Is Grass-fed Beef Really Better for You?
What’s all the hype surrounding “grass-fed” beef and is it really better for you?
Studies show that grass-fed beef has several health benefits including:
Lower total fat (compared to grain-fed beef) and therefore fewer calories
The fat content is also different, with as much as 5x’s the amount of omega-3 fatty acids (the heart-healthy kind) as grain-fed beef
Higher levels of antioxidants and vitamins including Vitamin A and E
Increased levels of conjugated linoleic acid (CLA) which is a beneficial fatty acid that has been shown to inhibit fat storage and help regulate the metabolism
Keep in mind that not all grass-fed beef is created equal.
The truth is the majority of cattle are grass-fed. Most cattle start their lives eating grass or hay (dried grass) along with their mother's milk. It’s not until they’re closer to butchering age that many are taken off grass and fed a diet of grains and/or corn to “fatten them up” quickly. This process is a two-pronged approach; it allows the animals to gain weight faster and thus be ready for butchering sooner and it increases the fat content on the animal, which in turn adds more fat to their meat.
Finishing cattle largely to grain diets began in the 1950's during the industrialization of agriculture, as a way to improve the efficiency of beef production. The idea was to increase meat production by decreasing the amount of time spent feeding the animal while still yielding the same amount of meat.
Corn is a very high-energy food that cattle's stomachs weren't specifically adapted to digest. In a way, it's like junk food to a cow. It tastes good, is high in calories, and is quickly digested, which is ideal for the purpose of growing an animal to butchering weight quickly.
If you’re looking for true grass-fed beef, it’s important to make sure the cattle were grass-fed AND grass-finished. This means that at no point in their lives did they consume any supplemental feed, just plain old grass or hay.
Labels and claims of being grass-fed can be misleading because there is little regulation on these statements. You may find beef that's labeled "grass-fed" when in fact it was grain-finished. The statement of being grass-fed is not false as the animal was, at some point, grass-fed but it may not be the whole story.
As always, the best way to know what you’re getting is to buy from a local farmer that you know and trust and is willing and able to take the time to explain their practices and more importantly, show you.
Here’s an interesting article that goes into great detail on the fatty acid profiles and antioxidant content of grass-fed and grain-fed beef. It has a lot of excellent, research-backed information in it. Check it out if you want more information on why grass-fed beef is better for you.
P.S. In case you were wondering, all of our cattle are grass-fed and finished!