Illinois Farm Families Blog

Oct 05 2013

Let’s Talk About Hormones in Meat

The type of beef I buy most often is ground beef.  One of the main reasons I buy ground beef is because I use it to prepare many of the foods my family loves, including chili, meatballs, tacos and meatloaf. After my visit to a cattle farm, I feel even more confident about choosing beef for dinner. 

Illinois Field Moms went to Larson Farms in Maple Park on a beautiful September day. We were there to learn about how farmers “finish” cattle.  The cattle don’t spend their whole life at Larson Farms; the first part of their life is spent grazing on a grass pasture with a cow-calf farmer. When the calves are weaned, some of them are sold to either a backgrounder or stocker to spend more time grazing on grass. The final farm is the feedlot, which is the finishing phase.

One of my goals as a Field Mom was to learn more about hormones in our meat products. As a breast cancer survivor, I’ve always been concerned about hormones in the food that my family eats. My tumor was estrogen positive, which means that estrogen fed my cancer.  I was pleasantly surprised to find out that chicken and pork are not given hormones at all!

 When cattle are being raised as a source of beef, a hormone pellet is often placed underneath the skin in their ear. The hormones, including estrogen, help the animal use its feed more efficiently as a lean beef source. Beef has a very small amount of hormones; in fact, the amount of estrogen in a 3 ounce steak is much smaller than naturally occurring estrogen in many of the vegetables we eat. A baked potato has 225 nanograms of estrogen while a 3 oz. steak has only 1.9 nanograms of estrogen. The same size steak from hormone-free steer has 1.2 nanograms of estrogen. Keep in mind that a nanogram is one billionth of a gram and only 10% of the hormones we eat are actually absorbed by our bodies.

For someone who enjoys eating beef, this is great news!

Here’s what I learned about choosing beef for dinner:

  1. Cook ground beef to a temperature of 160 degrees.
  2. Look for steaks with a lot of marbling. The marbling (our host,
     Mike Martz, calls this “flecks of flavor”) in steak is monounsaturated fat which is similar to olive oil. It’s the good kind of fat!
  3. Back fat is the unhealthy fat. It is the thick layer of fat that might surround your steak, and should be cut off and not eaten.
  4. Larson Farms uses ultrasound technology to determine the back fat and marbling content of a steer before it is taken to market.
  5. Cattle that has been started on a grass diet and then finished with a grain diet tastes best!

Christa Grabske, Mt. Prospect, IL 

Christa is one of the Illinois Farm Families 2013 Field Moms. Throughout the year she visits several Illinois farms to learn more about where food comes from. Following each tour, the Field Moms share their thoughts by blogging about what they experience on these farms, including five things they found most interesting. Want to learn more? Read Our Story: Chicago moms meet farmers.  You can learn more about Christa on her blog: Lemon Drop Pie

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