Recently a friend of mine expressed concern over which type of beef she should be feeding her family. She wanted to know if she should be buying grain-fed or grass-fed beef. There is a lot of misleading information in the media and after this conversation I was determined to learn more. I studied the topic by searching out non-biased research based literature and contacted UNL Extension Agriculture Educator specializing in the area of beef, Dr. Lindsay Chichester.
There are many factors that are the same when it comes to grain-fed and grass-fed beef. All grain-fed and grass-fed beef:
- Are a great source of protein and essential vitamins.
- Go through safety inspections and strict government guidelines to ensure the highest level of food safety.
- All cattle spend a majority of their lives eating grass on pastures.
- May be given FDA-approved antibiotics or growth promotants.
- May be given vitamin and mineral supplements.
The main difference is grass-fed beef spend their entire lives grazing on pasture. Whereas, grain-fed beef spend most of their lives grazing on pastures then spend 4-6 months in a feedyard. While at the feedyard cattle are fed grain for a certain time period before it is harvested. Grain aids in helping the animal grow more quickly. It also increases the marbling, which makes the meat more tender. Grass-fed beef is generally lower in fat, less tender and a grass-fed flavor may be detected.
Is Grass-Fed Beef Healthier?
There is a lot of debate whether grass-fed beef is nutritionally superior to grain-fed beef. Both grass and grain-fed beef provide a significant source of protein, zinc, B vitamins, and iron. Grass-fed beef does have more omega-3 fatty acids, but not a significant amount to make it a great source of omega-3 fatty acids. All beef offers a small amount of omega-3 fatty acids. The American Heart Association recommends fatty fish such as salmon as the primary source of omega-3 fatty acids.
It is also important to understand that just because beef is grass-fed does not mean that it is produced in accordance to organic or all-natural standards. To learn more about certified organic and all-natural standards check out Dr. Chichester's in-depth article.
Which type of beef you choose to eat and serve your family is up to you to decide. Take into account your beliefs, health concerns, budget and taste preferences. If you have any additional questions or concerns please contact us by posting a message below, by phone or email.
Carrie Miller, MS, RDUNL Extension Educator