By Michael A. Smith, MD
Farmers who believe in feeding grass to their animals will most likely continue that practice throughout the animal’s life. However, usually to economize, most farmers use grain feedlots which include hay or straw supplemented with grain, soy and other ingredients in order to increase the energy density of the diet.
The debate is whether cattle should be raised on a diet primarily composed of grass (pasturing) or a concentrated diet of grain, soy, corn and other supplements. We believe that eating grass-fed beef is the only way to go. And here’s why.
Grass-fed Beef Has a Healthier Fat ContentMost grass-fed cattle are leaner than feedlot cattle, and they yield leaner beef that lacks marbling. The result is meat with a lower fat content and caloric level. Meat from grass-fed cattle also has higher levels of conjugated linoleic acid (CLA) and the omega-3 fatty acids ALA, EPA, and DHA.1
The most important fats are the omega-3 fats. Grass-fed beef contains more omega-3 fats than beef from grain-fed cows. Many experts now believe that Americans overeat omega-6 fats and need to eat more omega-3’s.
This chart is from the May 2002 issue of the Journal of Animal Science. It shows the total fat content of different types of cows. As you can see, grass-fed cows produce much leaner meats.
Now here’s an impressive chart. This one shows the declining amount of omega-3 fat in grain-fed beef. Basically, the longer the cow feeds on grains, the lower its omega-3 content. The authors from a 1993 study said, “The polyunsaturated fatty acid (PUFA) concentration decreases as the length of grain feeding increases.”2
Bottom line: grain-fed beef has more omega-6 fat than omega-3 fat. The imbalance between the two types of fat directly impacts our health. Here are some of the health benefits of eating more omega-3 fats:
- A Mediterranean-style diet rich in omega-3 fats might be effective in reducing the prevalence of the metabolic syndrome and its associated cardiovascular risk.3
- Omega-3 fats protect against heart disease, cancer, and diabetes.4
- Omega-3 fatty acids protect against cognitive decline.5
Grass-fed Cows Produce Leaner MeatIt’s well accepted that grass-fed cows produce leaner cuts of meat, with less marbling (fat). Kim Cross from Cooking Lite said to CNN news, “We confirmed that grass-fed beef can be delicious and versatile and it comes from a leaner cow.”6
The downside to a leaner cut of meat is cooking technique. It’s easier to overcook and dry out leaner meat, so be careful when grilling.
The bottom line: Grass-fed beef is better for you. And a growing number of health and environmental proponents in the United States, such as the Union of Concerned Scientists, advocate raising cattle on grass for that very reason.
What do you think?
- http://www.ucsusa.org/assets/documents/food_and_environment/greener-pastures.pdf, p. 58
- J Anim Sci 71(8): 2079-88.
- JAMA. 2004 Sep 22;292(12):1440-6.
- Int Clin Psychopharmacol. 2006 Nov;21(6):319-36.
- Am J Clin Nutr. 2007 Apr;85(4):1142-7.
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