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Is Grass-Fed Beef Better?

By Megan Tempest in Food on Mar 11, 2010 5:00PM


Grass-fed beef is drawing a lot of attention. Film documentaries promote it, many local farmers produce it, and an array of local restaurants serve it.

We’ve got the message that grass-fed beef is better than its grain-fed counterpart. But why?

Along with reported benefits to the cow and the environment (a topic for another day), grass-fed beef may be better for our health. A 2008 study by German and Canadian researchers analyzed four different types of cattle that were grass-fed or grain-fed, and concluded that grass-fed meat is “clearly superior”. More recently, a 2009 study by the USDA and researchers at Clemson University in South Carolina compared the two feeding methods and found that grass-fed beef is….

  1. Leaner - less total fat means fewer calories. Grass-fed beef reportedly contains about 1/3 of the fat of a similar cut of meat from a grain-fed steer.
  2. Lower in the saturated fats - the “unhealthy” fats that are strongly linked with high cholesterol and heart disease.
  3. Higher in multiple nutrients and antioxidants- including beta-carotene, vitamin E, and the B-vitamins thiamine and riboflavin. Grass-fed beef is also higher in the minerals calcium, magnesium and potassium.
  4. Higher in total omega-3 - more than half of the total fatty acids in grass are omega-3’s, which form in chloroplasts of green leaves. Grass-fed meat may be 2-4 times higher in these good fats. Omega-3’s protect our cardiovascular systems and support optimal brain function. Don’t believe that what the cow consumes actually ends up in its beef? Consider omega-3 enriched eggs - the product of chickens fed omega-3-rich flaxseed meal.
  5. Contains a healthier ratio of omega-6 to omega-3 (1.65 vs. 4.84) - a lower ratio is believed to reduce the risk of chronic disease.
  6. Higher in CLA (conjugated linoleic acid) - which research suggests may have cancer-fighting benefits.
  7. Higher in vaccenic acid (which the body converts to CLA) - which may reduce cancer risk and improve cholesterol levels.

Additionally, some research indicates grass-fed beef may pose less threat of E. coli infection. The theory is that a grain-based diet alters the pH balance of the cow’s stomach such that it becomes abnormally acidic. Evidence suggests over time E. coli bacteria gradually adapt to this high acidity. Then when the unsuspecting human eats grain-fed beef, those resistant E. coli are consumed and better able to survive the acidic contents of our own stomach and end up making us really sick.

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