Monday, January 24, 2011

Grass vs. Grain-fed Meats

Can we say meat is meat, no matter what the animal is fed, grass or grain? Is there any difference? From some perspectives, there is a difference.

Cows eat grass. Nature has set it this way for thousands of years. But in today's culture,  many cows are living a totally different life in order to grow quicker. Rather than feeding on the grass fields they once roamed, many cows now are confined to a pen in a feedlot, where they eat mainly corn and soy. To grow faster, they also receive hormones. However, the cows often get sick because the corn, soy and hormones are not natural to their diets, so they are given a combination of drugs and antibiotics. This results in a very different life than for those cows just eating grass.

For some consumers, choosing grass-fed over grain-fed meats is a decision based on respect for the animals. Others make this choice because of concerns about eating meat from animals that have been given drugs, hormones and antibiotics. And still others consider grass-fed meat to be a healthier alternative. What does research show us about the nutritional differences in grass- vs. grain-fed beef?

  • Grasses are less calorie dense than grains, and grass-fed animals tend to get more exercise and are leaner than grain-fed. Meat cuts from grass-fed animals have less fat and calories than the same cuts from grain-fed animals.
  • Grass-fed meats offer slightly more CLA (conjugated linoleic acid) than grain-fed meats. CLA, a newly discovered "good" fat, may help prevent cancer and heart disease.
  • Grass-fed meats have a healthier ratio of omega-6 to omega-3, which is similar to the ratio in wild game.
  • Grass has more vitamin E and carotenoid antioxidants than corn or soy. Researchers have found that grass-fed beef, therefore, has slightly more vitamin E and carotenoids than grain-fed beef.
  • Some studies show that grass-fed beef has slightly more zinc and vitamin B12 than grain-fed.

You are what you eat. And you are what the "animals you eat," eat. Consider all perspectives when making your food choices.

Ding Yu, BS, MBA, dietetic intern, and Debra A. Boutin, MS, RD, chair and dietetic internship director, Department of Nutrition and Exercise Science at Bastyr University.

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