What’s Up With Grass Fed Beef?

If you’re anything like me, you love a good steak.  I am obsessive about how I prepare my favorite cut, the bone in ribeye.  I start two days early, aging and dry brining the steaks in the refrigerator.  I also, with much trial and error, believe I have worked out a system that cooks the steak precisely how I like it without fail.

I like beef.  Between myself and my girlfriend we typically eat around 4 lbs / week of beef (sometimes a little less, sometimes a little more).  I got to digging around on the internet and on average we Americans consume 65 lbs of beef per year, so we as a nation eat a fair amount of meat, specifically cattle:

Check out the chart on page 15 of the USDA Report.  Americans were eating around 80 lbs per year in the 70’s.  Interesting stuff?

Growing up my family either raised a steer on our pasture and had it butchered or they’d buy a beef locally from a rancher.  Store bought meat was only if we forgot to take something out of the freezer.  I grew up eating grass fed beef, but I really haven’t ever dug into the differences between “grass fed” and “grain fed”…..until now.

I would imagine that you have noticed that grass fed beef at the grocery store is a fair amount more expensive than the regular beef, and that is a limiting factor for me.  Companies that sell things in mass quantities spend lots of money on advertising, and they watch trends.  Are there actual benefits to buying grass fed beef that justify its higher cost to the consumer?  I have answered this objectively for myself, and want to present my process for you to consider.

I have chosen not to focus on any environmental impact of grass fed vs. industrially raised here, that is a topic of further discussion.  I am focusing on two things:
1.  Is grass fed beef higher quality?
2. Does grass fed beef produce a healthier me?

Is Grass Fed Beef Higher Quality?
Without difficulty I was able to find a study, between Clemson University and the USDA, that compared grass fed and grain fed beef cattle.  What the study concludes is interesting:

  1. Grass fed beef is lower in saturated fats and total fat
  2. Grass fed had a much healthier balance of omega-6 to omega 3 fatty acids.  The recommended max ratio of omega-6 to omega-3 is 4:1.  Grain fed beef had a 4.84 ratio, while grass fed had a 1.65 ratio.  That is a major difference
  3. Grass fed has a higher % (117% higher!) of conjugated linoleic acid (CLA).  CLA has a long list of health benefits
  4. Grass fed also had higher levels of beta-carotene, vitamin E, B vitamins, calcium, magnesium, and potassium

So, it looks to be a superior product to me.  Another thing that makes a strong case for higher quality is what industrially raised cattle are fed.  Cattle were designed to eat grass right?  I thought so.  I understand that in factory farms cattle are fed what is inexpensive and readily available (from a business perspective it makes sense, minimize overhead / maximize production).  Industrially raised cattle may be fed different “by-product feedstuffs” according to Eatwild.com.  These feedstuffs can include: candy waste products, bakery waste products, or basically leftovers (waste streams) from various industrial manufacturing processes.

Does Grass Fed Beef Produce a Healthier Me?
It is tough to argue that we are what we eat.  There’s a really good phrase in the book It Starts With Food (if you’re in the ALL IN Challenge you may recall it).  They take it one step further and say, “You are what you eat eats.”  My health builds off the first criterion and logically we understand that when we put the right foods in our bodies, they will promote our health.  Left to their own devices, cattle will choose to eat grass, not grain or feedstuffs, and be healthier because of eating what they are designed to eat.  If we eat a healthy animal, chances are it won’t make us less healthy.  I am of the opinion that grass fed beef, eaten at the rate I consume it at over a period of many many years, will undoubtedly produce the healthiest me possible.

So let me wrap this up, my goal with this post was to answer some of my own questions about grass fed beef.  Is it all a marketing gimmick or is there legitimacy to the claims of grass fed beef being superior?  From everything I’ve read, the benefits of grass fed cattle hold water.  The cattle are healthier, and those health benefits undoubtedly trickle down to the consumer.

That being said, you don’t have to eat grass fed beef.  Here’s are a couple of things that might deter people: a) it’s more expensive, especially if you’re feeding a family and b) it’s a little tougher to find all the cuts in the supermarket.  Protein is essential in a properly balanced human diet.  Just because you can’t eat grass fed animal protein does not mean you should stop eating protein.

Here’s what I’m going to use as a workaround to the cost barrier.  Buy in bulk.  The cheapest I’ve been able to find grass fed burger in Sioux Falls is about $7 to $8 per pound and steaks go up from there.  If you find someone local who raises grass fed cattle, buying an 1/8 a beef can get you down around $7/lb for everything.  Not bad considering you get an even mix of burger, steaks, and roasts.

What are your thoughts on grass fed beef?  Or do you have some insight into feedlots and their methods and processes?  I’d love your feedback.

The O-Board Says…

7 Rounds Of
1 Minute 200m Run
1 Minute Row (Max Meters)
1 Minute Max Double Unders
*Rest 10 seconds btw stations

then

Tabata Hollow Rock

Post by Stets