Measuring Hormones in Food, One M&M at a Time


hormones in foodBy Joan Ruskamp
Joan and her husband run a cattle-finishing operation and raise corn, soybeans and alfalfa on their farm in Dodge, Nebraska.

I get many questions from moms once they know I raise beef cattle. Moms most often want to know if the meat they buy is full of hormones. To help answer their question, I put together a demonstration showing the levels of estrogen hormone in different foods, including cabbage, peas, potatoes and beef.  The demonstration was meant to be a conversation starter about the amount of hormones in our food.  What I didn’t realize was the shock it would be for people to realize that estrogen is naturally found in all living things that we eat.

Much of the food we eat contains hormones of some type, because plants and animals need estrogen to grow.

My husband and I raised five children.  I know that the amount of estrogen produced in my body to allow me to get pregnant, have babies and feed my babies is much different than the estrogen I get in the foods I eat.  All hormones are like upper management telling various organ systems what to do.  Hormones are not sitting in muscle tissue in some sort of stand by mode waiting to do something.

We also give our cattle a little boost of hormones, which allows the animal to produce a more sustainable meat protein.   We work with our veterinarians and the Beef Quality Assurance standards to make sure we give that hormone in a very responsible way.  The added hormone looks like a small pellet and is placed under the skin in the ear.  The hormones are slowly utilized over a period of several months to send signals that help him use less feed to produce more pounds of meat.

Hormone levels in beef are lower than in potatoes, peas and cabbage

As you can see in the photo above, I measured M&M’s into pint jars so they represent the amount of hormones in nanograms (one billionth of a gram) found in different foods.

  • In the pint jar furthest to the right, is a sixth of an M&M. This sliver of an M&M represents the amount of hormones found in a 3 oz serving of beef, which comes from an animal given added hormones.
  • In the two middle pint jars are the amount of hormones found in 3 oz serving of potatoes and peas, with about 20 M&Ms in each.
  • The pint jar on the left end, which is full of M&Ms, showcases the amount of hormones found in a 3 oz serving of cabbage.

My husband and I care deeply about providing a nutritious beef product you can feel safe about eating.  If you have any questions about hormones in meat or other food, please feel free to ask.


37 Comments

Neil Taylor

Hi Joan

That’s really interesting, and I want to know more. I checked out hormones on wikipedia and that tells me there are three main classes of hormones, eicosanoids, steroids, and amino acid derivatives. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Hormone

Can you tell me if the hormones (as measured) are from the same classes for each food tested? And do you have a reference for these research findings?

Kind regards
Neil

Reply
Joan Ruskamp

Hello Neil,

Thank your for reading my blog post and for visiting the CommonGround website!

This blog post was designed to encourage further discussion about the role of hormones in our food and this is a great link that talks about hormones in our bodies http://sites.psu.edu/tetherton/2006/12/14/hormones-hormones-hormones/

The other links I think you will find helpful include http://e.hormone.tulane.edu/learning/phytoestrogens.html and http://www.bestfoodfacts.org/hormones-in-cattle/

I will provide additional links in some of the other replies. Please let me know if you need more information!!

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Beth Little

Wonderful and truthful! Thanks for educating people to the truth!!! Applause from a fellow rancher.

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Jake

where is the source data for this? I’d really like to see it. Also, I think it would be really beneficial to put a link in the article to ward off naysayers.

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Bruce

Comparing estrogen and lollies is misleading. Estrogen is far more complex. Plant estrogens are not the same as the human estrogens. The real problem here is growth hormones in meat because they are passed down the chain to humans and are one of the factors in obesity in humans. And this practice is used in fish farming, egg production, poultry, pigs beef. Unfortunately it is greed that drives humans now days.

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Joan Ruskamp

Thank you for reading my blog post Bruce. I would like to reply to your comments about our use of added hormones. Here are a couple of links I would like to offer you about plant estrogens and how the implant works in the animal http://e.hormone.tulane.edu/learning/phytoestrogens.html and http://www.bestfoodfacts.org/hormones-in-cattle/ In regards to the obesity issue you raised I would encourage you to look at this site http://www.health.com/health/article/0,,20458816,00.html
If you have more questions please let me know!

