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The Skinny on Grass-Fed Beef: Better than Grain-Fed Beef?

When most of us think of cows, we think of them grazing on beautiful green grass. After all, that’s what cows eat, right? Grass. Well not necessarily. As we’ve heard in recent years, it is cheaper to feed cows grain or corn and this is often times mixed with antibiotics. And if you’ve seen the movie, Food Inc,. sometimes farmers are pressured into using a mix of food by the government and big Pharma.

Grass-fed beef is lower in calories, contains more healthy omega-3 fats, more vitamins A and E, higher levels of antioxidants, and up to seven times the beta-carotene.”If you eat a typical amount of beef per year,” pointed out in Pasture Perfect, a book about the benefits of pasture-raised animals, “which in the United States is about 67 pounds, switching to grass-fed beef will save you 16,642 calories a year.”

Their counterpart, grain-fed cows are fed diets that get them to slaughter weight much faster via the use of hormones. They tend to have more marbling than grass-fed cows which lends to a tastier cut of beef. The cost is also less than grass-fed beef.

According to a CookingLight study done a couple years ago, the breed of cow does make a difference and cooking has to be adjusted for the leaner grass-fed cows. Leaner meat dries out more quickly, so you have to take care not to overcook it. Also, because the animals’ diets change as the local forage changes with season, grass-fed beef taste is less predictable. They found that because grain-fed has a lot of fat, the fat acts like a buffer. In other words, it could be cooked quickly at high heat and still taste relatively good. But grass-fed must be babied- cooked longer at a low heat to render the same delicious taste.

So, in the end it boils down to the consumer.

  • Can you get the vitamins like beta-carotene from other sources?
  • Are you willing to pay the higher price for grass-fed beef that is leaner and has fewer calories?
  • Are you willing to take the risk of what the hormones in the grass-feed will do to your body over time?

If you choose the grass-fed route, to get the best price and be guaranteed quality, the best choice is to buy directly from a farmer. That way you know know how your meat was raised, who raised it, who slaughtered it, and IF it ever received any medications. But that isn’t always an option. Most people can’t afford to buy a half or even a quarter of a cow at one time.

The next best thing is to buy from a co-op or CSA which deals with the farmers and divides up the purchase with its many members. Since most co-ops or CSAs buy local, you can easily find out who the supplier is and what their standards are. You won’t be able to find that information from your national grocer, who has probably shipped in their meat from a processing plant hundreds of miles away. Nature’s Garden Express offers a full line of grass-fed cuts of beef. And you can get these all delivered to your front door.