allowed to roam freely outside, and are not confined in an enclosure 24 hours a day. Because free range animals can roam outside, their diet tends to be more natural (such as insects, worms, flowers, grass, etc), than animals who are caged or locked together in tight spaces. As with grass-fed, a more natural diet for the animal will produce healthier eggs and meat for those who eat them. This is opposite to commercially raised poultry (and animals) which are kept in small, overcrowded and inhumane conditions that are breeding grounds for disease (hence, the need for preventative antibiotics). Just FYI, free range is different from free run, with regards to poultry, in that free run poultry are not kept in cages and are free to roam around the facility in which they’re kept, but do not have the opportunity to roam outdoors. It’s a better way of raising poultry than caged, but still not as healthy to us or the animals as free range.

Why should you care?

Allowing animals to consume a diet as close as possible to what they would naturally eat (a.k.a. grass, vegetation, insects) is healthier for the animal, healthier for the environment, and healthier for us. A response I often get from people when I talk about grass-fed and free range is “I always ate meat from the grocery store and I’m just fine.” My response to this is two-fold:

  • First of all, few of us are 100%, “just fine”. Most of us have some imbalance in our bodies that isn’t necessarily troublesome enough to address, or we address it by taking something to alleviate symptoms (which often only adds to the imbalance). Most of the time, we are reactive and only finally pay attention to what’s going on when the options for symptom relief don’t work anymore. FYI…that’s too late! Commercially raised meat (what is typically found in the grocery store) will add to imbalances in the body. Based on present farming practices, choosing to eat grass-fed meat is a healthier option, containing less total fat, more Omega-3 (an essential fatty acid that acts as an anti-inflammatory in the body), a better Omega-6:Omega-3 ratio (3:1 vs 20:1 – further helping to reduce systemic inflammation), and contains more nutrients than commercially raised.
  • Secondly, there is a difference between how animals are raised now and how they used to be raised. When I hear a senior telling me “they turned out just fine”, they’re not wrong. Years ago, farmed animals were raised in healthier conditions, in pastures and able to eat the natural vegetation they thrive on, as opposed to corn and soy feed that causes them digestive distress. I can remember driving in the country as a kid and seeing endless fields of cows (oh, how I love cows!), whereas now, it’s hard to find more than one or two fields with them. Back then, grass-fed meat was more the norm, so the meat the grocery stores carried was of higher quality and better for us. Things are different now and what you find in the grocery store is simply not the healthiest option for you or your family.
With respect to the environment, grass-fed farming has a positive effect by reducing greenhouse gas production and managing soil carbon levels. On the other hand, commercial farming creates problems for the environment through water contamination issues, releasing harmful compounds, and adding to greenhouse gas production. 

Where can you buy it?

An added bonus of choosing grass-fed and free range products is that the best place to find it is through local vendors…I’m all about buying local! Visit your local farmers’ market and have a chat with the meat vendors to ask about their farming practices. Better yet, go and visit your farmer at his farm so you can see for yourself how the animals are kept and raised. We have a favourite at our local market (Vance, from Windy View Farm) and we had a great visit to his farm last summer. It was awesome to see for ourselves that his cows, pigs and poultry are humanely raised and enjoying all the vegetation and room to roam they could want. Actually seeing the environment in which the animals are raised in more informative than any label. It ensures you’re getting what you expect – or tells you it’s time for a change. 

Because it’s difficult to find strictly grass-fed and/or free range in my city other than at the market, I was delighted to find a store that sells ONLY free range products! Aptly named, The Free Range Store is close to my neighbourhood and full of healthy meat and produce (spray-free!) from local farmers. I highly recommend you check it out!

The bottom line: know that there is a difference (and it’s a big one) between commercially farmed meat and eggs from the grocery store and what you can find through a local, grass-fed, free range farmer. That difference can have a significant impact on your health and that of your family. Buying grass-fed and free range can have a significant impact of a farmer’s life, too and how cool is that?!

My conversation with the gentleman in the health store finished with him laughing and telling me I’ve ruined grocery store shopping for him and that he now had to find new meat sources. I told him where to find the Free Range Store and also that I’ve been getting that a lot from people these days! 😉 


Do you have a favorite local farmer? Comment below with their name and where you buy from them so we can all check them out! And if you’d like to learn more about how nutrition choices can change your life, click here to book a call.