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Bruce Irwin

I would still rather eat food without stimulants (hormones). The body is far too complex for a scientist to come out and say it is safe. It is all driven by profit. It we legislate for clean food then the profit would be the same. The only losers would be the makers of these drugs.

Carla

Hey we raise beef cattle as well and also give them implants. Your information is very interesting. My Question is how were you able to measure the amounts of hormones in each of these catagories

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Joan Ruskamp

Hi Carla! Thank you for reading my blog and for your comment. In answer to your question I computed how many nanograms of estrogen were in a variety of different foods by using charts from a variety of sources. I did not want to use a lot of M&M’s so I did not use 1 M&M/nanogram. Here are a few charts that show some of what I used http://hungryfortruthsd.com/your-questions-answered-hormones-in-livestock/ and http://beefbites.org/understanding-the-beef-you-eat/ and http://www.bestfoodfacts.org/hormones-in-cattle/

If you have any more questions please let me know. Thanks, again, for joining the commonground conversation about food!

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BC

We don’t need to add any, it creates an imbalance. Nature has it right, God doesn’t lie.

We need to remember that our goid, water and even air we breathe is full of unnatural substances, that’s what causes problems. Let’s get back to nature, let’s do it right. God has the same plan He always had. Strange as sounds, He’s pretty brilliant!

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Joan Ruskamp

Hello BC,

Thank you for your comment. I agree with you that God does not lie and that He is very brilliant. Nature, on the other hand, can be quite cruel as noted by the many earthquakes, floods, hurricanes, tornadoes, diseases, etc… As a farmer I am trying to minimize the challenges nature gives us while maximizing on the gifts nature shares with us.

On our farm we finish cattle that are neutered males. We call them steers. Steers are content in groups versus bulls who can be aggressive. Those steers do not have the same hormones as the bulls do naturally. Beef from steers is preferred by consumers for taste and tenderness.

We utilize an implant to supplement some of what the steer is not producing on his own. That implant works within the animal to send messages that allow him to use less feed while producing more pounds of beef. I believe we are better stewards of the land by utilizing the implant that has been responsibly researched to be safe for the cattle, the environment and for humans.

Here are some links if you would like to read more about this. http://beefbites.org/understanding-the-beef-you-eat/ and http://sites.psu.edu/tetherton/2006/12/14/hormones-hormones-hormones/ and http://www.health.com/health/article/0,,20458816,00.html

Thank you for sharing this conversation with me. Please let me know if you have anymore questions!

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Amy

I’d like to add that as soon as we started domesticating plants and animals, things are no longer “natural.”

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Sheryl Carson

Are the hormones represented in the jars for peas, cabbage& potatoes the hormones found naturally in those particular items? And is the hormone estrogen represented in the jar for beef only the added hormone or does it also represent the naturally occurring hormone of estrogen? And is/are the hormone(s) represented by the M&M’s only estrogen or include other types of hormones?

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Joan Ruskamp

Hi Sheryl,
Thank you for your interest in the blog and for your questions. The hormones represented are the levels found in the food listed. It is important that you know I came up with this idea to spark a conversation about the myth that beef is loaded with hormones and that added hormones are causing that.
I looked up levels of estrogen for different foods because many folks were saying that it was increased estrogen in foods like beef that was causing some health concerns. Here is a link to show what I mean http://www.bestfoodfacts.org/hormones-in-cattle/
The only hormone represented in the display is estrogen. The beef sample is from an implanted steer. The difference between cattle that receive and implant and those that do not can be seen here http://beefbites.org/understanding-the-beef-you-eat/
I have been able to get the conversation switched to what the hormones we are adding actually do by discussing how hormones work in our bodies. Here is a link about that http://sites.psu.edu/tetherton/2006/12/14/hormones-hormones-hormones/
It is very important to me and other cattle ranchers to responsibly raise beef for food. On our farm we know that utilizing that implant provides more pounds of beef using less land and water. I can get you more information about that if you would like.
The most important takeaway from this display is that farmers utilize credible research to continually make improvements in the care for cattle to provide a safe, nutritious and environmentally friendly product for consumers to enjoy.
Thank you, again, for your questions. Please let me know if I can be of further help!

