Meaty Showdown: Grass-Fed Beef or Grain-Fed?

You see the labels, but do you know what they implicate? Sure, it seems simple – some cows are fed grain, others grass. But do you know how this affects the meat you eventually find on your plate? There are some subtle and some not-so-subtle differences between grass-fed beef and grain-fed beef – the question is, which one is right for you?

The first six to 12 months of cows’ lives (at least for cows destined to become meat on the market) is spent drinking milk from their mothers and then roaming free and eating grass, shrubs or whatever is available in their respective environments. After that, they are put into feedlots, which are for the most part difficult, harsh environments. There, these conventionally-raised cows are fattened up with grain-based feeds, often based in soy or corn. These cows are often also subjected to drugs and hormones so that they grow faster as well as antibiotics so that they can withstand their nasty, unsanitary living conditions. After a few months in feedlots, cows are moved along to a factory to be slaughtered.

Grass-fed cows may have the opportunity to live on grassland for the rest of their lives, while conventionally-raised grain-fed cows usually don’t have the option. Now, there are so many variations in living conditions when it comes to both grass-fed and grain-fed cows, and depending on the farm, practices will vary. What there is a difference in, however, is what these cows are consuming and how that will inevitably affect your health.

The Fatty Difference

What cows eat affects the nutrient composition of the beef they become. This is especially apparent in the fat content of the beef. In one study it was determined that grass-fed beef contained twice as much CLA (conjugated linoleic acid) as grain-fed beef. CLA has shown to reduce body fat in humans.

Grass-fed beef also contains up to 5-times more omega-3 fatty acids than grain-fed beef. When the standard American diet makes omega-6 fatty acids easier to come by, the ratio of omega-3 to omega-6 fatty acids in the diet is very skewed. A high omega-6/omega-3 ratio is the source of many diseases, including cardiovascular disease, cancer, and inflammatory and autoimmune disease. A lower ratio reduces the risk of many chronic diseases in Western society.

Grass-fed beef has a more desirable lipid profile compared to grain-fed beef. It is also higher in total CLA, TVA and omega-3 fatty acids, resulting in a better omega-6 to omega-3 ratio. Grass-fed beef also boasts more vitamin A, E, potassium, iron, zinc, phosphorus and sodium.

Taste the Difference

Grass-fed beef bears less fat and may have a grassier taste and leaner texture. Because of this, be careful during preparation as to not overcook it so it becomes chewy and dry.

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Photo Credit: F Delventhal