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:
- Grass-fed beef is just too expensive.
- 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 has a better omega 3 : omega 6 ratio than grain-fed. What that means is that when you eat grass-fed, you are contributing to your omega 3 intake and not your omega 6. Why is that so important? Excessive omega 6 has been linked to a host of health issues including inflammation and joint pain, and omega 3 has been linked to a number of health benefits including the reduction of inflammation.
This is why taking fish oil is such a great way to reduce achy joints. The average Western diet has an unfavorable 3:6 ratio, mostly because the meat that is conventionally raised, particularly in the United States, has higher levels of omega 6 due to the grain diet given to the cows. Now, you might always have higher levels of 6 than 3, but you should do what you can to keep the ratios from being too disparate. Replacing your grain-fed beef with grass-fed will actually help contribute to a healthier 3:6 ratio.
*NOTE: This does not mean that you have to eat beef in order to promote a healthy 3:6 ratio. It simply means that if you do eat beef, you can benefit from replacing your current intake with grass-fed.
- 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.
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.
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!