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grass-fed-beef

Grass-Fed Beef – Is It Better For You?

Posted 3 years ago by Lori Scholle

When it comes to eating red meat, specifically beef, the opinions on the subject are as varied as the number of cuts available.  For years we have been told to stay away from red meats because of their saturated fat content and it’s effect on your cardiovascular health.  It is important to note that despite these warnings, lean cuts of beef can be part of a healthy diet.  Beef is a nutrient dense food that provides us with essential amino acids, Iron, and Zinc as well as Vitamins A, B6, B12, D and E.  The fat content of beef also enables our bodies to better absorb the fat soluble Vitamins A, D, E and K.   Leaner cuts of beef include the eye of round, sirloin tip, bottom round roast as well as top sirloin steak.  Most of the beef in the United States is grain fed beef but we are seeing and hearing more and more about grass fed beef – Is it better for you?

What is the difference between grass-fed and grain-fed beef?  Aren’t all cows fed grass?  The answer is not that simple.  Up until the middle of the last century all cows were grass fed but an increase in the demand for beef prompted the beef industry to develop more efficient ways to produce beef.  The result is the grain-fed method that is predominately used in the production of beef in the United States today.  In summary, all cows start out on a pasture fed diet (just grass) for at least 6 months to a year of their lives.  At this point a grass-fed cow will continue to be fed a pasture diet until it is time for slaughter.  In contrast, a grain-fed cow will be fed a mixture of grains (corn and soy) as well as supplements, hormones and antibiotics to promote rapid growth and fat development.

Although the cows start out their lives in a similar manner, the way they are “finished” effects the beef they produce.  Grain-fed beef is higher in calories, fat content and has a less favorable fatty acid profile when compared to grass-fed beef.   Grass-fed beef is lower in calories and is leaner.  The fat that it does have contains more omega 3 fats, which are considered beneficial to health, when compared to grain-fed beef.  It also has higher antioxidant levels and more of Vitamins A and E.

When compared on appearance grain-fed beef is bright red and highly marbled with white fat.  Grass-fed beef is a deeper red, has less marbling and the fat is yellowish due to the higher levels beta-carotene in their grass-fed diet.  Grass-fed meat can take on different flavor profiles due to the varied content of the grass they eat.  Grain-fed beef has a more uniform flavor due to the consistency of the grains fed to cows.   Grain-fed beef has more pronounced fat marbling which is beneficial in the cooking process, keeping the meat moist and tender, qualities prized in high graded beef.  Grass-fed beef is leaner and needs to be cooked like other leaner cuts of meat with low temperatures for a long time to produce the desired tenderness.  Grain-fed beef costs less at about $3.99 per pound of ground beef compared to $7.99 for grass-fed.

So what does all of this mean to you?  Should you be choosing grass-fed beef over grain-fed beef?  Nutritionally grass-fed beef is lower in calories, overall fat and does provide some omega-3s and antioxidants that grain fed beef does not.  It should be noted that the amount of omega-3s in grass-fed beef should not replace other food sources in your diet that are much higher in omega 3s, like salmon or walnuts.  The way grass-fed beef is produced is more in line with the natural growth process and the meat it produces is healthier.  If eating beef is a regular part of your diet you should consider making an investment in grass-fed beef because over time the potential health benefits, like lower calories and better fats, add up.   If you like to have a good steak once in a while, choosing a lean, grain-fed cut and trimming all the excess fat would be just fine.

Resources

1. Cross Kim. Grass-Fed Beef versus Grain-Fed Beef. Cook. Light. Available at: http://www.cookinglight.com/cooking-101/resources/grass-fed-beef-grain-fed-beef-00412000070712/ [Accessed April 4, 2014].

2. Daley CA, Abbott A, Doyle PS, Nader GA, Larson S. A review of fatty acid profiles and antioxidant content in grass-fed and grain-fed beef. Nutr. J. 2010;9:10.