Grass-fed beef versus grain-fed beef…does it really matter?


Grass-Fed Versus Grain Fed-Beef. 

Personally, the piece of nutritional advice that has stood the test of time for me is from the great Michael Pollan, “eat food, not too much, mostly plants.” Full disclosure,  I eat meat. I have spent countless hours researching food and its effects, and for myself, I make the fully informed choice to eat meat. Deciding if it is necessary to spend the money on grass-fed beef can be a sticking point for people. Having said that, plants are without a doubt the most significant staple of my diet. I try to have at least three to four plant-based choices on the table every night for my kids as well as a small amount of high-quality meat. This is not a post about the merits or detractors to eating meat. The goal of this post is to help inform those that do choose to eat meat why spending a little extra on grass-fed beef is worthwhile. 

The majority of meat I buy is chicken or turkey. When I buy beef, I make every attempt to ensure it’s grass-fed. 

Here’s why; 

Omega-3 levels. Grass-fed cattle have an average omega-3 content that this 2-5 times higher than conventionally raised cows. Omega-3s are a potent anti-inflammatory and have a laundry list of associated benefits from anti-depressant properties, to eye and heart health. 

Conjugated linoleic acid. There is conflicting evidence with respect to conjugated linoleic acids.  However, there is some support to suggest that CLA’s help with weight regulation. Also, there are studies supporting CLAs use as a means to reduce atherosclerosis, obesity, and reduce the inflammatory response (https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/26735796). Grass-fed cattle have been shown to have higher overall levels of CLA content (https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2846864/).

You are what you eat! Ruminants (cows, deer, sheep, bison, etc) have all evolved to eat a specific diet. Cows and their unique GI system are designed to eat a diet of grass which they graze on for the majority of the day. Cows are not intended to eat corn. This is almost analogous to humans eating a diet rich in Doritos! If we munched on highly processed, inflammatory foods all day we would quickly be propelling ourselves towards sickness and disease. 

Corn creates higher levels of acidity in the gut(s) of cows (also in humans). Higher levels of acidosis lead to higher rates of infection, which in turn leads to an increased need for antibiotics and other medications. Additionally, in the grass-fed versus grain-fed beef argument, grain-fed cows also have higher levels of E. Coli in their gut, which leads to a higher risk of human contamination when that meat is consumed. 

“Because the bovine gastrointestinal tract digests starch poorly, Russell explains, some undigested grain reaches the colon, where it is fermented. When the grain ferments — and acetic, propionic and butyric acids accumulate in the animal’s colon — a large fraction of E. coli produced are the acid-resistant type.”  

Bottom Line: If you choose to eat red meat, there appears to be substantial evidence to support the consumption of grass-fed beef over grain fed.  https://news.cornell.edu/stories/1998/09/simple-change-cattle-diets-could-cut-e-coli-infection