Among many of the buzzwords strongly associated with the Paleo movement is ‘grass-fed beef‘. But is there a justification for the price tag of this highly valued protein source or is it another fancy marketing ploy?
Well what exactly is grass-fed beef?
For an animal to be considered ‘grass fed’, it needs to have consumed grass and forage for its whole life, obviously with the exception of the milk it received from its mother. The animal cannot be fed any grain or processed grain by-product and it also needs to have ongoing access to a grass pasture (1).
Why is this relevant to the Paleo lifestyle? During the Paleo time we might not have had cattle, but any animal we would have hunted would have effectively been defined as grass-fed and free range as they would have roamed free and eaten grass and certain plants. Our grass-fed beef closely mimics these qualities.
On the other side of the debate, grain-fed beef, is deliberately fed grain for the majority of its life. It is kept in crowded conditions and frequently treated with antibiotics to ensure that infections do not spread.
Why is grass-fed beef so expensive?
In the United States specifically, grass-fed beef has a higher price tag due to several important factors. Firstly grass-fed cattle take longer to feed to market size as they are not ‘force fed’ in feeding lots and instead are left to roam freely and graze in the pastures. In addition farmers require additional land with high quality grazing pastures and this means increased cost to the farmer (2).
6 Health benefits of Eating Grass-Fed Cattle
1. Grass-fed beef is naturally leaner than grain-fed beef.
This translates to a much lower intake of calories, specially if measured over a long period of time such as a year. Cattle was not designed to eat grains but over time the drive for profit has meant that framers have turned to grain to feed up their cattle faster. Unfortunately this translates to grain-fed cattle having a much higher quantity of fat, which is of a very poor quality (saturated fat). Grass-fed cattle have a much lower quantity of fat throughout the meat (3).
2. Grass fed cattle has a high ratio of omega 3 fatty acids.
When meat is this lean it actually lowers your LDL (bad) cholesterol levels. Grass-fed beef has anywhere from two to six times higher omega 3 levels than grain-fed beef. The benefits from this higher intake of omegas are astounding (4).
3. Higher levels of Conjugated Linoleic Acid (CLA).
Grass-fed beef has as much as 5 times the amount of CLA than grain-fed beef. CLA is a type of fat which not only might be important for preventing weight gain, but new research suggests that it might also help with preventing various cancers (5).
4. Healthier cattle.
Grass-fed cattle are left to roam freely and are not crowded in confined spaced where the spread of disease is almost certain (7). Healthier cattle mean less or no antibiotic use, which benefits us as the consumer. Furthermore infections like E.coli that can be deadly for children or the elderly are almost non-existent in grass-fed cattle (3).
5. Grass fed beef is higher in Vitamin E.
Most Americans are deficient in this essential antioxidant. Grass-fed beef has been found to have four times the amount of Vitamin E than grain-fed beef. This equates to a lowered risk of heart disease and certain types of cancers (6).
6. Decrease environmental impact.
This may not seem like a health benefit as such but in addition to the direct impact our food makes on our body we should be considering the long term impact our choices as consumers make on the environment. Grass-fed cows improve soil fertility in the long term, have less of an impact on our water quality and do not increase soil erosion (1, 7)
Unfortunately most consumers believe that ‘meat is meat’, that no matter what an animal is fed the end product is the same. As we have illustrated above, grass-fed beef may be more expensive but the health, ethical and environmental advantages make it worth it. An animals diet can have a profound influence over the nutrient content the meat provides to us and it is up to us to choose quality over quantity and put our families and our health first.
After all, we are what we eat.