Have you noticed the buzz over the last couple of years with the term grass-fed? You may see it on labels at the grocery store or hear about it in health and fitness circles or see it in a health magazine. It's out there, and for very good reason. Let's get into the "meat" of why this term has gained such favor in recent times.
We are all familiar with the saying "you are what you eat". And we know as humans that trying to live a healthy lifestyle and take good care of ourselves has a lot to do with what we put in our mouth. It just makes sense that the person who eats fresh salads on a daily basis will be much better off than someone who eats Twinkies all day. This is not hard to figure out. The person eating salads every day will probably have much less health problems over time than the person eating Twinkies every day. They will feel better, live longer, and be less sickly.
Not that cows are ever fed Twinkies (at least that I know of!), but I am just using that as an extreme example of how two animals who eat very differently will be in much different states of health over time. There can be a significant difference in the quality of red meat based on how that cow was fed. Cows who are able to graze and eat grass (which is what they were meant to do) will always be much healthier than cows who are fed grain and corn. Meat from grass-fed cows tends to have a better Omega 6:3 ratio (grass-fed meat can have up to 5 times more omega 3's!), is higher in CLA (conjugated linoleic acid - one of the two major fatty acids that helps increase metabolic rates, boosts immune system and keeps cholesterol levels in check), is higher in beta-carotene and vitamin E, and tends to be lower in overall fat content. Check out more on that HERE. And in my opinion, it tastes better!
A big deterrent for people buying grass-fed beef is the cost. Yes, it definitely is more expensive. If you choose to be vegetarian, then none of this matters to you... but I like some meat sometimes like many other people do too. Also, it can be tough to always find grass-fed beef in a grocery store where conventional meat trumps. I will buy grass-fed whenever possible and when I feel okay with spending a little more in the grocery store. Other options are going to a local farmers market or buying direct from a farm (this is my hope sometime soon!). Is it necessary to always buy grass-fed 100% of the time? Not necessarily, and it depends on your preference. Try it out, see what you can afford, and make your own decision.
One other major thing to consider is the treatment of the animals, which is something vegans are very concerned with, and I agree wholeheartedly. All calves start out eating grass and drinking milk. But eventually, conventionally raised cows are moved to feed lots to be fed grain and soy based feeds. These cows are often given antibiotics, drugs and hormones to grow faster, and only live a few months before going off to slaughter. Not much of a life. On the other hand, the grass-fed cows are able to continue to roam free in the sunshine, and eat grass, shrubs, or whatever other plants they find. That sounds a lot kinder to me, and a lot more enjoyable for the cow.
And aside from eating grass-fed beef, what about the difference in dairy products from grass-fed cows? Is there a difference there as well? Let's check that out.
Butter from grass-fed cows is significantly higher in omega 3's, and also vitamin K2. Vitamin K1 is found in plant foods like leafy greens and helps with blood clotting. K2 is found in animal products and may help keep calcium out of your arteries, making this a possible heart healthy option (after all those years of being told not to eat butter). Not only that, but a good intake of both vitamin K1 and K2 can help decrease risks of osteoporosis and bone fractures. In countries where cows are generally grass-fed, there seems to be a much lower incidence of heart disease as well.
So what does this all mean? I am not saying everyone should go out and buy tons of grass-fed beef and butter from grass-fed cows and be sure to eat it every single day. I am simply pointing out the health benefits of these products coming from cows that are grass-fed vs. those who are not. I enjoy eating beef on occasion and I am not afraid of using real butter from grass-fed cows in recipes and on my food. They are healthy options, and better for the life of the animal as well. In the end, I would always prefer an animal to live the way it was supposed to and eat the things it was created to eat. This just makes sense and is better for everyone all around. Hope this was helpful!
Terri Wentzell is a registered nurse with more than 20 years of experience. She is also a certified personal trainer, wellness coach, fitness nutrition coach, and sport yoga instructor.