The Lowdown on Grass-fed and Grain-fed Beef

Where’s the beef? This was a famous catch phrase by the American burger chain, Wendy’s. Their burgers taste better than McDonald in my opinion. Beef tastes good.

Humans have been eating beef since prehistoric times and is a very good source of protein and provides many of the essential fatty acids, minerals and amino acids that the human body needs.

Beef is the thirds most widely consumed meat in the world. It accounts 25% of meat production around the world after pork at 38% and poultry at 30%.  So, that is around 5.2 million cows processed daily for meat consumption and the world consumed 129.5 billion pounds of beef in 2016. The United States, China and Brazil are the top 3 largest beef consumers.  The 10 countries consumed more than 50 pounds of beef per capita includes:

  1. Uruguay
  2. Argentina
  3. Hong Kong
  4. United States
  5. Brazil,
  6. Paraguay
  7. Australia
  8. Canada
  9. Kazakhstan
  10. Chile

It was also reported that between 2014 and 2024, the countries predicted to have the highest percentage increase per capita consumption are Vietnam. Mozambique, Tanzania, Turkey and Indonesia.

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Grass-fed and Grain-fed Beef Defined

Most of us know that cattle raised for consumption are all farm-bred and mostly eat grains. Some farms also operate just like an assembly line when raising and feeding cattle using high-tech machineries and different contraptions. And just like most major farm-bred animals, such cattle are raised in certain conditions, using different methods to have high yield and to meet customer demands and most of them grain-fed cattle. And also for years now, many farmers are going back to raising and farming bovines just like the old folks did 50-70 years ago, by raising grass-fed cattle. Is there any difference? For the most part, all cows start on grass, well, calves will have milk and then the milk replacement upon separation from their mothers.

Grass-fed beef or the term grass-fed generally means that cattle have spent their whole life grazing pastures. It’s also important to note or accurately say that these cows eat graminoids which comprises different species of sedges, rushes, and true grasses. Cows will also nibble on random leaves, shrubs and clovers. Legally, grass-fed cows may also eat cereal grain crops in the pre-grain stages, silage, hay and non-grain by-products. Harsh weather may force cattle to be moved to pastures where grass exist.

During the winter months when grass may be dormant in some areas, grass-fed cattle are supplemented with feed, usually grass silage and hay in maintaining nutrition and their grass fed status. Grass-fed cows are also free of antibiotics and growth hormones.

Grass-fed beef is lean and requires greater attention to cooking to prevent any unpleasant cooking experience. Also, the tenderness of the steaks can be inconsistent thus, grass-fed beef is better when cooked slower and aged correctly for adequate muscle fibre release to prevent toughness. Consumers of grass-fed beef believes that it has the true mineral taste of beef as compared to grain-fed beef. Grass-fed beef costs more because it takes more time to reach harvest weight.

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Grain-fed beef, on the other hand, cows that are raised and eat mostly an unnatural diet based on corn and soy during the latter part of their life. For grain-fed cows, the calves are separated and then switched on to concentrate feed.  These cows are supplemented with growth hormones and antibiotics to prevent diseases from spreading since they are stored in feedlots. For most cases, the formulated feed contains about 75% corn grain.

Grain-fed cows are moved to feedlots once they get 650-750 pounds. It’s the weight it takes the average cow 12 months to reach on pasture. Feedlot life lasts 3-4 months and plenty of time to boost the animal’s weight above 1200 pounds, increase marbling and a more efficient way of ensuring the highest quality of meat. Normally, grain-fed cows reach a harvest weight between 18-24 months of age.

All feedlots are the same in layout, design and construction with feed mills, that stores and mix feed rations and pens where cattle are housed and feed bunks where the cattle eat and drink. Cattle stress is closely monitored by feedlot managers and most modern feedlot operators follow animal handling protocols to reduce animal stress. Although many animal activists argue this and there have been video documentations of inhumane handling and processing of grain-fed cows.

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Why is Grass-fed Beef Better?

Below are some more advantages of this type of beef over the other. Let’s start.

  • Grass-fed beef is high in beta-carotene (which makes the fat to be more yellow) which is converted to Vitamin A or retinol. Vitamin A is essential for normal vision, reproduction, bone growth, cell division and cell differentiation. Vitamin A also creates a barrier to bacteria and viral infection and support the production and functions of white blood cells.
  • This type of beef has 3 times more Vitamin E as compared to grain-fed beef. Vitamin E is a powerful antioxidant that helps prevent or delay coronary heart disease, protect against cancer development and block the formation of carcinogens in the stomach. It also helps improve eye lens clarity and reduce cataract development.
  • The Omega-3 fatty acids to Omega-6 fatty acids in the diet plays an important role in the prevention and treatment of coronary heart disease, type 2 diabetes, hypertension, cancer, autoimmune diseases and other inflammatory diseases. The Omega-3 content in grass-fed beef is 60% more than Omega-6 than grain-fed beef.
  • The beef is leaner and higher in protein as compared to grain-fed beef. Research indicates that eating lean beef can help lower the total LDL, VLDL and triglycerides while enhancing beneficial HDL cholesterol.

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Advantages of Grain-fed Beef

  • Most beef in supermarkets is grain-fed. You can will know if it is grain-fed if the fat colour is lighter in colour or almost white as compared grass-fed beef fat which has a yellow colour. Advantages include:
  • Grain-fed beef is juicier and tenderer as compared to grass fed. It has a higher fat content, thus it delivers more flavour.
  • The fat in the grain of the meat (marbling) acts as a buffer in cooking, which makes it more suitable to different cooking methods and can be cooked to perfection in different ways.
  • Grain fed grades out higher in quality scoring and is desired by most palates.
  • Some grain-fed beef is available in all natural programs (in the United States) which deliver additional quality benefits without added antibiotics and hormones
  • Grain-fed costs less to raise thus it costs less as compared to grass-fed beef. Grain fed beef is also ample in supply.

If you’re into a healthy lifestyle, then you go for grass-fed meat, but if you’re more into flavour, then grain-fed beef is for you. Find yourself a butcher that can provide you with your beef preference. Ask them if its grass or grain-fed so that you can understand and make the choice.

Whatever your preference, there economic, health, environmental and culinary benefits to both types of beef. There are also disadvantages. One cannot eliminate the other, but it is good to know that you can have options in enhancing your menus and provide many opportunities to enhance your health and food preference. You are what you eat.


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