What have you heard about grassfed and finished beef?
Although you may have heard of it, perhaps you aren’t aware about why it’s the gold standard for quality. You may not realize that “100% grassfed and finished beef” is a challenge to find and significantly different than partially grassfed beef, which is at least some of what you will find in health food stores.
Most grassfed beef from the store is only about 30% grassfed! Labeling laws only require 30% of the animal feed be grass/pasture for it to be called “grassfed beef”.The rest is grain-fed, and unless labeled organic, the cattle may be fed genetically-modified (GMO) grains, corn, soy or alfalfa.
As you’ll discover, 100% grassfed and finished beef has higher vitamin and mineral content, and contains the correct balance of Omega-6 to Omega-3 essential fatty acids. These important nutrients are health-supporting and anti-inflammatory. In contrast, grain, corn, or soy-feeding a steer fattens it up with inflammatory fats that can easily lead to health issues.
That’s why it’s so important to ask questions about the food the animals ate through their lives, and to buy from a trusted source such as a local farmer that is willing to be transparent in their farming practices. It is recommended to visit any farm from where you purchase food so you can see these practices for yourself. Read Questions to ask your farmer for more detail on this topic.
FAQ Grassfed and finished meats
Modern meat processing: changes in the way we eat meat
In the 100+ years, we’ve witnessed a fundamental shift not only in the way we produce food, but also our eating habits, and the general condition of our health. Two things have caused this unprecedented change – the advent of industrially-produced, modern vegetable oils, and the confinement of animals and birds in unnatural environments who are fed corn, soy, and grain. This is in distinct contrast to raising animals and birds traditionally, on pasture.
The majority of these artificial fats are abundant in Omega 6s, and much lower in Omega 3s, producing foods that are not only indigestible but nutritionally out-of-balance with what nature creates in healthful foods. Our bodies cannot manufacture Omega 6s and Omega 3s, and must obtain these from an outside source. While it’s true that seafood is one of the best sources of Omega 3s, meat, dairy, and eggs from animals and birds on pasture is also an abundant source of this important, essential fatty acid.
Q: What are the main differences between conventional and grassfed and finished meats?
A: Stanley Fishman’s Tender Grassfed Meat, discusses the differences:
Conventional, feedlot beef
Cattle may or may not be on pasture, but most of their lives are spent on dirt which is covered in feces. The animals are given growth hormones and antibiotics (whether they are sick or not as a “precaution”) to promote rapid growth, and they are fed grain, soy, corn, and silage (which can contain any manner of unnatural, toxic substances) for the bulk of their lives.
Cattle are ruminants, and as such do not have the digestive ability to properly absorb these substances fed to them. As a result, they become sick and overweight. Their digestive tracts become very acidic and it is very common for their bodies to regularly harbor a pathogenic variety of E.coli bacteria, which is widely talked about in health news reports about the increasing amounts of recalls in our food supply.
Grain-finished, hormone-free, antibiotic free
Most of the organic beef raised in the U.S. falls into this category. However, raising cattle this way creates a watery meat which shrinks a lot in cooking. These animals may even spend some of their time on pasture, but they are sent to a feedlot for finishing and then receive grain, corn, soy, or silage to “fatten” them up quickly before slaughter. Although this variety of meat is better than conventional beef, it still lacks in nutritional profile and quality, and there still remains the same health issues discussed with conventional meats with regard to animals becoming sick and producing pathogenic bacteria.
Grassfed (grass finished)
Animals graze on pasture from start to finish, and are usually free from antibiotics, hormones, and other chemicals (getting to know your farmer and learning about farming practices is critical). These animals are treated humanely, have a low-stress lifestyle, and are allowed a natural and peaceful life, roaming and exhibiting natural behaviors as nature intended. Healthy meat comes from healthy, humanely treated animals.
Fat content of grassfed meat is sharply contrasted from conventional and grain or corn-fed. It contains a high amount of CLA (conjugated linoleic acid), important for cardiovascular health, Omega 3s, and Vitamins A, D, E, and K from grazing in open pasture/range land, eating grass grown from healthy soil, and in the sunshine. As a result, consumption of grassfed / grass-finished meat from healthy animals actually counters disease and illness – cancer, heart disease, thyroid issues, and high blood pressure. The result is a strengthened immune system, increase of metabolic activity, reduction of body fat and increase in muscle mass.
Q: What are health benefits of eating grassfed / grass-finished meats over conventional?
A: According to Mother Earth News, grassfed meat is more sustainable and provides more nutrients. When we discuss meat from grassfed / grass-finished animals versus meat from confinement operations, the nutritional profile varies vastly.
Grassfed / grass-finished beef is superior in nutrient content Vitamin A, D, E, K, beta-carotene, Omega 3s, CLA (conjugated linoleic acid) and antioxidants. It typically does not contain hormones, pesticides/herbicides, GMOs (genetically modified organisms), or antibiotics.
