Grass-fed: is it a buzz word, or buzz worthy? The best way to start figuring out if grass-fed beef is a better choice for you than farm raised is to break it down and figure out what these popular food phrases actually mean. After all, “grass-fed” is a phrase being used more often in the food industry, but you might still be trying to figure out what it stands for.
What is Grass-fed Meat?
Grass-fed meat refers to meat that has been raised on a diet of grass. There are actually a few further distinctions to be made with grass-fed options. For instance, when buying grass-fed it is important to look for 100% grass-fed, as some animals begin as grass-fed but eventually are switched to a grain diet. Another way of signifying 100% grass-fed meat is to refer to is as “grass-fed grass-finished”, again highlighting that the particular animal only ever ate grass exclusively.
In exploring all of your meat options, you might also come across the phrase “pasture-raised”. Pasture-raised means that the animal was allowed to graze pasture in the outdoors. It is important to keep in mind that these animals are sometimes still given or allowed to eat grain to supplement their diet.
What’s the Deal with Farm Raised Meat?
Conventionally farm raised meat refers to meat raised on feedlots, also called “concentrated animal feeding operations”, or CAFOs. Although these animals will sometimes be started on a grass-fed diet, eventually they are transferred to a CAFO and subsist on a grain-heavy diet. One of the major problems with raising animals this way is that animals like cattle, lamb, bison, and others simply wouldn’t naturally eat that way. This impacts the health of the animal and leaves them more susceptible to health issues.
However, by eating a grain-heavy diet, the animal gains weight at a quicker rate. This means more meat quantity at the end of the day when the animal goes to be processed. Unfortunately because this diet isn’t natural to the animal and impacts their health negatively, the health of the animal and its end quality is put aside in favor of meat quantity.
What are the benefits of grass-fed meat?
There are actually a few benefits to eating grass-fed meat over conventionally farm raised. It’s been shown that cattle raised on a grass-fed diet are less likely to become sick. Because they are healthier and less likely to be sick, they require less antibiotics (1). This is important to note as research shows that overuse of antibiotics within our food system could lead to antibiotic resistance in humans (2).
Grass-fed meat has also been shown to typically be leaner than conventionally raised. Research specifically on grass-fed ground beef shows that it is also higher in conjugated linoleic acid (CLA) than the alternative. CLA is a beneficial fatty acid commonly used a supplement to combat heart disease, cancer, as well as increase fat burning potential in humans (3).
But health isn’t the only reason to go grass-fed. Interestingly enough, grass-fed meat production has also been shown to be better for the environment. Growing a high volume of grains to supplement cattle and other animals with can be hard on the soil. Going grass-fed also has the potential to increase water quality by reducing pollution overall (1).
Although what we know now supports consumption of grass-fed animals over conventionally raised, more research is still being done on the benefits of grass-fed meat. It’s likely that further benefits will be identified and supported through proper research.
Should you buy grass-fed meat?
Is grass-fed meat worth the buzz and the extra couple of dollars? Well it’s leaner and more nutrient dense than conventionally raised, and it’s also better for the environment. For those reasons (and likely more to come) we say why not go grass-fed?