Early in life, calves are commonly allowed to nibble on grass and other edible plants. Once a calf reaches seven to nine months of age, calves raised for beef are most often moved to feedlots to be confined in cramped stalls and fed a concentrated mixture of soy, corn, and grains.
You may be surprised to learn that grain is not actually part of a cow's natural diet. When cattle are fed grains, they gain weight quickly, reaching slaughter weight up to a year sooner than cattle raised on grass alone.
In a conventional feedlot, the focus is on the rapid growth of the animal and low feed costs rather than animal welfare. While conventional standards of beef production may make a smaller dent in your budget, organic, grass-fed beef is significantly better for your health.
Organic Beef is Not Necessarily Grass-Fed
When shopping for beef, it's important to know that being raised organically does not automatically mean cattle are grass-fed. You might also need to know that cattle can be grass-fed and not raised organically. While buying organic ensures that your beef is hormone and antibiotic-free, many organic cattle are fed organic grain or a combination of organic grain and grass.
You may be a bit surprised to learn the USDA does not officially regulate claims of grass-fed beef. Unless your beef specifies that it is 100 percent grass-fed, all that "grass-fed" label means is the animal spent some portion of their life eating grass, even if that grass was simply mixed with grain or feed pellets.
The Benefits of 100% Grass-Fed Organic Beef
For the highest quality, most nutritious beef, it's important to purchase organic beef that is 100 percent grass-fed. If you are counting calories, you may be pleased to learn that a six-ounce grass-fed tenderloin can have 92 calories fewer than the same cut of meat from livestock fed grain.
While many would consider the reduction of fat and calories to be significant enough reason to select 100 percent grass-fed meats, it's important to know there are many other reasons grass-fed beef is better for your health than grain-fed beef. Consider the following examples:
Grass-Fed Beef is Higher in Antioxidants
Antioxidants prevent damage to cells caused by free radicals. Free radicals are the unstable molecules produced in your body as it reacts to its internal and external environment. Stressors, including physical and emotional stress, pollution, inflammation, and UV exposure, contribute to the production of free radicals. When your body cannot remove free radicals efficiently, unchecked free radicals cause oxidative stress. Oxidative stress is linked to cancer, heart disease, arthritis, Parkinson's disease, and a number of other inflammatory or ischemic health conditions. Since grass-fed beef is higher in antioxidants than grain-fed beef, grass-fed beef provides more protection against free-radicals.
Grass-Fed Beef is Higher in CLA
Conjugated linoleic acid (CLA) is a group of elements shown to have anti-inflammatory properties and improved immune system function. Just a few of the many reported health benefits of conjugated linoleic acid include building muscles and muscle strength, improving digestion, reducing food sensitivities, and reversing atherosclerosis. CLA also helps with weight-loss and fat burning. Grass-fed beef has 5 times more CLA than grain-fed beef.
Grass-Fed Beef Has More Omega-3 Fatty Acids
Omega-3 fatty acids are a specific type of polyunsaturated fat. Since your body does not produce omega-3 fatty acids, you need to get omega-3's from the foods you eat. Omega-3 fatty acids are shown to reduce the risk of heart disease because of their anti-inflammatory properties. In addition to the anti-inflammatory benefits, omega-3 fatty acids also play a vital role in mood regulation, hormone production, and cell membrane maintenance. Most adults do not consume enough omega-3's to meet their daily needs. Grass-fed beef can help close the gap by providing 100 percent more omega 3-fatty acids.
Grass-Fed Beef is Higher in B Vitamins
B vitamins help your body convert food to energy. While vitamin B was once considered a single nutrient, we now know that vitamin B is a complex structure consisting of eight separate elements, each with a unique structure. Vitamins B1, B2, B3, and biotin are essential in different aspects of energy production. Vitamins B6, folic acid, and B12 are necessary for healthy cell division. While beef, in general, is an excellent source of B vitamins, grass-fed beef is higher in vitamins B1 (thiamin) and B2 (riboflavin).
Grass-Fed Beef Has More Vitamin A
Vitamin A is the general term for a group of fat-soluble compounds essential to immune system function, vision, and eye health. Research suggests that vitamin A may also reduce your risk of certain types of cancer. There are two types of vitamin A. Provitamin A is found more abundantly in fruits and vegetables. Preformed vitamin A is found in meat, poultry, and dairy products. Grass-fed beef can have up to seven times the amount of beta carotene, an essential type of provitamin A, than grain-fed beef. Because of the higher concentration of beta-carotene, you may notice that the fat on grass-fed beef can take on a somewhat yellowish tone.
Health Conscious Consumers Select Grass-Fed Organic Beef
In the US, organic cattle are commonly fed a diet of grass and organic grains. Cattle can be 100 percent grass-fed even if they have not been raised humanely or organically.
Many people select organic meats because they want to reduce their exposure to hormones, antibiotics, and pesticides. Others value knowing that organic animals are raised humanely and allowed to spend time roaming outdoors. Of those who prefer organic meat, many don't realize that organic cattle are often fattened up quickly on organic grain.
If your organic beef is grain-fed, it is likely higher in fat and lower in many essential nutrients than it could be. For 100% grass-fed beef, consider Cleaver's Organic and Free-Range Steaks and Beef. Cleaver's Organics, a favorite in supermarkets across Australia, is now available flash-frozen and vacuum-sealed for delivery in the United States. In Australia, the standards for organic beef are a bit different than the US. To be certified organic, cattle must live on a diet of grass and natural foliage, never grain or feed pellets.