Always ask the farmer to make sure there are no chemicals, pesticides or herbicides in use on the land where animals graze (or anywhere nearby for that matter). Although the term “grassfed” does not guarantee these substances are not used, generally speaking, many grassfed farmers are mindful of avoiding their use.
Highlights of important nutritional differences between meat from grass-fed animals and conventional animals on a feedlot (Nutrition Journal, March 2010):
Higher in beta-carotene
Higher in Vitamin E (alpha-tocopherol)
Higher in the B-Vitamins thiamine and riboflavin
Higher in the minerals calcium, magnesium, and potassium
Higher in total Omega-3s
A healthier ratio of omega-6 to omega-3 fatty acids (1.65 vs 4.84)
Higher in CLA (cis-9 trans-11), a potential cancer fighter, keeps arteries from getting clogged, helps to maintain healthy weight, supports bone density and the immune system, and normalizes blood sugar and insulin production
Higher in vaccenic acid (which can be transformed into CLA – conjugated linoleic acid)
Contains healthy fats necessary for health – heart, immune, brain, nervous system
Scientific findings showing the health benefits of grassfed / grass-finished meats:
A study from North Dakota State University found the nutritional differences between grassfed and grain fed-bison to be noticeable: grassfed bison meat contained Omega 6 to Omega 3 ratios of 4.0 to one, while the grain-fed bison showed ratios of 21 to one.
The University of Guelph, Guelph, Ontario, Canada discovered the impact of grazing or forage as compared to grain-feeding on the fatty acid composition of cattle. Animals consuming grain for 120 days (40 fewer days than typical feedlot cattle) showed Omega 6 to 3 ratios of 11:1. Animals consuming alfalfa hay had Omega 6 to 3 ratios of 3:1. The more time cattle spent consuming grain in their diets, the more pronounced the imbalance of essential fatty acids becomes. Cattle in confinement eating grain for 200 days show Omega 6 to 3 ratios that are over 20:1. In the U.S. many cattle processed for meat consume grain for 200 days or more.
The Journal of Animal Science reported in 2000 that beef originating from grain-fed cattle could have an Omega 6 and 3 ratio exceeding 20:1.
Grassfed meats contain more Omega 3s (Eat Wild web site): Meat from grass-fed animals has two to four times more omega-3 fatty acids than meat from grain- fed animals. Omega-3s are called “good fats” because they play a vital role in every cell and system in your body. In the entire spectrum of fats they are the most heart-friendly. People who have ample amounts of Omega-3s in their diet are less likely to have high blood pressure or an irregular heartbeat. Remarkably, they are 50 percent less likely to suffer a heart attack. Omega-3s are essential for brain function as well. People with a diet rich in Omega-3s are less likely to suffer from depression, schizophrenia, attention deficit disorder (hyperactivity), or Alzheimer’s disease.”
Another benefit of Omega-3s is that they may reduce your risk of cancer. In animal studies, these essential fats have slowed the growth of a wide array of cancers and also kept them from spreading. Although the human research is in its infancy, researchers have shown that Omega-3s can slow or even reverse the extreme weight loss that accompanies advanced cancer and also hasten recovery from surgery.
Omega-3s are formed in the chloroplasts of green leaves and algae. Sixty percent of the fatty acids in grass are Omega-3s. When cattle are taken off Omega-3 rich grass and shipped to a feedlot to be fattened on omega-3 poor grain, they begin losing their store of this beneficial fat. Each day that an animal spends in the feedlot, its supply of Omega-3s is diminished.”
Q: Why are Omega 3 fatty acids important for health?
A: Omega 3 fatty acids are critical for normal growth and health maintenance and may play an important role in the prevention and treatment of the following:
high blood pressure
arthritis and rheumatoid and joint issues
other inflammatory and autoimmune disorders
Our bodies are unable to make these important fats, so obtaining them from our diets is essential. We cannot convert Omega 3 and Omega 6 fats in our bodies and these are important components of nearly all cell membranes. While proteins found in our cells are determined by genetics, unsaturated fats of virtually all cell membranes is determined to a majority by what we eat in our diets. Thus, the balance of Omega 6s to Omega 3s is critical and must occur this way to ensure good health.
Our diets have evolved from what our ancient ancestors consumed. From evaluations of studies in Paleolithic nutrition and modern populations that maintain hunter-gatherer behavior, humans survived on a diet that was substantially lower in saturated fatty acids than the Standard American Diet. These diets contained small but roughly equal amounts of omega 6 and omega 3 fats.
In Part II of The health benefits of grassfed / grass-finished beef, you’ll learn more about why cholesterol and saturated fat found in this nutrient-rich food is so important to health, contrary to what conventional health recommendations have communicated to our population.