Grass fed beef: What’s in your steak?
You are what you eat. That applies to cows as much as it does to us, and there are some significant differences in the quality of red meat based on how the animal was fed. Unfortunately, there is also a difference in price and availability of this higher quality meat. Is it worth the money and extra effort?
How are cows fed?
Most cows start out living similar lives. Calves drink milk from their mothers and are allowed to roam free and eat grass, shrubs and pretty much any edible plants they can get their nashers on.
After 6-12 months, most are moved to feedlots or CAFO’s (Concentrated Animal Feeding Operations). Cows are rapidly fattened up with grain-based feds, usually made with a base of soy or corn. They are often given drugs and hormones to grow faster, as well as antibiotics to help protect against the less than ideal living conditions they now find themselves in. The cows live there for a few months and are then moved into the factory for slaughtering.
Grass-fed cows on the other hand continue to live on grassland for the remainder of their lives. Although they may be fed a supplementary diet during the winter, it is much close to how nature had intended. Ideally, cows are left to feed off grass and other pastures all year round, with as little garin and supplementary feed as possible.
What are the advantages of eating grass-fed instead of grain-fed meat?
Apart from sparing the cows from those dreadful CAFO’s, there are some major health benefits associated with eating grass fed over grain fed meat.
Regardless of whether your beef is grain-fed or grass-fed, you’ll be getting about 40-50% saturated fat (SF), about 40-50% monounsaturated fat (MUFA), and somewhere near 10% polyunsaturated fat (PUFA). However, the diet of the cow significantly affects the types of each fat present.
Omega 3 and omega 6
“Omega 3 and Omega 6 series fatty acids play important roles in the health of our brain and nervous system, our skin and hair, bone health, healing and inflammation, metabolism and reproduction. Both these types of fats are required for complete physical and mental health.” Mark Hines – Our natural diet
Both of these are polyunsaturated fats, and you might be surprised to hear that red meat is a good source of them both (if its from the right source!).
Beef contains consistent levels of omega 6 regardless of diet (1). However, there are significantly higher amounts of omega 3 found in grass fed beef (2) Depending on the breed of cow, grass-fed beef contains between 2 and 5 times more omega-3s than grain-fed beef, and the average ratio of omega 6 to omega 3 in grass fed beef is 1.53:1. In grain fed beef, this ratio jumps all the way up to 7.65:1. Bottom line: Grass fed beef is far superior for omega 3.
There are three main types of saturated fat found in red meat;
- Stearic acid
- Palmitic acid
- Myristic acid
Grass-fed beef consistently contains a higher proportion of stearic acid, which even the mainstream scientific community acknowledges does not raise blood cholesterol levels. This higher proportion of stearic acid means that grass-fed beef also contains lower proportions of palmitic and myristic acid, which are more likely to raise cholesterol.
Conjugated Linoleic Acid
Conjugated linoleic acid (CLA) is a type of PUFA that is found naturally in milk and meat products, primarily from ruminants such as cows or sheep. CLA exhibits potent antioxidant activity, and research indicates that CLA might be protective against heart disease, diabetes, and cancer. Beef is one of the best dietary sources of CLA, and grass-fed beef contains an average of 2 to 3 times more CLA than grain-fed beef (3) This is because grain-based diets reduce the pH of the digestive system in ruminant animals, which inhibits the growth of the bacterium that produces CLA.
Antioxidants, Vitamins and Minerals
Another reason grass-fed meat surpasses grain-fed is that it contains considerably more antioxidants, vitamins, and minerals.
‘Carotenoids, such as beta-carotene, are precursors to vitamin A that are found as pigments in plants. Grain-fed beef does not contain appreciable levels of carotenoids, for the simple reason that grains don’t contain them. However, cows that eat carotenoid-rich grass and forage incorporate significant amounts of these compounds into their tissues. These carotenoids make the fat from grass-fed beef more yellow than the fat from grain-fed beef, so fat color can be a good indicator of how nutrient-rich your meat is.’ (4)
Grass-fed beef also contains significantly more of the antioxidants vitamin E, glutathione, superoxide dismutase (SOD), and catalase than grain-fed beef. (5) These antioxidants play an important role in protecting our cells from oxidation, especially delicate fats in the cell membrane such as omega-3 and omega-6. (6)
Antioxidants such as vitamin E and beta-carotene also work together synergistically to protect the meat itself from damage during the journey from butcher to plate. (7) These antioxidants are especially important if you choose to fry or grill your meat, because those high-heat cooking methods can be more damaging to meat than wet or low-heat methods such as stewing or braising.
Grass-fed beef also contains higher levels of the beneficial nutrients zinc, iron, phosphorus, sodium, and potassium. (8)
In conclusion, grass fed meat provides significantly higher levels of;
- Omega 3’s
- Vitamins and Minerals
Is it worth the extra money, and the inconvenience?
Grain fed meat is not the end of the world, as long as you don’t over cook it (which can cause some harmful compounds). However, I would urge you to go out and find locally sourced, grass-fed meat. The health benefits are too great not to. Personally, I think the taste is also far superior.
You can go to local farmers market to get high quality meats. The other option is to order it online. Yep, it’s that easy!
I have used both of these companies and I recommend them both. They can deliver a monthly box of high quality, grass-fed meat direct to your door. Easy, healthy, and grain free!
Sourcing grass-fed meat may be slightly more expensive and a little inconvenient to start with, but given the health benefits when compared to grain-fed meat, in my opinion it’s a no brainer.