Why Grass-fed Meat Is Better

Sarah Heckler, MS, RD, LDN, CISSN

There has been an increasing popularity in recommending grass-fed beef for not only health reasons but also for environmental. However, in order to understand the health benefits, we must first understand how the digestive system of a cow works before we can begin to debate how we feed them.

Cows’ Digestive System

Cows have a ruminant digestive system that allows them to forage on and digest wild grasses. The cows’ rumen is like a large holding tank where a mature cow can store up to 55 gallons of grass. Cows do not chew their food thoroughly the first time they eat it, because they have the ability to un-swallow their food, re-chew and swallow again, allowing them more time to process the grass. This process is called rumination and it is made possible by the digestive anatomy of the cow. Most mammals including dogs and humans do not have the ability to break down plant material however, a cow’s rumen is different. The rumen contains tiny organisms that help break down the plant material, that would not normally be digested. The rumen acts not only as a holding tank but also a food processor allowing the cow to consume and digest wild grass.

Grain-fed vs. Grass-fed

What really is the big difference between grass-fed and grain-fed cows? Grass-fed cows are allowed to forage on wild grasses, meaning they are allowed to eat as much or as little as they want. The cow has control over how much it consumes. The grass-fed cow is allowed to eat and grow at it’s normal rate. Since the cow is only eating grass it tends to be leaner, which results is less fat in the meat. Grain-fed cows are refined to an enclosed area where they are fed a combination of soy and corn as well as antibiotics and hormones to produce bigger cattle in a shorter amount of time. Bigger cattle and less time means more meat to sell and more money to be made. The demand for beef is high in our country, with the United States consuming 52.2 billion pounds in 2012. Farmers have to keep up with this demand so the industry discovered ways to fatten up cattle in shorter amounts of time, thus the use of grain diets.

Health Benefits

Research has shown that grass-fed beef has an improved fatty acid content as well as antioxidant content, as compared to a grain-fed cattle. Grass diets have been shown to enhance omega-3 fatty acids as well as conjugated linoleic acid (CLA), on a gram to gram fat basis. Additionally, grass diets have led to a higher proportion of steric fatty acid, a cholesterol neutral fatty acid, as compared to the cholesterol elevating saturated fatty acids in grain fed beef. Lastly, the fat from grass-fed beef may appear more yellow in color due to the higher carotenoid content, which is a precursor to vitamin A. In summary, grass-fed beef has:

  • less overall fat
  • more omega-3 fatty acids
  • higher proportion of steric acid
  • higher carotenoid content

More Than Just Health Benefits

  • Grass-fed beef is better for the environment because less energy goes into the production of growing grass as compared to grain.
  • Grass-feeding is more humane, cattle are allowed to forage, meaning they can eat as much or as little as they would like. Additionally, they are eating what their digestive systems were designed for

Before you reach for your next hamburger or steak think about where your food comes from and how it is produced. Become an informed consume and protect your health! Have more questions about grass-fed beef or how to choose the best foods for you? Contact us via social media or send me an email at sarah@theenduranceedge.com.