Cows are meant to eat grass. That is their natural diet. Not corn or grains or soy. And definitely not antibiotics. Just fresh, green grass.
Why is this so important?
Because when you eat beef, you are essentially consuming whatever the cow ate. You want that to be as rich in nutrients as possible.
You want it to be healthy beef and healthy beef is the result of a cow being fed the diet it was designed to eat. Believe me, cows were designed to eat grass!
Let’s break it down a bit further.
Cows are ruminant mammals, which means their stomach has more than one compartment. They have the ability to regurgitate their food (known as “cud”). Basically, a cow will chew its food once and store it in a compartment of the stomach that is rich in bacteria, then they will regurgitate the food and repeat the process. This bacteria in the stomach helps digest the food and extracts as much of the nutrients from the grass as possible. These are the same nutrients that are then absorbed and passed onto us when we eat beef.
Let’s look at it another way. If a human were to eat a diet that is rich in processed foods, high in carbohydrates, and nutritionally void the result would be that the human would eventually suffer from obesity, inflammation, chronic disease, and a myriad of other conditions.
The same is true of cows.
Cows raised on a diet of grains, soy, corn, or other waste eventually become ill. This is reflected in the nutrient profile of grain fed cows.
Let me say this another way. The nutrient profile of cows fed on grass vs. grains is very different. One profile reflects a healthy animal while the other doesn’t. There is decades of research to support this notion that grass fed cows are healthier than grain fed cows so lets take a look at some of it.
Research suggests that the fatty acid profile of grass fed beef is higher in omega-3 content, which is significantly healthier for human consumption. A healthy diet should consist of no more than one to four times more omega-6 fatty acids than omega-3 fatty acids. However, the typical American diet tends to contain 11 to 30 times more omega-6 fatty acids than omega-3, a phenomenon that has been hypothesized as a significant factor in the rising rate of inflammatory disorders in the United States.¹ The benefit of having a diet higher in omega-3’s is associated with a lower incidence of depression, a decreased prevalence of age-related memory loss, and a lower risk of developing Alzheimer’s disease.²,³
Another study by Descalzo et al. (2005) researched the effects of grass feeding on the beta-carotene content of beef and found pasture-fed steers incorporated significantly higher amounts of beta-carotene into muscle tissues as compared to grain-fed animals.4 This study revealed a 7 fold increase in beta-carotene levels in grass fed beef over their grain fed counterparts. Carotenes are precursors to vitamin A, a critical fat-soluble vitamin that is important for normal vision, bone growth, reproduction, cell division, and cell differentiation.5 Specifically, it is responsible for maintaining the surface lining of the eyes and also the lining of the respiratory, urinary, and intestinal tracts. The overall integrity of skin and mucous membranes is maintained by vitamin A, creating a barrier to bacterial and viral infection.6,7 Since having higher amounts of beta-carotene and ultimately, higher vitamin A levels helps prevent infection, farmers are able to avoid using antibiotics on grass fed cows. This also has a health effect because it allows for more diverse bacterial colonies in the gut which boosts immune function and digestion.
Shifting diets to cereal grains will cause a significant change in the FA profile and antioxidant content within 30 days of transition for the cow.8 It is thought that the switch to grains creates a change in the pH of the rumen which reduces activity of Butyrivibrio fibrisolvens, a bacteria that is involved in the production of fatty acids.
I could go on and on about how the nutrient profile of a grass fed cow is superior to a grain fed cow but I think you get the point!
In summary, grass-fed beef has a nutrient profile that is healthier for human consumption. The optimal profile of a grass-fed cow for essential fatty acids, carotenes, vitamin E, and cancer fighting antioxidants such as glutathione is strikingly higher compared to grain-fed contemporaries. And that’s just what I pointed out in this post!
That being said, I do urge you to do some research before making your purchase as buying grass fed beef can be confusing at first. This is because all cows are fed grass for the first part of their lives. Most are switched over to grains and soy at a later point in their lives. So technically, someone could claim that all cows are grass fed. To maximize the favorable lipid profile and to guarantee the elevated antioxidant content, animals should be finished on 100% grass or pasture-based diets. What you’re looking for is a cow that is exclusively grass fed without any grains or soy.
It is also important to keep in mind that just because beef is organic does not mean it is grass fed! Those are two different things altogether and unfortunately, some organic beef is still grain fed. Do not get mislead by the labeling and always read the fine print.
Make sure you ensure the beef is both organic and grass fed before buying! Find a local farmer who raises his cattle by these principals. It takes some leg work but once you find one, your health will thank you!
If you have difficulty finding a farmer or source for your beef, you can always contact me and I can help you find one. I’m always researching local food sources and have a trove of information if you’re stuck!