Updated: May 29, 2019
When it comes to where we cut costs and go for quality, the supermarket is often the space for trade-offs. You've been doing a big shop, your trolley is full and you know it'salready going to be costly. Youcompare the pair; grain-fed or grass-fed beef? You look back at the full trolley, the budget is already too stretched, regular grain-fed beef it is.
Personally, I've also faced this dilemma.
Being a young married uni student living in Sydney, I understand the pressure of rising expenses and stretched budgets. I've come to the conclusion that grass-fed beef is one trade-off you shouldn't make, it's well worth spending a little extra!
So what's the difference?
The name of the meat pretty much says it all. Grass-fed beef is from cattle that have never been fed grain or grain-by-products. They have continuous access to graze pasture which consists mainly of grass. The 'normal' kind of beef we see in supermarkets is grain-fed beef. Grain-fed beef is cattle that must be fed a predominantly grain-based diet for a nominated number of days. These cattle are kept in feedlots, often in confined quarters, and fed until they are fattened enough to become beef.
What are the benefits of grass-fed?
Better fatty acid profile
In general grass-fed beef is leaner, with a reduced overall fat content when compared to grain-fed. This isn't surprising when we look at not just what but how each of them has been fed before they get to the supermarket shelves. Additionally, grass-fed beef have a greater percentage of Omega-3 fatty acids, which are an important part of our diet due to their anti-inflammatory properties. It also contains more conjugated linoleic acid (CLA) than grain-fed beef. CLA is a polyunsaturated fatty acid that has potential cancer-fighting properties and improves cardiovascular health - two things I'm sure we all want out of our food!
Improves insulin sensitivity and blood sugar levels
That all-important cancer-fighting, heart improving CLA also has other great properties. It has been clinically shown to reduce insulin sensitivity and improve blood sugar levels, which is important in protecting us from developing diabetes and other related issues.
Grain-fed cattle are generally kept in more crowded feeding lots, increasing the risk of diseases spreading. To fight off these diseases, they're often given greater amounts of antibiotics than grass-fed cattle. This eventually makes its way into our food! This is an increasing issue as antibiotic resistance continues to rise and our gut microbiome is becoming more and more imbalanced. What's more, grain-fed beef is more likely to contain harmful bacteria than grass-fed.
As well as having less of the bad stuff, grass-fed beef has been shown to give us more of the good stuff when we eat it! Namely grass-fed beef increases antioxidant vitamins A and E in humans, as well as other antioxidants such as glutathione and superoxide dismutase. These are vital compounds that the body uses to detox foreign chemicals and reduce oxidative damage (damage to our cells). Regular elimination of toxins is vital if we are to function optimally and prevent chronic disease.
Good for the environment
Did you know that one of the greatest emitters of green house gasses is cattle? Grass-fed beef generally requires fewer resources, therefore has a much smaller environmental impact than grain-fed beef. In fact, some sustainably run pastures can actually reduce greenhouse emissions through the use of biodiverse pastures.
Double handling and food miles
Unlike grass-fed cattle that simply move from one local paddock to the next, the amount of grain required to grain-feed a cow is much more than a localised area can produce. This means that grain-fed cattle may be consuming grains grown halfway across the world that were shipped to their location.
Last but not least; grass-fed tastes better
Due to the fatty acid variation, the flavour intensities are much greater in grass-fed beef because of greater variation in the fatty acids. Not only does it have countless health benefits, it simply makes a better meal for the whole family to enjoy!
What about the disadvantages of grass-fed beef?
Potentially less tender
Due to a more inconsistent eating quality, you can often get meat that is less tender than grain-fed beef. This inconsistency is due to the pasture quality, which is affected by the natural seasons and droughts.
The biggest factor stopping a lot of people buying grass-fed beef is simply the cost! Often a few dollars dearer, it can be difficult to feel the necessity to spend the extra money. However, when you make the trade-off with cost, you're making a bigger trade-off with health.
I think the benefits outweigh the disadvantages, don't you?
So where do I find grass-fed meats?