Grass Fed Meat: Should It Be on Your Shopping List?

Articles
January 21, 2015

Grass Fed Meat: Should It Be on Your Shopping List?

We’ve heard it in passing or seen it on some high end or farm-to-table restaurant menus, but what exactly does it mean to be grass-fed or pasture-raised. And does it matter?

We’ve heard it in passing or seen it on some high end or farm-to-table restaurant menus, but what exactly does it mean to be grass-fed or pasture-raised. And does it matter?

Grass-fed Beef comes from cattle that roam freely in open pastures and eat natural grasses. The meat is also free from growth hormones and antibiotics. Grass-fed beef has a different nutritional profile than conventional beef. In fact, it has been found to contain half as much fat, twice as many omega-3 fatty acids, more conjugated linoleic acid (CLA), a type of fat that's thought to reduce heart disease and cancer risks, and a higher level of vitamin E that grain-fed or conventional beef.

Agriculturally speaking, the feeding period in cattle relevant to the grass-fed debate can be divided into three phases:

  • Phase one extends from birth, when the animal lives solely on milk, until 7-9 months, when some grass is consumed in the pasture.
  • Phase two comprises about half of the grass-fed debate and extends from phase one until shortly before harvest. The cattle spend most of their life in this period feeding on either grains or grass.
  • Phase three, the finishing period – this is the whole other half of the grass-fed debate. It is a period of rapid growth immediately prior to harvest; some animals are grass-fed steps 1 and 2 but finished on grains.

Grass-fed, pasture-raised animals and their producers generally employ a sustainable approach to farm-ranch management designed to enhance land, water, and air quality.

When shopping, your options can be broken down into four categories according to the amount of time your cattle was exposed to grains. Here’s the list, ordered from least to most grain exposure:

  • Veal: this beef comes from calves that were never intentionally fed grains; it’s usually males because they don’t produce milk.
  • 100% grass-fed: these animals spent their whole life in the pasture.
  • Grass-fed & grain-finished – this can change the nutritional profile significantly. So compare prices with 100% grass fed – if they are similar choose the latter.
  • Conventional, grain-fed beef. This is what is standard for most supermarkets and restaurants.

In terms of price, the list above generally goes from most to least expensive. If your looking for the most nutritious, grass-fed meat has been found to contain more anti-inflammatory omega 3s than grain fed as well as increases in the other vitamins mentioned above.

For more on grassfed visit American Grassfed.

For more on the nutritional comparisons click here.