Okay, first let’s do a little breakdown of the type of beef that’s readily available for purchase:
100% Grass Fed: ALL of the cow’s nutrition comes from fresh grasses, dried and stored forages- no grains. Even in the winter! There is now a certification to prove that your cattle are 100% grass fed.
Grass Fed: SOME of the animals’ diet came from fresh pasture or dried grasses like hay. It could be a little, or it could be a lot.
Organic: To be certified organic, animals must meet the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) National Organic Program (NOP) livestock requirements. They must only be fed certified organic feed and cannot receive any growth hormones or antibiotics. This means, no herbicides, pesticides, fungicides, etc. can used on their food.
All-Natural: Somewhat of a buzzword, but simply means that a cow was raised without antibiotics and hormones.
Pasture Raised: Cattle can roam outside and are not confined to indoor feedlots.
Organic, 100% Grass Fed: Go ahead an combine the organic and 100% grass fed definition and voila! Cattle are only fed grasses, never grain. Cattle are never given antibiotics or hormones.
I’ve mentioned before that I live on an organic, 100% grass fed dairy farm. I will not pretend that I know everything about farming, but I now know more than I ever have. I’m always learning- I’m unapologetically a nerd. However, nutrition education is pretty black and white and that’s this blog’s primary focus.
I also need to make something very clear; I support ALL farmers.
Farming is hard, dangerous, and underappreciated.
My quick farm life definitions:
I did not grow up on a farm- I am from Wisconsin- I didn’t know all these definitions
Cow: fully grown female who has born a calf.
Heifer: a young female cow that has not born a calf.
Steer: young neutered male.
Bull: an uncastrated male.
Beef Cattle: cattle raised for meat production.
Beef: is the culinary name for meat from cattle.
Cattle: large ruminant animals with horns and cloven hoofs, domesticated for meat or milk.
Alright, you’re heading home to cook supper and you need some hamburger, you need gas, and you drive right past a Kwik Trip. $1.99 for a pound of hamburger and it says, “all natural”?! You’re thinking you hit the jackpot, right? Wrong. (Now, I’m not just blasting Kwik Trip, these comments will remain the same for traditional store-bought hamburger.)
You are what you eat. Cliche, I know, but it’s true. What cattle eat significantly affects the nutrient composition of its beef.
Let’s look at the traditional, conventional (typical) cattle diet:
Corn Silage- which is the corn stalk, the corn cob, and the shell corn processed
Roasted Soybeans- cooked soybeans that have high bypass protein
Minerals and Vitamins
What do I see? Grains, grains, and more grains- which means inflammation. To top it off, if the grains aren’t organic, they’ve been sprayed with toxic chemicals. Moreover, they’re usually genetically modified. This means, the seed was created in a lab in order to be sprayed with Roundup. Yikes.
The composition of fatty acids is completely different:
Omega-3s: Grass fed beef contains up to five times as much omega-3’s PMID: 20807460 Research shows that 100% grass fed organic beef has comparable omega 3s to deep sea fish.
Conjugated Linoleic Acid (CLA): Grass fed beef contains about twice as much CLA PMID: 20219103 CLA exhibits potent antioxidant activity.
Grass fed meat contains considerably more antioxidants, vitamins, and minerals:
Carotenoids, such as beta-carotene, are precursors to vitamin A- they are found in plants. Grain fed beef doesn’t have adequate levels of carotenoids- grains don’t contain them.
Antioxidants, vitamin E, glutathione, superoxide dismutase (SOD), and catalase.
Zinc, iron, phosphorus, sodium, and potassium. PMID: 20219103
I hope it’s clear by now that when it comes to red meat, quality makes a big difference. I understand that you’re not going to be buying organic grass fed beef for $1.99 a pound. But, remember that grass fed meat is more nutrient dense than grain fed. So even though grass fed is more expensive, you’re getting more nutritional bang for your buck.
Dr. Taryn Stittleburg, DC, CFMP, PSc.D