Tuesday, January 8, 2013

Grass-Fed Beef, Is It Really Superior?

A couple weeks ago, during a meeting at work, a co-worker told me he had been buying grass-fed beef lately because "it's more lean than the typical grain-fed beef".  He even brought in a clipping from a magazine to prove to me that it was more lean than grain-fed beef (in case I didn't believe him).  I shocked him when I told him that, while grass-fed beef is leaner, you can absolutely find grain-fed beef that is just as lean (and much cheaper of course).

Source: iStock Photo

To prove to him that yes, the in-store dietitian was actually correct, I went downstairs to our meat department to show him the labels of our grass-fed beef and those of our grain-fed beef.  Of course, when compared to similar cuts, the grass-fed beef was typically leaner, but I pointed out that the 85% lean ground beefs both had the same fat, saturated fat, and cholesterol (so in other words, it really depends on the brands of meat you are buying).  He was perplexed.  I also pointed out that we, as well as some other grocery stores, only carry 90% lean grass-fed beef, yet we carry up to 96% lean grain-fed beef.  So, in this case, the 96% lean grain-fed beef was much leaner.

So....why pay the premium price for grass-fed beef??

Last year after reading Michael Pollan's  "The Omnivore's Dilemma", and this article from the New York Time's Well Blog, I felt like I had a better understanding of grass-fed beef and why so many people love it.  I did some more research for this post and also found this research from Nutrition Journal.  Here are some pros and cons on grass-fed beef, based on what I've read. 

 Compared to similar cuts, grass-fed beef typically provides:
  • Lower levels of cholesterol-elevating saturated and trans fats
  • Higher levels of Omega-3 (EPA/DHA)
  • More vitamins A, E and other important antioxidants that may help reduce inflammation
  • Twice the levels of Conjugated Linoleic Acid (CLA), which may have chemoprotective properties and may help prevent other chronic diseases.
  • May be better for the environment, compared to grain-fed beef (grass produces much less carbon than grain, says Michael Pollan)

  • Regarding the "lower levels of saturated fat and trans fat", well, you can buy lean grain-fed beef (90 percent lean, or greater), which also has incredibly low levels of unhealthy fat.  There are also some cuts of grain-fed beef, such as the ones listed here, that are very lean too, let's not forget that!  
  • The levels of Omega-3 found in grass-fed beef are still far lower than that found in salmon and tuna.  No matter what, you'll still need to eat your fish to get the recommended amount of omega-3.
  • If you really want a greater amount of CLA and omega-3, you can just buy the fattier cuts of grain-fed beef. They are comparable in CLA.
  • Some grass-fed beef may have a "grassy taste", and some find it not very palatable.
  • Grass-fed almost three times as expensive as regular, grain-fed beef.

Keep in mind, when the label says "grass-fed" it may not mean the cattle were fed grass their entire life. It could mean they were fed grass just at the beginning of their life.  Look for the label from the American Grassfed Association for assurance that your beef was fed a 100% grass diet, throughout their life.

The idea of a leaner meat is always thrilling to me, but I prefer to save my money and stick to the leaner cuts of grain-fed meats, personally.  I do enjoy my fish twice a week, so I'll get my omega-3s that way.  Plus, I really enjoy the the taste of the extra lean cuts of grain-fed beef, as long as they are cooked using methods that tenderize well (ie: slow cookers for example!)

QUESTION:  Do you buy grass-fed beef?

Thanks for reading!

The Candid Rd

NOTE: I love comments!  But, be sure to come back to read any replies to questions or comments, as they do not go directly to your e-mail.


  1. this is so interesting! I have a lot to learn about the meat industry!

  2. We rarely buy beef anymore, but when we do, we go to the farmer's market when it's open, or Earth Fare (kind of a mini-hole Foods...I don't think they have it everywhere) during the winter months, and buy local grass feed beef. It's more expensive, but I like supporting local farms and seeing the happy cows!

  3. I didn't know what's grass fed meat until this post. Thanks for informing me once again Gina! :)

  4. this is a great post Gina. also i would like to point out the grass fed beef arte not treated any better than their grain fed counterparts. they are still dealing with terrible living conditions and cruel techniques to produce as much beef as possible. do you know if they are fed hormones too?

    1. Cool call our, Kalli. IF you're looking for hormone free you have to look for organic. Grassfed has nothing to do with hormones, and I think you're right in saying that;s a common misconception. And they are also often treated just as poorly as other cows! Ugh. The only difference is what they are fed. This is why it's often best just to get to know your farmer, if you can.....

  5. Interesting! I've only heard about the CLA, so this was good to know.

  6. grass fed beef is definitely grassier but i find it's a little more pure too. You can taste a difference for sure and it takes an acquired taste, yes? But i do hate how our FDA mislabels EVERYTHING!!!!

  7. I rarely, if every, buy beef, but I think I would rather look for a more naturally raised grass fed beef, because cows are not meant to be fed grains - we only do so to fatten them up faster and produce the marbling that the public wants. Their stomachs are meant for grazing on grass, so regardless of fat content, etc, I would still prefer the grass fed.

  8. Thank you for this post. I'm going to print it up and take it to the store with me and do some comparisons. I'll feel much better informed when I make my beef choices now. I had always thought grass fed was THE option, now I know what to look for in either grass or grain fed beef.

  9. Love love your pros + cons list!

  10. i just bought grassfed from tjs - the frozen kind and it tastes SO much better than non grass fed - i mean yes its more expensive but the taste is just totally out of this world!

  11. We eat very little beef, but when we do eat it, it's grassfed and from a farm nearby that still keeps cows the way you imagine it (outside and therefore naturally grassfed). Since we don't eat meat very often, I am able to work it into our budget, but it is certainly very expensive.

  12. I did a lot of research on the differences between grass fed and grain fed because grass fed is a little pricey. But I did find out that a recent comprehensive study conducted by the USDA and researchers from Clemson University found that compared with corn-fed beef, grass-fed beef is higher in beta-carotene, vitamin E, omega-3s, conjugated linoleic acid (CLA), calcium, magnesium, and potassium; lower in inflammatory omega-6s; and lower in saturated fats that have been linked to heart disease. That won me over. It is definitely worth it. I like to buy grass fed beef from La Cense Beef. Their prices are very affordable. You should check out their new catalog.