In This Article
The Secret Source of Ayurvedic Ghee
How do we find the best Ayurvedic ghee? We start by requiring it to be grass-fed, organic, and sustainably and humanely farmed. But there is one factor, commonly absent in high-end ghee products, that determines whether or not the ghee will deliver the health and longevity benefits ascribed by Ayurveda.
This factor is the pasture! Not all pastures are created equal! I was told by one popular grass-fed ghee company that there are no 100 percent grass-fed dairy products in America because grass is scarce in winter, so supplemental grain is required. LifeSpa ghee is from grass-fed, pastured, American-raised, and cherished cows.
Do You Know Where Your “Grass-Fed” Ghee Comes From?
In the video above, which I made back in 2013, I compare the cow pastures in Colorado, Norway, and the Austrian Alps. In the west (in Colorado and most of California), where many grass-fed dairy and meat products come from, the pastures are sparse, with just a few varieties of grass, compared to pastures on the East Coast, New England, Norway, and Austria.
In a typical Colorado grass-fed cow pasture, there is only one type of grass in 90 percent of the pasture—basically a mono-culture of grass. This is the type of pasture that blankets the western United States. Look at this picture (below) of a pasture in Norway, where they make Jarlsberg cheese. It looks like a vegetable garden, but it is just one of many cow pastures that line the countryside. In Austria, they claim that their pasture grass, which offers 50 different species, makes their milk the healthiest in the world.
Grass-fed ghee and dairy products have been found to have 500 times more conjugated linoleic acid (CLA) than grain-fed dairy.3 When you start comparing what cows are fed and what type of pasture are they grazing in, you begin to see why the Austrians continue to claim they have the healthiest dairy in the world—it’s because they have the best pastures.
Look Beneath “Pasture-Raised” and “Grass-Fed”
The soil of the pasture is the secret ingredient in healthy ghee. The trillions of gut bugs in your intestines originally came from the soil. Today, our soils are depleted in microbial diversity, minerals, and nutrients. The best ghee can only come from the best soil.
In the west, a typical human gut microbiome lacks a healthy and robust stable of good bacteria. Europeans have increased microbial diversity compared to Americans, which is linked to a more direct nutritional connection to the local farmer.4
Grazing animals are essential for healthy pastures and healthy pastures have been keeping the insects, birds, and smaller mammals healthy since the last Ice Age. Pastures either left alone or overgrazed become more fragile. Too much or too little grazing puts the field at risk for undesirable invasive species.1,6 Interestingly, these invasive species were found to be less tolerant to drought and environmental disturbances.1,6
Not All Pastures are Created Equal
A healthy pasture is rich in many types of grasses and vegetation. Micrograsses and clovers act as ground cover, meadow fescue grows closer to the ground, while tall grass fescue, rye grasses, and other types of orchard and pasture grasses reach a variety of heights. Austria’s Vorarlberg and Tyrol regions boast that their pastures have over 50 species of pasture grasses and herbs!
Intuitively, we can see that botanical diversity equates to a greater array of nutrients and beneficial microorganisms. Researchers caution against monocropping and other practices that curtail botanical diversity.4 That said, cows raised on richly diverse pastures in Norway, Austria, and New England and cows raised on a single grass type in the western United States are all lumped together under the umbrella of “grass-fed.” You now know that under the hood, there are major differences.
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Grazing and the Cyclical Microbe Exchange
Each species of grass derives a diverse palate of nutrients and microbes from the soil, which nourishes ruminants (grazing animals), or, more precisely, their microbiome.5
The variety of microbes ingested by grazers get passed along as feed for their young via the mothers’ milk and, in the case of cows and some other grazers, as dairy for human consumption (for those so inclined).
Note: Eating dairy is by no means a requirement for optimal health. There are many ways to get the diversity of microbes we need for optimal health.
