What Does Grass-Fed Beef Mean
The saying "you are what you eat" applies to a cows diet too!
A cow that eats a diet of mostly grass will produce a beef that is more nutrient dense than the conventional, grain-fed beef and this is why...
My hand to forehead moment about this whole 'grass-fed beef' thing is that cows, were designed.. to eat GRASS! We have all likely learned in our valued school system that cows posses four stomach compartments in order to digest grasses. They were designed to do this and yet we feed cows inexpensive grains as the alternative to their natural diet. (I believe the world is beginning to understand that we should not work against nature..)
Humans do not poses the enzymes or stomach compartments required to digest grasses, this is why we juice wheat grass - to remove the cellulose - in case you didn't know, you cannot throw wheat grass into a smoothie or consume it whole or it will come out the same way!
Going back to grass-fed beef, the reason we benefit from it as humans goes back to the circle of live: We benefit from a balanced diet which includes both animal and plant sources. As far as grass-fed beef goes, we benefit from eating a meat which contains the nutrients from grasses that were digested by the cow, except it is now in a form that we can digest.
A Conventional Cows Life
A cow’s life typically goes like this: 6-12 months after the birth the calf will be moved to a feedlot where it will be fed grains in order to “fatten up”. The diet of a conventionally raised cow is likely soy and corn, more than 80% of these crops are genetically modified organisms (GMO) and are saturated with pesticides, herbicides and fungicides.
These cows are also given hormones (in the USA) to grow bigger and faster. They are also given antibiotics so they can survive in unsanitary living conditions. They are then sent to a factory to be slaughtered.
So what’s in conventional meat? Well, there is protein, iron and B vitamins but this meat is also laced with GMO, pesticides, herbicides, fungicides, antibiotics and hormones (sick animals make sick meat).
That Grass-Fed Life
Grass fed cows may live the entirety of their life on grass, because of this grass-fed beef contains less total fat and also fewer calories, since their diet was not made up of fattening grains. Aside from it being naturally extra lean and with fewer calories, grass-fed beef contains 2-4x the omega-3 to that of grain-fed beef (comparable to the omega-3 content in salmon), and it is one of the richest sources of CLA, the fatty acid that puts your body into fat burning mode (learn more on CLA here). Grass-fed beef is also a naturally rich source of fat soluble vitamins A,E & K.
So Is Grass-Fed Better?
The Fatty Acid Composition is what makes grass-fed meat superior, we need a proper intake and ratio of our omegas to stay healthy, omega-3 foods are especially important and are essential for prevention and treatment of:
- Coronary Artery Disease
- Inflammatory and Autoimmune Disorders
While all beef does contain valuable nutrients such as vitamins B12, B6, B3, minerals like iron, selenium and zinc as well as high amounts of protein, creatine and carnosine which benefits the brain and muscles, grass-fed has an even larger nutritional profile:
- Vitamin A : A carotenoid precursor called “beta carotene” which the body converts to Vitamin A
- Vitamin E: An antioxidant that is found in our cell membranes which works to prevent oxidation
- Vitamin K: A vitamin essential for blood clotting and building strong bones
- Micronutrients: Potassium, iron, zinc, phosphorus, sodium
Grass-Fed and our Environment
When a cows diet includes grains such as corn, this also accounts for the use of Fossil Fuels in order to produce the pesticides used on this crop. The corn used for feedlots contains high amounts of chemical pesticides and fertilizers which requires high quantities of oils for production, which all ties back into use of the world’s largest energy source – Fossil Fuels.
Grass-fed cows consume “less-energy” and it is far less polluting. Grass-fed cows produce waste which becomes nutrients for the soil where as in factory farming this waste builds up and becomes a pollutant to our air and water.
While livestock production in general is polluting to the earth, does it not make sense for us to support more grass-fed? When we compare conventionally raised cattle and grass-fed you can see that grass-fed proposes more benefit to our health & wellness. The first argument is that there wouldn't be enough land to produce grass-fed beef for all beef consumers. While I am completely in agreement with this, even though this is a pro-meat blog post - we still need to eat LESS meat, which could make the reality of grass-fed more realistic for farmers and consumers, but unfortunately I speak for a small part of the population who is aware of their quantity of meat consumption. In a prefect world we would follow a plant-based diet with modest amounts of meat with emphasis on quality fats and protein (sorry carbs)
Grass-Fed or Organic?
Organic meats and dairy products are antibiotic and hormone free, these animals were/are fed a diet of organically grown grains but still typically spend their whole lives in feedlots.
You want to look for “grass-fed” and “organic”. Since just grass-fed can entail cows feeding on grass that is treated with synthetic fertilizers and herbicides and “organic” can still mean feedlots.
Food For Thought
While grass-fed has its advantages, this commodity of meat is expensive. Which isn’t necessarily a bad thing, since we shouldn’t be eating nearly as much meat as we do. As the demand for grass-fed goes up, the price will go down, but grass-fed cannot feed the whole world. In North America we do not have the space to sustain this production as mentioned already.
While it is healthier for us, and healthier for the cows it is only slightly healthier to the environment. Creating the space for all of this grass causes deforestation, and it increases the production of nitrous oxide and methane which are global warming gases. Grass-fed cows produce more of these gases since they gain weight slower, live longer, and therefor produce more gases.
All-in-all, grass-fed methods are a more humane and natural way to produce beef. With a higher nutritional profile, no use of toxic chemical sprays and no use of GMO feed. It is better for us and better for the cow. However, one thing that can’t be avoided, or missed, is that it still all ends in a slaughterhouse.
Meat consumption, and the meat industry will never go away, and for most of us - veganism isn't logical, as this diet is deficient in the quality nutrition from animal-based products. While I don't bash the vegan diet (I was vegan and even raw vegan for a number of years) MEAT will NEVER go away. So for those who need it in their diet, we need to demand the best quality and source.
What are your thoughts? Grass-fed, or what?