7 Comments
Jan
8
2013

(Grass-fed) Beef: It’s What’s for Dinner

 

grassfed-cows-pasture-shutterstock_220135444

 

If you eat meat, no doubt you are familiar with the idea that grass-fed beef may be better for you than conventional, grain-fed beef. Countless nutrition experts and health professionals tout the benefits online and in the news every day.

 

So, if grass-fed beef is so much better for our health and the environment, why are conventional meat products still more widely consumed than grass-fed? In almost all my discussions on this topic, the two most common responses are always:

 

  1. Grass-fed beef is just too expensive.
  2. Grass-fed beef is not available/easy to find where I can shop.

 

While there are certainly industry lobbyists who will work diligently to convince you that grass-fed is not better for you, I want to detail some of the benefits of grass-fed beef. This is not to say that eating meat is better than not eating meat at all. Rather, if you choose to consume meat I aim to encourage you to buy better quality meat.

 

  • “Grass-fed beef delivers more omega-3 than grain-fed. When you eat grass-fed, you are boosting your omega 3 intake, which has been linked to a number of health benefits including the reduction of inflammation and joint pain.

     

    The average Western diet, particularly in the United States, doesn’t provide enough omega-3 fatty acids. However, we realize that members of our GGS community may actually have a diet that is better than the average Western diet, as you eat more vegetables, protein, and healthy fats (right?!). Boosting your omega-3 intake in small ways — like replacing your grain-fed beef with grass-fed beef* — is an added bonus.

 

*NOTE: This does not mean that you have to eat beef in order to promote a healthy fatty acid profile. It’s just one way to get some more omega-3s.

 

  • Grass-fed beef might be better for the environment and more humane to cows. While proponents of grain-fed and grain lobbyists will argue that grass-fed beef actually uses more energy than feed lots (due to transportation and spatial concerns), many will argue that grass-fed beef has a lighter carbon foot print because of the fossil fuels, pesticides, and fertilizer used to produce the grains for feed lots.  Michael Pollan discusses this extensively in his book, The Omnivore’s Dilemma.

 

While neither method is good for the environment by any means, we must consider this: the food that the cows eat in feed lots must be produced on a mass scale. Conventional feed lots tend to overfeed their cattle in order to fatten them up in a shorter amount of time. This mean that not only are the cattle forced to live shoulder to shoulder in deplorable conditions, they are also fed more than they need in an effort to accelerate production. Grass-fed cows are left to graze in fields, living and eating in a more natural environment.

 

So, although neither method is 100% eco-friendly, and both result in a cow being slaughtered, if you eat meat, wouldn’t you rather support a farm that raises its animals humanely and allows them to feed naturally?

 

  • Grass-fed beef tastes better. There. I said it. I have tested them both against each other time and time again, and grass-fed always wins. I don’t know if they put magic grass in those fields or what, but damn, it’s delicious. I’ve even done blind tests, where I invite friends over and cook grass-fed steak or burgers. The response is always the same: “This is the best beef ever.” Then I tell them it’s grass-fed. And it’s not just because I’m an excellent cook, because I add nothing but some simple seasonings. I have found that grain-fed beef requires a lot more preparation to make it taste good, while grass fed simply needs to be cooked.

 

  • You are what you eat eats. (That’s not a typo. Read it again a few times. It will make sense in a few seconds.) And if grain-fed cows are eating grains, not to mention GMO corn, and we keep hearing that grains are linked to a multitude of health disorders, then doesn’t it stand to reason that a grass-fed cow is healthier than a grain-fed cow? Just some food for thought. (Pun intended).

 

These are just a few reasons why people who eat meat should consider switching from grain-fed to grass-fed. Again, this is not a post touting the benefits of including beef in your diet. If you choose not to eat beef, that’s great! However, if you enjoy eating red meat, I urge you to consider the source of that meat when you’re shopping for it.

 

I get it. Grass-fed is awesome, but it’s so expensive!

 

Grass-fed must be more expensive since it costs more to produce the same amount of meat, in the same amount of time, as grain-fed. And yes, the pricing is slightly higher. But you must consider quality. We all know the saying “you get what you pay for.” This is true for food as well. The only difference between food quality and furniture quality for example, is that you consume food. It goes inside the only body you have and can either serve you or steal from you.

 

Since I keep hearing about the difference in price, I decided to do some research. After visiting a few of my local markets, I found that a pound of grain-fed beef averages $5/pound, while a comparable pound of grass-fed averages $7/pound. $2 doesn’t seem like a big difference, especially when buying something that can help your health.

 

Now, having said that, I don’t want to make assumptions about anyone’s financial situation. Only you know for certain what your food budget can be. If you are able to spend a little extra to upgrade the quality of your food, I urge you to do so. Start however you can wherever you are. If you can only afford to do that once in a while, or every other week, do that. We wrote about eating well on any budget in this article.