As the grazers eliminate waste and the numerous grass species decompose, a prebiotic explosion of nutrients hits the soil, feeding microbes in the soil, which are attracted to specific plants, which are in turn eaten either by humans or grazers. Quite a unique and beautiful sliver of the circle of life!5
Dangers of Overgrazing
Balanced grazing supports the entire ecosystem of the grasslands, and necessarily involves moving the grazing creatures to new pastures before all the grass and ground cover of the current pasture is eaten. This requires having enough land to successfully rotate grazers, which poses a problem for some ranchers, who run out of new pastures before the already grazed pastures have had a chance to recover.6
An overgrazed pasture will be extremely vulnerable to drying out and being overrun by invasive species. In short order, the stronger grasses survive and the more delicate grasses, clovers, and ground cover that support nutrient and microbial diversity vanish, rendering the pasture significantly less diverse, often leaving a monograss pasture.6
With overgrazing, diversity of insects, butterflies, bees, birds, vertebrates, grasses, plants, and consequently the all-important microbes disappear. Cows that feed on these scrub grasses are still called “grass-fed,” though they get significantly fewer nutrients and microbes than they would from a healthy and balanced pasture.
Luckily, consciously cultivated and preserved pastures still exist in Europe and in certain areas of the US.
Gayorge’s Austrian Grass-Fed Pastures
One of the biologique (organic) and raw dairy regions of Austria is in a small town called Abtenau. There I met my friend Gayorge. My wife and I saw some cows grazing way up on the mountainside. To get closer, we found a tiny road of switchbacks. Halfway up, I saw a man way up on the mountainside using a scythe to cut very select grasses out of his pasture. I had to know what he was doing, so I ran up the mountain and of course he didn’t speak a word of English. He seemed so happy to see me running up his mountain and somehow we bonded. We smiled and, with lots of sign language, I got the point across that I was interested in his pasture and why he was only cutting certain plants. He let me have a whack with the scythe as he pointed out the bad weeds he didn’t want his cows to eat. They can’t digest certain weeds or they get stomach troubles—this was the message I got from Gayorge.
I couldn’t believe he was up there all alone, making sure none of these hard-to-digest weeds were in his pasture before he let his cows graze. To give you an idea of the size of the pasture, it doubles as a ski area in the winter. The pastures were massive and, while from a distance they looked perfectly manicured, Gayorge was basically weeding the pasture by hand with an old-fashioned scythe. You have to watch this video of Gayorge in action as he redefined for me the meaning of grass-fed.
In Europe, cows are taken up to high mountain pastures during the summer and are free to roam, never being confined to overgraze a single area, thereby preserving the diverse botanical and microbial species.
In his book, The Omnivore’s Dilemma, Michael Pollan makes the case for Management-Intensive Grazing (MIG), which uses modern techniques that mimic traditional European grazing practices. Joel Salatin sets an example on his Polyface Farm in Virginia’s Shenandoah Valley, moving his cattle frequently before they have a chance to graze into the lower grasses and ground cover. This means Joel’s cows are constantly exposed to not only a variety of grasses and their respective microbes within a given field, but are given greater space in which to stumble upon some unexpected microbial and nutrient diversity. Given a little space, grasses actually recover faster and stronger as a result of grazing.
Critics make a good case that pastured beef is unsustainable because it takes too much land (an estimated 10% of US land) to feed the entire US with grass-fed beef. As it turns out, it typically takes 2.5 acres per cow to raise pastured cows in the standard way, but MIG techniques can cut this down to 1.2 acres per cow (as demonstrated by Joel Salatin and his healthy pastured cows). Dairy farms using MIG will also, of course, be able to feed a much larger population in a more sustainable fashion.
In a parallel vein, we can make the case that mass-produced organic vegetable farms that process vegetables on conveyor belt platforms and sell them triple-washed carry more limited microbial diversity. Compared these to veggies grown on the ground, mingling with a variety of other vegetable species, in soil rich in naturally decomposed plant matter.
More small farms are popping up that allow us to see the pastures and practices of the farmers before we buy—a fact worth celebrating.
In the video associated with this article, I show the difference between a typical grass-fed cow pasture in Colorado and a typical European pasture.
Labels to Look for Now + in the Future
To qualify for the USDA grass-fed label, cattle must be fed only mother’s milk and forage (grass and other greens). The forage can be grazed or consumed as hay or other stored forage. Also, the cattle must have access to pasture “during the growing season.”2
The American Grassfed Association (AGA), an organization of pasture-based ranchers, consumer groups, and researchers, is creating an alternative label. To qualify for the stricter AGA label, cattle cannot be confined during their lifetime, nor treated with hormones or antibiotics. The American Grassfed Association maintains that this is closer to the public’s perception of “grass-fed.”2
Do you know more about the meaning of “grass-fed” after reading this article? What are your thoughts?