Advocates claim that grass-fed beef offers lots of nutritional advantages. Find out what is—and isn’t—in grass-fed beef and whether it’s healthier for you.
Is Grass-Fed Beef Organic?
Grass-fed is also not synonymous with organic: Organic cows may be fed grass or grain and grass-fed herds are not necessarily raised according to organic standards. Certified organic beef means that whatever they are feeding the cows has been produced without pesticides, synthetic fertilizers, or GMOs and that the animals aren’t given antibiotics, hormones or other drugs.
I should also point out that some of the farmers who operate according to organic principles choose not to go through the expensive and time-consuming organic certification process. Labeling regulations and certification programs are helpful but if you want the details on how your food is being raised, there’s really no substitute for knowing your farmer.
Is Grass-Fed Beef More Nutritious?
So far I’ve talked about farming, animal welfare, and food safety but not that much about nutrition. So let’s get to the burning question, how do corn- and grass-fed beef stack up nutritionally?
Grass-fed beef is a lot leaner than grain-fed beef and nowadays, that’s promoted as one of its chief advantages. In the interests of full disclosure, that also means that it may not be quite as tender or juicy. Leaner meat also dries out more quickly, so you have to take care not to overcook it. And the flavor of grass-fed meat is less predictable because the animals’ diets change as the local forage changes with season and location. In general, grass-fed beef is not going to be as sweet as grain-fed beef. Sometimes it can even get a little gamey tasting. Oh yeah, and because it takes more land and more time to bring the animals to slaughter, it’s going to be more expensive.
Grass fed advocates also make a big deal out of the fact that grass-fed is higher in certain nutrients such as omega-3 or beta-carotene. Although that’s absolutely true, you have to put the facts in perspective. Celery has 40 times as much sodium as cucumber, for example, but celery is still a very low-sodium food. Likewise, grass-fed meat may contain three times as much omega-3 or eight times as much beta-carotene as grain-fed beef, but it’s still not a significant source of these nutrients.
Is Grass Fed Beef Worth the Money?
It depends on what you’re after. Personally, I don’t think that a diet containing a moderate amount of fat or saturated fat is a problem and I get plenty of beta-carotene and omega-3 from other dietary sources. So for me, the nutritional differences between corn and grass-fed beef aren’t particularly compelling. On the other hand, I don’t believe that industrial feedlot practices are good for the environment or the cows. For that reason, more than any other, I do go out of my way to choose grass-fed organic beef. And because I only eat a few ounces of meat a month, it’s a luxury I can afford.
Now that you have all the facts, I’d be interested to hear how it stacks up for you. Post your comments or questions below or Nutrition Diva Facebook Page. And be sure to sign up for my free weekly newsletter, which has more tips, recipes, and answers to your listener questions.
Have a great week and remember to eat something good for me!
Grain Feeding and Acid-Resistant E. Coli (Science Magazine, 1998)
Contamination Rates and Microbial Resistance in Conventional and Grass-Fed Beef (Food Borne Pathogens and Disease, 2010)
Grass-fed beef not immune to deadly E. Coli (Slate Magazine, 2010)