Many people might not take the time to consider what kind of beef they’re purchasing at the grocery store. Our decisions on meat often come down to the price tag because it’s one of the most expensive grocery items on our list. But the kind of beef you purchase and how it was raised can have major effects on the nutritional value, how it tastes, and how ethically the animal was treated.
Being a conscientious shopper can lead to better meat choices for your health and the quality of the dishes at your next BBQ. But when it’s between grass fed vs. grain fed beef, which comes out on top?
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1. What Is the Difference Between Grain and Grass Fed?
Most cows in the United States experience the same first months of life. For up to nine months, they are allowed to eat grass and roam free, consuming a natural diet. After this time, grain fed cattle are moved to feedlots, where they receive an unnatural diet and are kept in stalls that limit their movement.
A grain based diet is designed to quickly fatten a cow for the slaughterhouse, so they typically consume soy-based grain and corn. High grain diets in cattle can cause an overgrowth of bacteria that can be harmful to the cow.
Grass fed cows continue on a diet of primarily grass for the duration of their life until slaughter. Sometimes this can mean roaming free in a pasture, but they may also be confined to a stall.
2. Which Beef is More Nutritious?
Grass fed beef is technically the more nutritious choice, though both grain and grass fed beef can offer plenty of essential vitamins and nutrients that the body needs. Both are rich in B12, B3, and Vitamin B6, as well as iron, zinc, and selenium. However, grass fed beef tends to provide more Vitamin A, Vitamin E, and other antioxidants that benefit the human body.
Grass fed beef is less fatty than grain fed beef since the cow’s diet affects the meat’s fat content. However, grass fed beef contains high levels of conjugated linoleic acid (CLA), which can improve metabolic health. Grain fed beef has lower levels.
Grass fed beef also contains higher levels of omega-3 fatty acids, which can help reduce the risk of heart disease, depression, and arthritis. The human body does not naturally produce omega-3, so it must be ingested through food sources or supplements.
Red meats, such as beef are often incited as one of the causes of elevated cholesterol. Choosing grass fed beef over grain fed can help mitigate some of these adverse effects. Grass fed beef has been found to contain cholesterol-neutral stearic acid, as well as lower amounts of palmitic and myristic fatty acids known to elevate blood cholesterol levels.
While both contain nutrients that can serve the body well, grass fed beef is the superior choice if health benefits are your primary concern.
3. How Does Feed Impact The Taste of Beef?
The diet that grain fed cows consume in the final months of their life leads to a higher fat content in the meat and more marbling. This can lead to a sweeter taste that some people might find desirable. However, too much marbling can also lead to a chewier texture.
Many people find that grass fed beef tastes more intense because the muscles are leaner. The fats found in grass fed beef tend to have more complex flavors than the marbling in grain fed beef. Some say that grain fed beef tastes more buttery.
It comes down to preference, but there is a noticeably different taste in grass fed vs. grain fed beef, and grass fed is the more natural of the two.
4. Ethics and Environmental Impact
The USDA regulated definition of grass fed beef is simply that the animals consume grass. Therefore, the term “grass-fed” is not a strong indicator that the animal has lived a more natural and pleasant life. The USDA regulations allow grass fed beef to be raised in confinement on grass as long as there’s access to a pasture. This pasture access could be limited to a door to a small outdoor area. By law, grass fed beef can also be fed a limited amount of grain.
If animal welfare is your primary concern, you’ll want to look for brands that advertise more specifically pasture-raised or free-range as opposed to simply grass fed. However, studies have shown that greenhouse gas emissions are reduced when cows are raised on a grass fed diet and out at pasture.
5. Grass Fed vs. Grass Finished
If you want to ensure you are eating beef raised naturally on grass, look for beef labeled as grass finished. Grass fed can be slapped on a beef label that started out eating grass but later was fed grain and other supplements. A label that claims 100% grass fed or grass finished beef shows that the animal consumed grass until the end of its life.
If you want to avoid high fat content and reap the full nutritional advantages of grass fed beef, you must look for these more specific labels.
There are many considerations when it comes to weighing the benefits of grass fed vs. grain fed beef. Many labels on the packaging of these products follow loose regulations and can often be deceiving.
While some individuals might choose between the two thinking, they benefit the environment or choose a more ethical option; this is not always the case. The consumer requires more in-depth research to understand how brands are raising their beef and the diet the animal consumes for its full duration.
Based on nutritional value and taste, your next BBQ’s frontrunner has to be grass fed beef. If you can confirm that your grass fed beef was also grass finished and pasture raised, you can expect even better results. While grain fed beef has a sweeter taste and more marbling that some people might prefer, grass fed beef offers superior nutritional benefits along with a more nuanced flavor and leaner meat.