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

If you’re a meat-eater, no doubt you’ve heard the buzz: Grass-fed beef is probably better for you than conventional grain-fed beef. It’s all over the news and the internet, and there are countless food gurus touting the benefits.

So why do so many people continue to buy conventional meat products? I’ve discussed this a lot with friends, and repeatedly get the same two responses:

  1. Grass-fed beef is just too expensive
  2. Grass-fed beef is not easy to find.

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 many benefits of grass-fed vs grain-fed. This is not to say that eating red is better than not eating, rather to encourage you to buy better quality red meat should you choose to consume it.

  • Grass-fed beef has a better Omega 3:6 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? Well, excessive omega 6 has been linked to a host of health problems, including inflammation and joint pain, and omega 3 has been linked to a number of health benefits, including reducing inflammation. This is why taking fish oil is such a great way to reduce achey joints. The average western diet has an unfavorable 3:6 ratio, mostly because the meat that is conventionally raised, in the States in particular, has high levels of omega 6 due to it’s grain diet.Now, you might always have higher levels of 6 than 3, but you should do what you can to keep the ratios from being to disparate. Replacing your grain-fed beef with grass-fed will actually help contribute to your health

*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 will 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, and conventional feed lots tend to overfeed their cattle in order to fatten them up in shorter periods of time. This means, that not only are the cattle forced to live shoulder to shoulder in disgusting conditions, but they are fed more than they need in an effort to accelerate production. Grass-fed cows are left to graze in fields, living and eating in more of a natural environment.

So, although neither method is green or eco-friendly, and both result in a cow being slaughtered, if you are a carnivore, wouldn’t you rather support a farm that raises it’s 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, and 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 a few spices. 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. And if grain-fed cows are eating grains, not to mention GMO corn etc, 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. (Intentional pun).

There you have it, just a few reasons why meat eaters should consider switching from grain-fed to grass-fed. Again, this is not a post touting the benefits of beef, and if you choose not to eat beef, that’s great! But, if you enjoy red meat a few times a week, I implore you to consider the source of that meat.

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” and 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. Wouldn’t you rather pay a little extra to know that you aren’t contributing to the deterioration of your body?

But 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. While you might argue that $2 is a lot, I consider it negligible. Would you spend $2 extra for a better quality pair of shoes or a more durable handbag? Of course you would. What it comes down to is this-what are you willing to spend money on?


A box of goodness from US Wellness Meats


But grass-fed beef is so hard to find!

Yes and no. At my local Trader Joe’s and Giant, you can only find ground grass-fed beef. If I want to get other cuts, I have to go to a speciality health store or visit one of my local farms. But, with a little forethought and planning, I can order all of my meat in bulk from US Wellness Meats, and have it conveniently delivered to my door in a freezer packed box. US Wellness uses four family run farms that  actually started the company and raise all of the meat, from the bison to the lamb. I like the idea that I know where my food is coming from.

If you’d rather not buy online, you can visit a local farm in your area and purchase not only meat but produce as well. A great resource for finding local farms in the US is Local Harvest. All you’ve got to do is put in your zip code and you’ll get information on not only the farms in your area but CSAs (Community Supported Agriculture) you can join as well. Supporting a local farm is not only gratifying in the sense that you are encouraging a farm to table culture, but it is one of the few ways that you can be sure about where your food comes from.

Union Square farmer’s market in NYC


Every single item of food you purchase and consume is an opportunity to contribute to your local farms and your body. 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.

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  • 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?

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