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7 Reasons Grass-fed Beef is Worth the Money

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.).

grass-fed beef is worth the money

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,

lily-name

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

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Lily Nichols is a Registered Dietitian/Nutritionist, Certified Diabetes Educator, researcher, and author with a passion for evidence-based prenatal nutrition and exercise. Her work is known for being research-focused, thorough, and unapologetically critical of outdated dietary guidelines. She is the author of two bestselling books, Real Food for Pregnancy and Real Food for Gestational Diabetes.

16 Comments

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  1. Oh, I love your graphics with this post, Lily! You’ve done a fantastic job of outlining all of the benefits, and I get asked this same question all of the time…I need to bookmark your post and send this as a reference to back-up my claims! Why recreate the wheel (if that is ok with you of course)? Thanks for the wonderful post.

    • Absolutely bookmark and share to your heart’s content, Stacey!

  2. Lily,
    Fabulous article, as usual. Are there any specific California farmers that you recommend? Preferably one with a website, since I always seem to show up to the Farmer’s Market when they’re taking down the tents. Thanks!

    • Hi Kristin,
      I would contact Novy Ranches. They serve farmers’ markets across LA, including some markets on the weekends and they have a store in Simi Valley.

      • Thank you Lily!

  3. Lily,
    What an richly informative post! I knew a lot of the things you mentioned, but I didn’t know about ‘finishing’ and realize that I’ve bought organic beef dozens of times assuming that it was grass fed. Now I know better! Thank you!!

    • Lana, I used to do the same before I learned all about grass-fed and pasture-raised animals. Labeling can be so confusing. When we know better, we do better!

  4. Great tips! I only eat grass fed beef but have had trouble convincing my husband of the benefits. He’s getting this graphic sent to his email 🙂
    Thanks for sharing your knowledge!

  5. Love the info graphic! I used to go for organic, now I try to buy grass-fed beef and if I don’t find it, organic is my second option. I also like lamb because most lamb is pasture-fed and there are local farms that supply it. I think most people don’t know the difference between organic and grass-fed and you made it clear.
    Nour

  6. Hi Lily
    Thanks for the info- and appreciate all the benefits of grass-fed beef. Just one question however- what about the winter? Several of the benefits you mention relate to summer months only, i.e. plentiful grass, cows being outdoors etc. What are grass-fed cattle fed on in the winter- and how many months of the year do they have to be outdoors to be classed as ‘grass-fed’? Hope you can help because my partner is giving me a hard time about it!
    Thanks

    • Great question, Alison. Some grass-fed ranchers will rely on grains in winter, though there are alternatives and some farmers are able to avoid grains altogether, as described in this article. If course, warm climates don’t have this issue.

      I described how “finishing” cattle on grains reduces the nutrient value of the meat, but the same goes for the reverse. If they are raised on pasture most of the year, have grains in winter, then grass again for a few months before slaughter, their meat will still have most, if not all, the benefits of 100% grass-fed beef.

      If you’re really concerned, buy meat directly from the farm/ranch before winter, so you know the cow had maximum time on pasture. That’s what I do. Many small producers only slaughter in late summer or early fall. Stock up the freezer and use the meat from that one animal for a whole year. Buying direct from farmers is really the only way we can guarantee a lot of things about our food!

  7. Hi, Lily, I really like your infographic, but I’m curious what the x-axis numbers refer to?

    My grandparents run a cattle farm and used to butcher a few every now and then for our family’s consumption. When I was first learning about commercially raised beef, I didn’t understand the fuss. Then I realized that my grandparents’ cattle, grazing over acres and acres and acres of land weren’t being slaughtered and sold to the supermarkets, they were being sold to the CAFOS. Aside from the handful we ate, they ended up no different than the smelly commercial variety (have you ever driven past a feed lot? Oh the stench.) Made me pretty sad.
    PS I’m very lucky now to live in an urban area with an excellent farmers market with at least 5 different suppliers of pastured, grass-fed animals.

    • Sorry if that’s unclear, Heather. It shows the relative amounts of nutrients in grass-fed vs grain-fed beef. For example, grass-fed beef has four times more omega-3 than grain-fed.

  8. I have been buying the frozen “grass fed angus beef” at Trader Joe’s. it says it is from New Zealand but doesn’t say “100% grass fed.” I am wondering if I have been getting tricked.

  9. Just wanted to add that grass fed beef tastes better!

  10. WOW! I purchased grass fed liver awhile ago with the intent to make it for my pups, then I came across your recipe that jarred a memory from childhood and I decided it would be for me! Ok so they did get some liver and they LOVED IT! I remembered having a delicious pate, that to my surprise was liver pate, spread on a warm slice of fresh baguette. Your recipe sounded delicious so I decided to give it a try with a minor and very delicious modification. I’m on the Whole30 day 4 and I can’t have dairy. I used ghee to cook my liver in and cashew cream in place of heavy whipping cream. Cashew cream is amazing. I used 1 cup of organic raw cashews, 2 large garlic cloves minced and water. Blended it in my ninja added liver and onions, WALAH, I used enough water to get the texture I wanted. It is sooooo good!

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