Grass-fed beef. If a restaurant has got it, they flaunt it. If they're friends with the farm it was raised on, even better. If they broiled its brother last week, that just makes them more eco-friendly... right?
Maybe not. In a world of food dominated by big corporations that often put their bank before the consumers, easy labels like “organic” and “non-GMO” are boasted on packaging because we know these words mean it’s better food.
But what does “grass-fed beef” actually mean?
So, What’s the Beef?
Conventionally-raised beef is often fed a grain-based diet with staples such as corn, until they reach a slaughter weight. Mega-companies like Tyson Foods are known for using loads of antibiotics and hormones to maximize production.
Grass-fed cows, however, are fed a diet of grass and foraged foods such as hay and legumes. Often, this means that the cows are able to graze in pastures rather than in feedlots. Antibiotics and hormones are less likely to be a part of this cattle’s diet.
Is it Healthier Than Grain-Fed?
To put it simply, yes. Both are protein powerhouses and great sources of Vitamin B, but grass-fed beef is more nutritious and lower in calories than its grain-fed foe.
If you’ve always hoped your burger would come with a side of youthful glow, it might interest you to know that grass-fed beef has up to four times the amount of free-radical and disease fighting Vitamin E.
While lower in overall fat, grass-fed beef also has about 50% more Omega-3s. However, its Omega-3 levels are not substantial, and not the best way to up your intake of heart-health helping fats.
Does Grass-Fed Beef Mean Happy Cows?
One common argument for grass-fed beef is that it is cruelty free. The thought of grass-fed beef often conjures up the image of a local farmer who lets his cows roam free on a big green field.
Those must be happy cows. However, especially with bigger beef producers, grass-fed beef can still mean confined cows in poor conditions, who are simply given a small outdoor area to graze in from time to time.
It’s important to look at what certification your grass-fed beef has if this is a concern for you. While not all labels have the same standards, an approval from the American Grassfed Association means that cattle is completely pasture-raised and never treated with antibiotics or hormones.
Is Grass-Fed Beef Better for the Environment?
This is the one that really might surprise you.
Grass-fed beef isn't more sustainable than grain-fed beef. Because grass-fed cows consume a more complex carb and grow more slowly than their grain-fed counterpart, they produce more methane while making the same amount of meat. up to 400% more methane, to be exact.
Especially with beloved local farms, grass-fed cows are also an immensely land-intensive industry. While one grain-fed cows needs a whopping three acres of land, a grass-fed cow actually requires nine. In the United States, about a quarter of the land is used for grazing cattle. In many cases, forests and wildlife is cut down to make room for pastures.
Grass-fed beef is pretty well known for making up a juicy burger you can feel good about. I'm not trying to start beef with anybody, but knowing all the facts about that patty can help you truly weigh that quarter-pounder.