The food you eat is important, but the food your food eats can be just as important. This is especially true when it comes to beef. You’ve probably heard about grass-fed beef and its many benefits. But are the nutritious benefits worth the added cost? This article goes over the differences between grass-fed and grain-fed beef and how they may impact your health.
Grass-fed vs. grain-fed: What’s the process?
Most cows begin their lives the same way. They are born and raised in pastures, and after moving off their mothers’ milk, they eat grass until they’re seven to nine months old. Traditionally, cows remained in pastures until they went to market. More recently, however, many cows have been moved to feeding lots for the remainder of their lives [1, 2].
The feeding process varies between farms, but in general, cows are fed grain-based feeds in feeding lots, rather than grass. These feeds are often made of soy or corn, which fatten cows more quickly than grass does . Grains are high in protein and starch, which yield a more marbled meat than grass feeding alone. Compared to grain-fed beef, grass-fed beef will taste firmer and leaner .
This isn’t to say that a particular diet reflects a different quality of life. While many grass-fed cows roam free in pastures, some are fed grass in feeding lots. A third distinction of cows — grass-finished cows — are fed grain-based feeds for much of their lives, before being switched back to a grass-based diet in their final months [1, 2]. The main question is: how do these feeding processes affect the nutrients of the beef we eat?
Grass-fed vs. grain-fed: How does the fat content differ?
Both grass-fed and grain-fed beef contain key nutrients for a healthy diet. They both contain alpha-linolenic acid (ALA), an Omega-3 fatty acid, and conjugated linoleic acid (CLA), a natural trans-fat .
But while both types of beef contain these fats, the quantities in each are quite different. Grass-fed beef contains up to five times as much Omega-3 fatty acids (including ALA), and about twice as much CLA as grain-fed beef . Research shows Omega-3 fatty acids may be able to lower the risk of heart disease, stroke, and other cardiovascular illnesses . Grass-fed beef also contains less monounsaturated fat than grain-fed beef does .
Grass-fed vs. grain-fed: Which has more vitamins and minerals?
Both grass-fed and grain-fed beef contain high amounts of vitamin B12, B3, and B6, as well as iron, selenium, and zinc. However, grass-fed beef contains more carotenoids, such as beta-carotene, which our bodies process into vitamin A. Grass-fed beef also contains higher amounts of vitamin E than grain-fed beef does. While grass-fed beef is higher in these vitamins than grain-fed beef, the overall level of these vitamins per serving is quite low (about 2% of the daily value per 100g) .
What’s the verdict: grass-fed or grain-fed?
From a nutritional standpoint, there’s no clear evidence showing that grass-fed is significantly better for your health.
If you prefer a leaner and firmer texture, go with grass-fed beef. If you’re counting calories, pick grass-fed. If you prefer a juicier and fattier cut, go with grain-fed beef . If you’re eating ground beef where tenderness isn’t a factor, grass-fed is recommended for the added nutrients.