When you have spent as long in the carnivore lifestyle as I have, you get asked all sorts of questions. One common question revolves around the relative nutritional value of grass-fed vs. grain-fed beef.
Because I am very health conscious, I have done a lot of research on this topic. So read on to learn about the health benefits of grass-fed beef.
Summary of the Key Findings
- There are no governmental standards for certifying grass-fed beef
- Grass-fed beef has improved nutrition and saturated fat profile over grain-fed
- When a company differentiates between grass-fed and grass-finished, the cattle were not necessarily grass-fed their entire lives
5 Differences Between Grass and Grain-fed Beef
Before getting into the nutrition of grass-fed beef, it is important to understand the difference between grass-fed and grain-fed cattle.
Unlike organic beef, no governmental regulatory agency establishes conditions for the terms “grass-fed” or “grain-fed.”
This is not what we are used to. Cows that were fed organic feed can be certified as organic beef after an inspection regimen. Grass feeding certification does not have the same level of rigor as that for organic foods.
So, when beef is labeled grass-fed, it could mean that the cattle were 100% grass-fed and finished, or it could mean that they were merely fed grass at some point during their lives.
In order to help clear up some confusion, the American Grassfed Association (AGA) has established standards for grass-fed animals.
The AGA standards require that cattle be fed a healthy diet of 100% forage from weaning until harvesting and never be fed grains or soybeans.
Cattle must also have access to pasture during the growing season and cannot be confined to feedlots.
"AGA-Certified Producers use the highest standards of animal husbandry in their grazing programs to support healthy, humane treatment and welfare of their animals."
- American Grassfed Association
In addition, grass-fed beef cannot be treated with growth hormones or antibiotics, making sure they don’t become a source of antibiotic-resistant bacteria or cause food poisoning.
Finally, these standards are applied only to American family farms.
So, when you eat grass-fed beef with the AGA logo, you can be assured that the cattle were raised according to these standards.
2. Grass-Fed or Grass-Finished
Another important distinction to make is between grass-fed and grass-finished beef.
When a company differentiates between these two terms, the implication is that the cattle were not necessarily grass-fed their entire lives.
In this construct, grass-fed beef comes from cattle that were fed a diet of forage for a portion of their lives but may have been fed grain-based feed or fed corn as a finishing diet.
The most transparent companies will call this type of beef grass-fed and grain-finished.
The benefit of grain-finishing is that it can result in a higher fat content and marbling, which can produce a more tender and flavorful steak.
Some farmers go the other direction with grain-fed and grass-finished beef. This means that the cattle started out on a grain diet but finished their lives eating mostly grass.
While this may sound counterintuitive, it is actually a fairly common practice. The rationale behind it is that conventional grain-fed beef has more marbling, which is the intramuscular fat that contributes to flavor and juiciness.
However, grass-finishing is supposed to impart a flavor that many consider superior to grain-finished beef.
Just like with humans, the food that cattle eat affects their health and nutrition.
Cattle that are free-range and grass-fed take in fewer calories than those that are grain-fed and confined to feedlots.
This is due to the fact that grass is lower in calories than grains, and free-ranging cattle must work harder to find their food.
The result is leaner beef and a longer time to bring the cattle to market. This is one reason why purchasing grass-fed beef can be more expensive than buying conventionally raised beef.
In large cattle enterprises, profitability is based on efficiency and speed, so they are more likely to feed grain to their beef.
These farms provide most of the meat in your local grocery store, which is priced lower than grass-fed beef would be.
There is a general consensus that grass-fed beef has a more robust flavor than grain-fed. This is because the cattle feed on a variety of grasses, each of which can affect the taste of the beef.
To an American palate that is used to conventional beef, the grass-fed version may taste "beefier" than they are used to.
The fat content of grass-fed beef is also lower, which some people believe makes the flavor more intense.
Some people also say that beef that ate grass tastes more complex than grain-fed, with a gamut of flavors that can include sweet, nutty, and even fruity notes. Of course, this is subjective, and some prefer the taste of conventional beef.
In the end, it all boils down to personal preference.
Since it is more difficult for cattle to extract calories and nutrients from grass, they tend to be leaner than conventionally raised cows.
This means that the fat content of grass-fed beef is lower than that grain-fed. You will not get the same amount of marbling with a grass-fed strip steak, resulting in a less tender cut of meat.
Also, the extra exercise that grass-fed livestock gets from free-ranging contributes to firmer muscle tissue, which can make the steak tougher.
However, this is not always the case. Grass-fed beef that is appropriately cooked can be just as tender and juicy as conventional beef.
Grass-fed steaks that are cooked rare or medium-rare are typically more tender than those that are cooked to well-done.
This is because the muscle tissue has less time to tighten up, and the fat has no opportunity to render out.
2 Potential Health Benefits Of Grass-fed Beef
Both grain-fed and grass-fed beef have naturally occurring nutrients.
1. General Beef Benefits
Some of the nutrients found in beef are seen in all types. These include:
- Protein: Beef is an excellent source of protein, which is essential for building muscle, bone, skin, and hair.
