In continuation of our meat mini-series, we will discuss the benefits of eating grass-fed beef purely from a human-health perspective. Though there are environmental benefits and it is more humane to raise range-fed cattle, I will refrain from those topics.
Definition by the American Grassfed Association: Grass-fed products from ruminents (cattle, sheep, goats, bison, etc.) are food products from animals that have eaten nothing but their mother’s milk and fresh grass or grass-type hay from birth to harvest – all their lives.
Since the beginning of time, cows were intended to forage on a natural diet of grasses. It wasn’t until more recent years that cattle were raised in the grain-fed industrialized manner in which most are raised today. Grazing animals, like cows and sheep, have the capability to break down the cellulose in grasses that humans can’t digest into proteins and fats. That’s what they were meant to do. Unfortunately, feedlot cattle never have the chance to eat living grass.
When cattle are exclusively pastured the way they should be, they are allowed to grow at a normal pace and without added hormones in order to stimulate rapid growth. Giving them to opportunity to freely eat their native diet enables cattle to live healthy and low-stress lives, minimizing, if not eliminating, the necessity for drugs (like antibiotics).
Studies have consistently shown that the beef produced from grass-fed cattle is much more nutritious and full of health-enhancing benefits. When compared to grain-fed, grass-fed beef:
- Contains higher protein content
- Is 4 times higher in vitamin E
- Has 2-4 times more omega-3 fatty acids (“good fats”)
- Has 3-5 times additional CLA, or conjugated linoleic acid (which we will discuss more in-depth next time)
- Contains increased amounts of vaccenic acid
- Has more beta-carotene
- Is higher in vitamin C
- Has a reduced risk of E. coli transmission
- Is a third lower in total fat
Did you know that grass-fed beef is almost as lean as wild game meat? Due to this lower fat content and lower marbling, grass-fed beef tends to receive a bad reputation for having an unpleasantly gamey or bitter taste. I have been eating meat purchased directly from my chosen farm of “spoiled” cows (which the rancher can hardly stand to slaughter), and I have yet to experience this unpleasant taste. In fact, I think it tastes better than conventionally raised beef. Grain-fed cattle are the ones that typically produce the nice marbling effect that we think as superior in taste and tenderness, but all that marbling just translates into saturated fat. [I personally don’t think that saturated fats are to be completely avoided, but that’s for another post.]
Fun Fact: The typical beef-eater consumes approximately 66 pounds of beef per year. If you were to switch to grass-fed beef for all 66 pounds, you could potentially lose 6 pounds per year.
Is grass-fed meat more expensive? Because they grow at a natural and slow pace, grass-fed beef is definitely pricier than grain-fed beef. However, like I mentioned in my budgeting post, if you cut down on the portions and the amount of meat you eat on a weekly basis, the price difference should be negligible. Purchasing directly from a farmer, should also cut down on the exorbitant overhead fees you pay at grocery stores.
When purchasing meat, know that organic and grass-fed are not interchangeable terms. Grass-fed cows can be exposed to fields that are not organically managed, thus consuming pesticides and synthetic fertilizers. And cows fed an organic diet aren’t necessarily grass-fed. Though they are most likely fed less grain than cows raised the conventional feedlot way, it still compromises their nutritional value. If you want to get the best nutritional value from your meat while ingesting the least amount of toxins, make sure you buy 100% organic and 100% grass-fed and finished meat.
The only way to truly ensure that your beef is grass-fed, is to buy local and visit the farm first-hand. Ask the farmer pertinent questions about the how the cattle are raised from start to finish, what they are fed in the winter months, how the farmer manages his/her fields, and what grasses are readily available to the cattle (keeping in mind that the higher the quality of grasses, the more tender the beef).
I’ll never forget the cows my husband and I saw in Switzerland in 2003. They were healthy and beautiful with gigantic, ringing cowbells that projected far across the fresh, green hillsides on which they grazed. Who says California cows are the only happy cows? Those Swiss cows were definitely happy! Wouldn’t you want that kind of beef?
Nothing beats grass-fed!