Is grassfed beef really more nutritious than 'regular' beef? Yes. And not exactly. And sometimes. But does grass fed beef really justify the price tag?
Nutrition, and the food that you put into your body, is lifestyle choice. You make decisions regarding quality all day every day. The most important factor in this choice is knowing how to sort through the labels, myths, and marketing in order to at least make an informed decision. There are certainly differences between different beef products on the market, and one of the best places to start is to clear up some terms that are commonly used in the beef industry. You can read all about the terminology being used to market beef here in our post What's The Beef? Terminology Explained.
Most beef cattle spend at least part of their life on grass. This time on pasture may or may not be supplemented with grain, depending on the quality of pasture and weaning practices. Eventually, what we will call 'commercial' or 'conventional' beef is sent to a feedlot and finishes it's life on a high grain diet to fatten it up. Grass fed (or more specifically grass finished) beef spends it's entire life on grass, right until the time it is processed. The result is that grass fed animals develop more slowly and naturally. This slow development is part of the reason that grass fed prices are higher than commercial beef.
So are there benefits to eating grass fed and grass finished beef?
From a nutritional perspective, it is widely accepted that grass fed animals yield significantly leaner beef on average. It is lower in calories (and in the case of our longhorns, also lower in cholesterol). This means less marbling in steaks, but a healthier meat overall. It has also been claimed that grass fed beef is higher in omega-3 fatty acids, antioxidants, and vitamin E. And the data? It has indeed been confirmed that these claims are all true, however it would be fair to say that we have yet to determine if the magnitude of the differences are large enough to be considered a health benefit.
So grass fed beef is certainly healthier, and it may even contain slightly more nutrients. But what about the cows?
Another reason to consider grass fed beef is for the animals themselves. Biologically cows are evolved to digest grass and forage, not grains. Switching to a grain based diet quickly actually upsets their systems and can cause complications such as acidosis, ulcers, and abscesses. The logistics of feeding grain also often means that it is done in overcrowded feedlot situations.
From an animal welfare perspective it can definitely be argued that grass fed and pasture raised is a much more natural and stress free environment for cattle.
The last consideration for many people is price. Generally grass fed beef is more expensive than grain fed. As mentioned, one reason for this is that beef develop more slowly on grass. Keeping a young animal longer (to allow it to develop at the proper rate instead of force-grown) costs more for the producer. The lean meat also means that on a per pound basis, a grass fed cut contains more nutrients (because less of the cut is fat). If you think about it as paying for nutrients and not just weight, it is not necessarily any more expensive!
At the end of the day we choose to raise our beef as naturally as possible. They start on grass, finish on grass, and spend the whole middle on grass. It leads to healthier and happier animals. And we believe that it also leads to healthier and happier people. Our philosophy is that the small difference in cost is more than justified by knowing that the beef you eat is of the highest nutritional quality and that the animals were raised as humanely as possible.
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