Consumer demand for grass-fed beef is growing…
Here’s What You Need To Know
Does it matter what the food that we eat, ate?
Most cows all start out eating the same diet: drinking milk from their moms. Most cows are also free to roam and eat grass or whatever others kinds of plants they find.
After about the first 6 to 12 months of life, however, is where grass-fed vs. grain-fed (conventional) cows differ.
Grain-fed cows are, obviously, fed grain-based diets – usually with a soy or corn base. This is to fatten them up quickly.
Grass-fed cows continue to follow a (mostly) grass-based diet.
When people talk about the nutritional differences between grass- and grain-fed meat, they are usually referencing the fat.
Or, rather, the fatty acid composition differences between the two.
When comparing grass-fed to grain-fed beef:
- Saturated and monounsaturated fatty acids – similar or slightly lower amounts in grass-fed
- Omega-3 fatty acids – up to 5x as much in grass-fed
- Omega-6 polyunsaturated fatty acids – similar amounts
- Conjugated Linoleic Acid (CLA) – about 2x as much in grass-fed
While similar in terms of omega-6, saturated, and monounsaturated fatty acids, grass-fed beef contains higher amounts of the beneficial CLA and omega-3 fatty acids.
Because grass-fed meat tends to be leaner (lower in fat), it will also tend to be lower in calories.
Due to the diet of grass-fed cows, their beef also tends to have higher amounts of vitamin A (the carotenoid precursor, beta-carotene) and vitamin E.
Aside from that, grass- and grain-fed beef is really quite similar in terms of the beneficial nutrients that it provides to the diet:
Things like protein, carnosine, and creatine.
Zinc, selenium, potassium, and highly bioavailable iron.
Vitamin B12, niacin, and vitamin B6.
ALL BEEF IS:
- GRASS-FED – at least for a portion of their lives
- NATURAL – most beef does not have additives and is minimally processed
- NUTRITIOUS – is a good source of protein and essential nutrients
BEEF CAN BE:
- GRAIN-FINISHED – most commercially available beef would fall under this category. Cattle spend the end of their lives in a feedlot eating a grain-based diet.
- GRASS-FINISHED – what is commonly thought of when referencing “grass-fed”. Cattle spend their entire lives eating a grass-based diet.
- NATURALLY-RAISED – no antibiotics, preservatives, or hormones. Can be either grass- or grain-finished.
- CERTIFIED ORGANIC – certified by the USDA to meet standards for organic meat. Can be either grass- or grain-finished, but the feed has to be 100% organic.
Does it matter?
That question can only be answered by you!
If you have access and a higher grocery budget, then possibly yes.
If you can’t afford it or find it inconvenient, consider paying closer attention to your diet to ensure you aren’t missing out on essential nutrients and find suitable substitutes. Try to eat fatty fish once or twice a week or supplement with a high-quality fish oil for the beneficial omega-3 fatty acids.
Keep in mind, too, that we’re mostly talking about the fat composition being the real selling point behind grass-fed meat.
Grass-fed meat already tends to be leaner than grain-fed meat. Less fat = less of the beneficial fatty acids discussed above. So, if you do not purposely seek out the fattier cuts of meat from a grass-fed cow, you may not be getting the beneficial fats that you think that you are… and you paid more for it.