Your questions answered: What’s healthier grass or grain fed beef?

“Hi Rosie, Recently I’ve heard a lot of good things about grass fed beef. What is the actual difference in grass fed versus corn feed beef. Why is one more healthy to consume than the other?” asks Enlightened Eater reader Robert Dobson.

Robert, this is a question I’ve often been asked. First, though, let me explain the terms. In Canada, all cattle are grass fed initially.  It’s only in the last few months of their lives that there’s a difference.  Grain fed should really be referred to as grain finished as it’s during that latter period that these cattle are fed with grain. The variety of grain depends on where the cattle are being raised and what’s plentiful in the area.

As for the differences in nutrients, this is an example, yet again, of the expression, “You are what you eat.”

As a result, cattle who graze on grass in the latter part of their lives offer more in the way of the carotenoids or pigments found in the various grasses they consume.  In one study, the vitamin E content  of the grass fed beef was also almost triple that of its grain finished counterpart.  Other research has found higher levels of  cancer fighting compounds such as glutathione (GT) and superoxide dismutase (SOD) activity in grass fed  compared to their grain-fed counterparts.

In addition, the grass fed beef may be slightly leaner and supply more in the way of omega-3 fatty acids than grain finished beef. University of Toronto researcher,  Richard Bazinet, Ph.D., tested beef from  a number of  local farms and found that the omega-3 ratio to omega-6 fats varied depending on the season and what the cattle was consuming.  His research showed, though, that the omega ratios were consistently three to five times higher in the meat from grass fed animals than food from industrial farms.

A higher omega-3 to omega-6 ratio is thought to limit inflammation in the body, a factor in the development of a number of chronic diseases.

Both types of cattle are rich sources of a variety of other nutrients including  protein, iron and zinc.

But before you look at the nutritional differences, also consider just how much beef you are eating.  If you are indeed eating large amounts on a regular basis, then while the nutritional variations between  the two types of beef might be significant  in my opinion, you may need to rethink your total diet.

Rather than counting on these differences from the type of beef you’re eating,  your antioxidants and omega-3s should  be coming mainly from other foods that are richer sources in these nutrients, such as vegetables, fruits and fish.  But if you’re eating grass fed beef to obtain these nutritional perks and you enjoy the taste and texture, then go for it.

Environmental issues surrounding both kinds of cattle may also differ but the they’re  not clear cut.  Some reports state that pasture-fed animals have a lesser impact on the environment but others discount this. Animal welfare is another area of controversy.

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Are you a fan of grass fed beef? Please share your thoughts in the comment section below.

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Categories: Research Roundup, Your Questions Answered

Author:Rosie Schwartz

Rosie Schwartz is a Toronto-based consulting dietitian and writer.

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