When it comes to your diet, quality counts. Maybe you already buy organic vegetables, local fruit from the farmers’ market, and choose unprocessed foods, but one place where many of my clients skimp is meat.
Meat is already expensive and choosing the fancy kind just for kicks doesn’t make sense.
So today I’m breaking down 7 reasons grass-fed beef is worth the money and I have a shmancy infographic for you to share on social media to inform your skeptical friends.
1. Grass-fed beef has healthy fats
We typically think of omega-3s coming from salmon, but it turns out grass-fed beef is a great source as well, providing 2-4x more omega-3 and a more favorable (anti-inflammatory) ratio of omega-3 to omega-6 fats than grain-fed beef. Grass-fed beef also has 2-3x more CLA, a type of fat that may protect against cancer, heart disease, and diabetes.
2. More vitamins
Meat from grass-fed cows has 7x more beta-carotene (a cousin of vitamin A) and 2x more vitamin E than grain-fed. Fresh grasses are more concentrated in vitamins than grains or dried hay, so it makes sense that the cows eating the fresh stuff are better nourished.
3. It’s safer
Cows are obligate herbivores who are meant to eat grass. When they eat the right food, their bodies are healthy. When they don’t? Well, all sorts of problems develop. (Sound familiar to the human dietary dilemma?) Cows that feed on grain develop severe digestive issues, including imbalanced bacteria levels that make them more susceptible to infections from bacteria like E.coli. Confined animal feeding operations (CAFOs) know this, and that’s why most commercially available cattle feed is laced with low dose antibiotics.
But does that make it safe? No!
Small levels of antibiotic residues make it into the meat we eat and damage our normal gut bacteria. Plus, bacteria consistently exposed to antibiotics mutate into antibiotic resistant strains that are even MORE likely to make the cows and us sick. One of the worst offenders is the deadly strain E.coli 0157:H7 (think Burger King in the ‘90s).
4. Grass-fed beef is more humane
Cows that are free to graze in open spaces are pretty much guaranteed to have a better life. Animals need space to thrive! As I hinted at above, cows kept in confinement have more health problems. Not only does a diet of antibiotic-laced feed and lack of exercise create a problem, but the confined spaces these cows are raised in perpetuates the spread of infection from one cow to another leading to additional use of antibiotics.
More than 80% of all antibiotics used in the US are given to animals destined for our plate, which is an appalling statistic that every meat purchase you make in the grocery store has the power to change. Grass-fed ranchers use significantly less antibiotics than CAFOs because the cows simply don’t need them. Healthy cows are happy cows.
5. No GMOs, fewer pesticide residues
Most cattle raised in confinement are fed corn and soy byproducts, which is not the natural diet for cows. But that’s not even my biggest beef (lame pun, go with it)… Over 90% of soy and corn grown in the US are genetically modified to withstand application of pesticides (everything dies but the corn and soy. Lovely, right?). Since most pesticide residues accumulate in fatty tissues, you can expect conventional beef to have much higher pesticide residues than grass-fed beef.
6. Grass-fed beef is easier to digest
Many people complain that beef upsets their stomach, but fail to think about the quality of their meat. In my experience working with clients who have food sensitivities to corn and soy, eating grain-fed beef can flare up symptoms like heartburn, bloating, and other digestive troubles. Also, antibiotic residues in conventional beef can upset your body’s healthy bacteria levels. Switch to grass-fed and voila, problem solved. (Also pre-marinating and using a slow cooker can ease digestion of meat. I have many more tips to heal your digestion in my free ebook: 30 Days To a Happy Tummy.)
7. Better for the environment
You’ve probably read about how eating too much meat will destroy the environment. And when you look at commercially raised meat, that is true. First off, there’s a heavy input of water, fertilizers, and pesticides to grow the grain, then it needs to be transported for processing into feed, then shipped again to the farm. All of this requires fossil fuels.
Plus, when many animals are kept in a small area, you have to deal with the poop. (Yes, it’s time to talk poop!) Animal waste can create an environmental hazard, but grazing animals don’t lead to the same negative impact. Grazing animals spread their poop over a large area of land where it can decompose naturally and fertilize the soil, whereas when animals are raised in confinement and particularly when they’re eating the wrong foods (corn and soy), their poop becomes an environmental hazard, seeping into groundwater, poisoning rivers, and carrying antibiotic residues far and wide.
And for those who have heard of “over-grazing”, consider this. Introducing grazing animals to land actually decreases desertification and restores grasslands, which is opposite of what scientists believed for years (Look up Allan Savory’s Ted talk.).
Now that you know some of the benefits of grass-fed beef, it’s time to get some.
What you should know about buying grass-fed beef:
All cows are raised on grass for the first 6-12 months of their life, but many producers switch them to grains to fatten up before slaughter. This is called finishing. This unfortunately un-does the health benefits of grass-fed beef, so you should look for labels that state “100% grass-fed beef”, “grass-finished beef” or “pastured beef”.
Also, “organic beef” does not mean the cows ate grass, rather that they were fed organic grain (and maybe some grass). That’s a step up from GMO feed that most cattle get, but does not confer the benefits of a 100% grass diet.
A label from the American Grassfed Association is a good way to guarantee the meat your buying is from grass-fed animals raised on pasture their entire lives, not given antibiotics or hormones, and sourced from US family farms.
This year, I’m buying beef from the Alaska Meat Company, where the cows are raised on a remote, grassy island. In the past, I was able to locate 100% grass-fed beef at my famers’ market and health food stores. Of course, you can also purchase it online. You might need to look beyond your local grocery store for the best quality meat and your efforts are absolutely worth it, for you, the cows, and the planet.
Before you go, I’d love to hear from you.
Do you buy grass-fed beef? If so, why?
Did I miss any benefits of grass-fed beef? If so, tell me about it!
Until next week,
PS – Bonus points if you laugh at my lame pun hidden in today’s article. I couldn’t resist.
Extra reading for my fellow science nerds:
S. K. Duckett, et al. “Effects of winter stocker growth rate and finishing system on: III. Tissue proximate, fatty acid, vitamin, and cholesterol content.” Journal of Animal Science. June 5, 2009.
C.A. Daley, et al. “A review of fatty acid profiles and antioxidant content in grass-fed and grain-fed beef.” Nutrition Journal 2010, 9:10