Grass-Fed Vs. Grain-Fed. Why Grass-Fed Beef Is Better Than Grain-Fed Beef
Cows, sheep and buffalo are all designed to eat grass. When these animals’ diets are primarily made up of grains, they have a higher chance of becoming sick and the quality of the fats and protein in their meat declines.
It’s safe to say that grass-fed meat such as beef gives you more bang for your buck on all fronts, with its significantly higher levels of omega-3s, antioxidants, minerals, and other important nutrients. Grass-fed beef is better than grain-fed beef. Here’s why in greater detail:
Fewer calories and less fat
- Grass-fed beef is naturally leaner than grain-fed beef, causing it to be slightly lower in total calories and fat than a grain-fed product.
- For example, a 6-ounce steak from a grass-finished steer has almost 100 fewer calories than a 6-ounce steak from a grain-fed steer.
Better omega-6 to omega-3 ratio
- Grass-fed beef has the recommended ratio of omega-6 to omega-3 fats. Depending on the breed of cow, grass-fed beef contains between 2 and 5 times more omega-3 fatty acids than grain-fed beef, and the average ratio of omega-6s to omega-3s in grass-fed beef is 1.53:1. In grain-fed beef, this ratio jumps all the way up to 7.65:1. Too much omega-6 fatty acids in one’s diet is linked to disease.
- Sixty percent of the fat content of grass is a type of omega-3 fatty acid called alpha-linolenic or LNA. When cattle are taken off grass and shipped to a feedlot to be fattened on grain, they lose their valuable store of LNA as well as two other types of omega-3 fatty acids, EPA and DHA. Each day that an animal spends in the feedlot, its supply of omega-3s is diminished.
Superior source of conjugated linoleic acid (CLA)
- Beef is one of the best dietary sources of conjugated linoleic acid (CLA), and grass-fed beef contains an average of 2 to 3 times more CLA than grain-fed beef. CLA is a type of polyunsaturated fatty acid (PUFA) that is found naturally in milk and meat products, primarily from ruminants such as cows or sheep.
- Grain-based diets reduce the pH of the digestive system in ruminant animals, which inhibits the growth of the bacterium that produces CLA.
- CLA exhibits potent antioxidant activity, and research indicates that CLA might be protective against heart disease, diabetes, cancer and immune disorders.
More vitamins and minerals
- Grass-fed meat contains considerably more vitamins and minerals. When compared to grain-fed meat, grass-fed products are higher in B-vitamins, calcium, iron, magnesium, potassium and zinc.
Better source of antioxidants
- Grass-fed meat contains considerably more of the antioxidants Vitamin E, glutathione, superoxide dismutase (SOD), and catalase than grain-fed meat. These antioxidants play an important role in protecting our cells from oxidation and damage.
Higher levels of carotenoids
- Carotenoids, such as beta-carotene, are precursors to vitamin A that are found as yellow, orange and red pigments synthesized by plants. Grain-fed beef does not contain appreciable levels of carotenoids, because grains don’t contain them. However, cows that are pasture-raised and eat carotenoid-rich grass, incorporate significant amounts of these compounds into their tissues.
- (Note: Fat color can be a good indicator of how nutrient-rich your meat is – carotenoids make the fat from grass-fed beef more yellow than the fat from grain-fed beef).
Less stress = healthier meat
- When animals are switched from grass diets to grain diets, they can experience high levels of stress. This stress can cause a number of disorders, including a common but painful condition called “subacute acidosis.” Cattle with subacute acidosis kick at their bellies, go off their feed and eat dirt, causing feed-lot managers to add antibiotic drugs to the feed, something that is dangerous to people who eat this meat.
Ideal option for people who are gluten intolerant
- People who are gluten intolerant may find that they do not feel well after consuming meats from grain-fed sources.
To read more about why grass-fed is better than grain-fed, check out “Why Farm-Raised Is Better Than Factory-Farmed.”
- What are your thoughts on this subject? Do you eat grass-fed meat whenever possible, or does it not matter to you?
- Why or why not?
- 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. Nutrition Journal. 2010;9:10. doi:10.1186/1475-2891-9-10.
- Dhiman, T. R., G. R. Anand, et al. (1999). “Conjugated linoleic acid content of milk from cows fed different diets.” J Dairy Sci 82(10): 2146-56.
- Duckett, S. K., D. G. Wagner, et al. (1993). “Effects of time on feed on beef nutrient composition.” J Anim Sci 71(8): 2079-88.
- Foran, J.A. D.H. Good, D.O. Carpenter, MC Hamilton, BA Knuth, and S.J. Schwager. (2005). Quantitative Analysis of the Benefits and Risks of Consuming Farmed and Wild Salmon. Journal of Nutrition. 135:2639-2643.
- Ip, C, J.A. Scimeca, et al. (1994) “Conjugated linoleic acid. A powerful anti-carcinogen from animal fat sources.” p. 1053. Cancer 74(3 suppl):1050-4.