- Iron: Beef is a good source of iron, which is necessary for transporting oxygen in the blood.
- Vitamin B6: Beef is a good source of vitamin B6, which is essential for metabolism.
- Zinc: Beef contains zinc, which is vital for a healthy immune system and to combat heart disease.
- Vitamin B12: Beef is a good source of vitamin B12, which is necessary for red blood cell production.
- Selenium: Beef contains selenium, which is an important antioxidant.
- Vitamin B3: Beef is a good source of vitamin B3, which is essential for energy production.
These benefits are common to all beef, no matter how the cattle are fed. However, grass-fed animals have the potential to contain some of the most nutrient-dense proteins available. This makes them more nutritious than those fed grain.
2. Grass-Fed Benefits
Grass-fed beef contains higher levels of vitamin E than grain-fed. This vitamin is a powerful antioxidant that can help to protect cells from damage and provide a decreased risk of cardiovascular disease.
The carotenoid precursors to vitamin A are also found more frequently in beef that eats only grass. This vitamin is essential for vision, immune function, and reproduction. It may also help maintain healthy blood sugar levels.
Also, grass-fed beef contains higher levels of some healthy fats. These include:
- Up to five times more omega-3 fatty acids 
- Approximately two times the amount of conjugated linoleic acid (CLA)
Omega-3 fatty acids are essential for reducing heart disease and having a healthy brain. Among organic animals, a grass-fed cow is the best beef product for producing omega-3s.
Scientists have linked a certain beneficial fatty acid known as CLA to improved diabetes control, fat loss, and anticancer-nutrients animal source.
Also, grass-fed beef has a higher proportion of omega-3 fatty acids to omega-6 fatty acids than grain-fed. This is important because omega-6 fatty acids have been linked to a number of diseases, including cardiovascular disease, breast cancer, and arthritis.
Eating more grass-fed beef can help reduce your omega-6 to omega-3 ratio, which is beneficial for your health.
Finally, since grass-fed beef has a lower overall and saturated fat content, it also has fewer calories. This is because fat has more calories per gram than protein does. Thus, grass-fed beef can have a few benefits for people who eat beef and are trying to lose or maintain a healthy weight.
3 Potential Downsides Of Grass-fed Beef
Of course, not everything about grass-fed beef is positive. Before you make the switch, you should be aware of a few potential downsides.
One of the most significant drawbacks of consuming grass-fed beef is the hefty price point. It can be up to twice as expensive as conventional meat and grain-fed products. This is because grass-fed packages are more challenging to produce, and there is less demand for them.
In fact, it may take up to a year longer for grass-fed cattle to reach slaughter weight than cattle raised on grain.
However, the price difference has narrowed in recent years as the demand for grass-fed beef has increased.
Also, keep in mind that you don’t have to switch to exclusively eating grass-fed beef. You can mix and match depending on your budget.
2. Environmental Concerns
Another potential downside of grass-fed beef is that it can have a negative impact on the environment.
This is because cattle need more land to graze on when they are grass-fed, which can lead to deforestation and habitat loss.
Additionally, grass-fed cattle tend to emit more methane gas over their lives because they live longer than grain-fed cattle. Methane is a greenhouse gas that contributes to climate change.
So, if you are concerned about the environment, you may want to stick with grain-fed beef or limit your red meat consumption in general.
That said, most cows raised in pasture ecosystems or on an organic farm fertilize their fields more than feedlot cattle. Recapturing this nitrogen is a positive for the environment.
3. Taste And Texture
Finally, some people believe that grass-fed beef tastes different than grain-fed beef. It is generally leaner and can be tougher if not cooked well.
A cow raised on natural plant foods has a different fat composition than grain-fed cuts of beef. This fat is often described as being more “flavorful.”
So, if you are someone who enjoys the taste of fatty, grain-fed beef, you may not choose grass-fed beef as readily.
Can You Have Grass-Fed Beef Every Day?
Yes, you can have grass-fed beef every day in almost any healthy diet. However, portion size is important. A serving of red meat is 3-4 ounces, or only about the size of a deck of cards.
Do Grass-Fed Cows Live Longer?
Yes, grass-fed cows typically live longer than grain-fed cows. This is because they do not grow as rapidly as grain-fed cows and so are not brought to slaughter as quickly.
Is Grass-Fed Meat Inflammatory?
No, grass-fed meat is not inflammatory. In fact, it may even help reduce inflammation in the body . This is because it contains higher levels of anti-inflammatory omega-3 fatty acids than grain-fed beef.
Is Grass-Fed Beef Easier to Digest?
Grass-fed beef is easier to digest for some people.They find that eating this type of beef can prevent symptoms like bloating, heartburn, and constipation.
Grass-Fed Beef - An Incredibly Nutrient-Dense Protein
It is clear that grass-fed beef comes with a few key characteristics such as a lower fat content and higher levels of certain nutrients. This makes grass-fed beef have more health benefits than grain-fed beef.
If you are interested in having grass-fed beef delivered to your door, our top choice for a grass-fed meat delivery service is ButcherBox. For more information, click here.