The Difference Between
Grass-Fed vs Grain-Fed Beef

The nutrient composition of a beef depends on what foods are fed to the cow.

Beef is massively produced in any part of the world, so the cattle are usually fed with grain. But other countries, like Australia, produce mostly grass-fed beef.

With these variations in beef production, you might be wondering if the way cows are fed will have any difference to your health.


The difference grass- and grain-fed beef

In the US, most of the cows start living similar lives.

Calves are born during the early spring, drink milk, and are allowed to roam freely and eat any edible plants they find within the environment. This goes on for about 7 to 9 months. After that, these cows are then moved to feedlots.

Large feedlots are referred to as concentrated animal feeding operations (CAFOs). The cows are kept inside confined stalls, where the space is often limited. They are then fattened with grain-based feeds made from a base of either corn or soy. Their diet is also supplemented with some bits of dried grass.

The cows would live in these feedlots for several months before they will be brought to the slaughterhouse. But the process isn't that simple, and the feeding practices being used are complicated and varied.

The term grass-fed isn't clearly defined by some of these producers. With that being said, grass-fed cows mostly eat grass while grain-feds have an unnatural diet based on corn and soy during the later part of their lives.

To maximize their growth, some cows are given drugs like antibiotics and growth hormones.


Differences in fatty acid composition

The foods that a cow eats can affect the nutrient composition of its beef. This is evident when it comes to fatty acid composition.

Grass-fed beef has lesser total fat compared to grain-fed beef, which means that grass-fed beef has fewer calories.

However, fatty acid composition is also different:

  • Omega-3s: Grass-fed beefs contain up to 5 times more omega-3s than grain-feds.
  • Monounsaturated Fat: Grass-fed beefs have lesser monounsaturated fat than grain-fed beefs.
  • Omega-6 Polyunsaturated Fats: Grain- and grass-fed beef contain similar amounts of omega-6 fatty acids.
  • Conjugated Linoleic Acid (CLA): Grass-fed beef have twice as much CLA than grain-fed beef. This fatty acid comes with a few health benefits.

In short, there are some differences in the amount and composition of fat in grain-fed and grass-fed beefs. Also, the breed and cut of meat can also affect the beef's fat composition.


Grass-fed beef is more nutritious

Grass-fed and grain-fed beef are good sources of nutrients.

Beef contains vitamin B3, B6, and B12. It also comes with highly bioavailable iron, zinc, and selenium. In fact, meat has every nutrient that a human being needs to survive.

It is also rich in high quality protein and some lesser-known nutrients like carnosine and creative, which are important for your brain and muscles.

Even though the difference between these two beefs aren't that great, the grass-fed one contains higher amounts of certain nutrients. Grass-fed beef is higher in the following vitamins:

  • Vitamin A: Grass-fed beef has carotenoid precursors to vitamin A like beta carotene.
  • Vitamin E: This antioxidant remains in your cell membranes and protects them from oxidation.

Grass-fed beef is also rich in other antioxidants.


Grain-fed beef can cause inflammation

The quality of meat that you consume will have an impact to its potential level of inflammation. The way that the animal was raised is a contributing factor to the quality of meat that will be produced. So if a cow is pasteurized, exposed to a lot of sunlight, and eats a natural diet of grass, the quality of meat will be different compared to those confined in a barn, with little sunlight, and fed on a diet rich in soybean and corn. How an animal is fed and its access to the outdoors can have a huge impact on its health, and the quality of meat that they will produce.

Cattle that is fed mostly with grain will have more omega-6 fatty acids, wherein an excess of it can be inflammatory to the human body. But an animal fed only with grass will have a fatty acid profile rich in omega-3 fatty acids, which is anti-inflammatory. In fact, the fatty acid profile of a grass-fed cow naturally mimics the human brain's fatty acid profile, which makes it a great source of food and nutrients. This is similar as to why grain or seed-based oils are not good for human consumption since they are highly inflammatory. If humans were to eat meat that has inflammation, then that trait will pass unto them as well.


Is grass-fed beef really worth it?

You should keep in mind that the conventional, grain-fed beef is also very nutritious. Overcooking your beef can cause the formation of harmful compounds. But if you do it just right, it can be a nutritious food that's worthy to be a part of your healthy diet.

By choosing grass-fed beef, you can be sure that you'll get a healthy balanced of fats. Grass-fed beefs contain an omega-6 and omega-3 ratio of around 1.5:1 - a level equal to wild game - because, like wild game, grass-fed animals are eating based on what nature intended for them. Compared to grain-fed animals, the meat has a ratio of 7:1 and can sometimes reach as high as 16:1(2). This is much higher in its relative quantity of omega-6 fatty acids.

Eating a diet with high concentrations of omega-6 have been linked to Alzheimer's disease, confused behavior, and memory problems, as well as allergies, depression, and weight gain.

According to research, grass-fed beef will help in preventing or fighting certain diseases. It is also one of the best sources of healthy omega-3 fats, along with olive oil, coconut oil, eggs from pasture-fed chooks, and butter from grass-fed dairy cows. Make sure to also avoid using common cooking and vegetable oils to maintain the healthy ratio of your omega-3 and omega-6.

For more dietary choices, you can always ask Dr. Alex Tam of Vacaville. He currently runs the top chiropractic and holistic clinic in the Solano county so you can always count on him when it comes to your health.

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Absolute Family Chiropractic
1490 Alamo Drive Suite B
Vacaville, CA 95687
(707) 474-5688