 

But grass-fed beef is so hard to find!

 

Yes and no. At my local Trader Joe’s and Giant I can only find grass-fed ground beef. If I want to get other cuts, I have to go to a speciality store like Whole Foods, or visit one of my local farms. With some planning, I can order all of my meat in bulk online and have it conveniently delivered to my door in a freezer-packed box. There are several companies that offer this service online. A quick search will bring up a number of vendors.

 

A box of grass-fed goodness.

A box of grass-fed goodness.

 

If you’d rather not buy online, visit a farmer’s market, or a farm in your area where you can purchase not only meat but produce as well. You may also be able to find ranchers and farms in your region who can deliver straight to your home or to a nearby, central pick-up location, just like a CSA (Community Supported Agriculture) but for meat! A great resource for finding local farms in the US is Local Harvest. Enter your zip code and you’ll get information on the farms in your area as well as CSAs you can join. By supporting a local farm you know where your food is coming from and are supporting a farm-to-table culture.

 

family farms

 

Every single item of food you purchase and consume is an opportunity to contribute to your local farms and support the well-being of your body and mind. Choose wisely, and eat well!

 

 

About the Author: Neghar Fonooni

Neghar Fonooni is a writer, coach, veteran and mom. She is an unabashed scifi geek with an inherent love for yoga, cooking and wine. You can find out more about her at Eat, Lift and be Happy


  • Stacey

    My husband and I have been eating grassfed beef for a few years now and while it is more expensive and we are on a budget, it is so very important to me to eat quality meat that was raised in a humane way. I’m willing to cut back on something else so that we can have good beef. We had been buying from Whole foods and farmers markets until this past September we bought a 1/4 cow direct from a rancher. The upfront expense was substancial, in the long run we saved, a lot. Buying in bulk this way you get a variety of cuts from filets to roasts for about $6.50 per lb (which is great when you consider some cuts, like ribeyes can cost you $20ish per lb at Wholefoods.. You can save a bit more by buying a 1/2 cow, but we don’t have the freezer storage space for that.

    • http://www.facebook.com/neghar.fonooni Neghar Fonooni

      Really, really, really great point Stacey! Thank you so much for sharing. I have considered going in on a cow with some friends and am sure I will do it eventually :). Kudos to you for prioritizing and being proactive.

  • Shane

    Hey Neghar, I keep reading conflicting views on the importance of going grass-fed. Beef in general has a lot of nutrients in it – vitamin B12, B6, niacin, iron, phosphorous, zinc, selenium, and vitamin A, D, and E.

    The main proposed advantage of grass-fed beef is largely in the fatty acids, in that it contains more omega 3s, CLA, stearic acid and TVA. (Although some studies show it having less mono unsaturated fat, which is a possible disadvantage.)

    Studies (McAfee, for example) haven’t shown one to be superior to the other though in terms of longterm health (serum cholesterol, triglycerides and blood pressure).

    The main thing I find weird though is that in grass-fed beef there’s hardly any omega-3s at all. Compared to fish (or fish oil) there are barely even trace amounts (less than 1% of fatty acids). You would need to consume 114 grams of grass-fed beef FAT to get just 1g omega 3s. Hardly anyone eats that much beef fat, and that’s not a significant amount of omega 3s. You can get more omega 3s than that with 3 walnuts for a fraction of the price / effort … Sticking to meat, you would get 4x that amount from one serving of salmon.

    Take into account that most people buy lean meat that wouldn’t be affected (much) by hormones or have much fatty acid to begin with and … well … are the real health benefits even really there? If the advantages are so incredibly mild that studies can’t pick up on them, why not just buy fish oil with the money you save from buying grain-fed and rack up MEASURABLE health benefits?

    Many of the health experts I look to recommend grass-fed beef though, so I’m at a loss. I’m finding it really hard to figure out if it lives up to the hype? I’d love to hear your thoughts!

    • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=708596712 Sara Ann Mason

      Here here. I want to see some studies that prove that it’s really so much more nutritious. From what I’ve seen (here and elsewhere) the only major improvement is in animal welfare.

  • http://www.facebook.com/mariska.koele1 Mariska Koele

    I am having beef today and I am reading the back of the package. Premium beef, from cows who life outside on app. 2 soccerfields, fed with grass…..I accidentally did something right today. Normally I eat fish but they were out a the to go supermarket.

  • Kate

    This is one plus of living in NZ – all our beef is grassfed. I have only had grain fed beef when in the states and it tastes weird to me.

  • http://www.aladdincafe.com/aladdin-restaurant-reviews.php Aladdin Cafe

    Thanks for overloading this post with information and for shedding light to the never ending debate between grass-fed and grain-fed beef. At least, readers know now the difference. Are you personally strictly including grass-fed beef in youir diet now?