I have often talked about how I’m not really a fan of eating poultry or pork (monogastric animals), partially because they don’t agree with me physically, but also because it is highly important to ensure they have been raised appropriately prior to harvest. 

Ruminant and monogastric animals have different types of digestive systems which greatly affect their feeding habits and dietary needs and it’s important to know the difference.

Monogastric Animals

Monogastric animals have a single-chambered stomach, hence the name “mono” (meaning one) and “gastric” (meaning stomach). This category includes humans, pigs, dogs, cats, and many other omnivores and carnivores.

The digestive process of a monogastric animal is fairly straightforward. Food enters the stomach where it is broken down by stomach acids and enzymes. From there, it moves into the small intestine where nutrients are absorbed into the bloodstream. Waste products continue to the large intestine and are then excreted.

Monogastric herbivores such as horses and rabbits have a modification to this system, with a large cecum that houses bacteria capable of breaking down cellulose and other plant materials.

Ruminant Animals

Ruminant animals, on the other hand, have a complex, multi-chambered stomach system that allows them to digest plant-based foods more effectively. This category includes animals such as cows, sheep, goats, deer, and giraffes.

Ruminants are named for their first stomach chamber, the rumen. They are able to digest complex plant materials, specifically cellulose, by a process known as rumination. This involves regurgitating, re-chewing (or “cud chewing”), and re-swallowing the food.

The food first enters the rumen where it is mixed with saliva and separated into solid and liquid material. The solid material clumps together to form the cud, which the animal regurgitates, chews, and swallows again. This process helps to break down the complex plant material and increase the surface area for microbes to work.

The food then passes through the other stomach chambers (reticulum, omasum, and abomasum) where it is further digested and absorbed. Bacteria in the rumen also produce vitamins and other nutrients that the animal can use.

What’s the difference?

The main differences between ruminant and monogastric animals are the complexity of their stomach system and their ability to digest plant material. Ruminants have a complex, multi-chambered stomach and can efficiently digest plant material, particularly cellulose. Monogastric animals have a simpler, single-chambered stomach and, with the exception of some monogastric herbivores, are generally less efficient at digesting plant material.

So what meat is best and why does this matter? 

My preference for ruminant meats (from animals like cows, sheep, and goats) over monogastric meats (from animals like pigs and chickens) includes the nutrient profile and environmental considerations. 

Ruminant animals, due to their unique digestive systems, are able to convert grass and other non-edible plant materials into high-quality protein and fats. Their meat tends to be richer in certain nutrients like omega-3 fatty acids, vitamin E, and conjugated linoleic acid (CLA), which are beneficial for human health.

From an environmental perspective, ruminants can be raised in a more sustainable way compared to monogastric animals. They can be grass-fed on pasture lands that are unsuitable for crops, and their grazing can contribute to soil health and carbon sequestration. Monogastric animals, on the other hand, often require grain-based feeds, the production of which can have significant environmental impacts. You can read more on regenerative agriculture HERE

Monogastric animals such as chicken, turkey, duck, and pigs (and humans) cannot eliminate or convert excess polyunsaturated fatty acids such as seed oils from their diet. So when they’re fed an evolutionarily inappropriate diet too high in PUFAs, those PUFAs accumulate in their fat.

Ruminants, on the other hand, have a special ability to turn PUFAs into saturated fat. They keep the PUFAs in their fat at less than 2%, but pork and chicken can go as high as 20%.

My suggestion – focus on grass-fed and finished ruminants like cattle, bison, lamb, and deer. Read more on grass fed, finished and pasture raised HERE.

If you choose chicken, pork, duck, or turkey – avoid those that are conventionally raised and fed diets rich in corn, soy, millet, sunflower meal, or any other high-PUFA grain/seed.

Unfortunately, this is rare to find in conventional grocery stores, so I suggest learning more about regenerative agriculture. You can learn about regenerative ranching HERE and receive a 10% discount at my favorite Force of Nature by using this link HERE.