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brenda Huffman

Why oh why do we not see this type of information on the national media? Only negative side do we see on the news and shows like Opera ect. Keep up the good and truth news/

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Jamie Gard

Very good way to show people, who are ignorant of the facts, how important it can be to receive, not only the nutrition found in meats, but to actually hear/see the truth, rather than all the inflammatory information the media would have us believe.

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Laura

I’m curious, how much difference in pounds gained does the hormone you give to your cattle make?

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Joan Ruskamp

Hi Laura
We work with a nutritionist to help us design a ration that utilizes rolled corn, a corn by-product from ethanol, ground hay and a supplement with vitamins and minerals that will complete what the animal needs. With that type of ration and using an added hormone we are increasing our feed efficiency 9% or 2 pounds feed/head/day and increasing the gain by 6% or .2 pound/head/day. This is great news for the sustainability of beef for food! If you go to factsaboutbeef.org you can read more about that.
Thanks for joining the conversation and please let me know if you have more questions!

This is from our nutritionist grain fed diet

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Joseph

As a biochemist I can tell you that you’re information here is simply not true. Plants contain only phytochemical not hormones! Hormones are made in mammalian endocrine systems. I don’t think you should be lying to the public from faulty information as you could harm someone! I recommend you take this down. The only way cabbage could contain estrogen like that is if a pregnant cow urinated on the plant repeatedly and nobody washed it!.

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Joan Ruskamp

Hello Joseph! Thank you for reading my blog and for sharing your comment. I am not a biochemist. I appreciate all scientists for the research done to help us all live healthier lives. I would like to share with you a couple of links that I used for this information. They are http://e.hormone.tulane.edu/learning/phytoestrogens.html and http://beefbites.org/understanding-the-beef-you-eat/.
The visual was created to spark a conversation about the foods we are eating and in my case especially misperceptions about beef.
Please let me know if you have more questions. Thank you!

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Myles

So I’m very curious how would estrogen and hormone levels in cattle compare when they are grain fed versus 100% grassfed? Can anyone point me to research?

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David Henry

Very informative.
I also like how reasonable you are in your replies. As a blogger in my industry that is tough to do well.
Thank you

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Kay Reigler

Can you do a similar study with cholesterol and saturated fat in all those foods.

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Joan Ruskamp

Hi Kay,

That is a good question. I will think about that and see if I can come up with something for you!

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Chris Muench

Modern farming practices are rooted in profit…. but not for the farmers and ranchers. Rather the big companies that supply the chemicals, seed and hormones are the ones reaping the dividends. I wish all food could be organic but then I tell you this without any level of exaggeration: there would be famine! Mother nature can not herself supply enough guaranteed food every year to keep the world fed. Nor can God. Be thankful if your belly is full. Stay informed, fight for food safety but never blame your local ranchers and farmers. They’re just doing their best to feed you.

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Joan Ruskamp

Hi Chris,

I have to tell you that we are not rooted in profit but we do need to show a profit to keep making improvements, feed our family and pay our bank loans. The big companies put up money for research and do not always get a product to market due to product failure, environmental impact or lack of FDA approval. I am all for small producers and small business but I also appreciate the companies that are willing to spend millions of dollars to help me be a better steward of our resources. The added implant we use on cattle has to be safe for the cattle, safe for the environment and safe for the food supply. We lose one million acres each year from production so we are going to need new and better ways to feed people with less resources. I am grateful that you understand that Mother Nature doesn’t just put food out there for us to eat! She can be a tough partner to work with when it comes to droughts, floods, hail, etc… and we do our best to work alongside her to provide food so people can thrive! Please continue to read our blogs and share your ideas with us. Have a great week!

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