When considering the nutrition of grass finished beef versus grain finished beef, it is first important to understand that I am focusing on pasture raised with no added hormones or antibiotics for both finishes. Meaning, the comparison here will be on cattle raised humanely and as healthfully as possible (not on feedlots). Nutrition outcomes would be far different (and an unfair comparison) if it were on grass fed and finished cattle versus feedlot cattle.
In the holistic/paleo/keto world we have been told for a while now that grass finished is far superior to grain finished beef. However, it seems that this is a little bit of a misinterpretation. There are other reasons that go beyond nutrition that might encourage you to opt for just grass finished beef, but grain finished is a very nutrient dense option still!
Here’s where the confusion has come in: grass finished beef does have nutritional advantages over grain finished beef. However, how significant those differences are as well as how significant those particular nutrients are matters! Let’s break down some of the nutritional claims of grass finished versus grain finished beef:
Omega-3 Fatty Acids
On the Standard American Diet, people tend to consume far too much omega-6 versus omega-3 fatty acids. Since our bodies need a flip flopped ratio of omega-3 to omega-6 (where omega-3 is higher), we have an epidemic of inflammation in our country and this is one reason why. It’s great (and quite necessary) that we have some attention on this issue. However, grain finished has gotten a little bit of a bad rap because of this perspective.
While it’s true that the omega-3/omega-6 profile is better in grass versus grain finished beef, any kind of beef just isn’t a great source of omega fatty acids. Therefore, this is not a very relevant point. Truly, you are far better off going for some wild caught fish if you are trying to get more omega-3s in your diet, versus expecting to get enough of it from beef. And in order to limit the omega-6s, consume less corn, canola and soy oils (in other words, less processed/boxed foods!). Here’s some information on reducing inflammation in your body.
This one is actually not what one might expect. Grass finished beef is actually shown to have less of the good fat, MUFA (monounsaturated fat) than grain finished. It alsoA 2014 study found that grass-fed beef had significantly less content of in addition, a study at Texas A&M found that grass finished also contains more saturated fat and trans-fat than grain-finished beef.
Here’s a good comparison chart from Grass Fed vs Grain Fed Beef: Which is Better? – Dr. Robert Kiltz (doctorkiltz.com)
|Fatty Acid||Grain Fed Beef||Grass Fed Beef|
The bottom line here is that the typical arguments for grass finished versus grain finished that are specifically about nutrient density, don’t necessarily apply. However, there are other reasons to opt for grass finished beef, depending on your preferences. For example, grass finished beef tends to be leaner, just like animals that live in the wild.
On the other hand, grain finished tends to be more affordable and there are plenty of people out there that just prefer the flavor and texture over grass finished.
The most important thing to understand is that there is a lot of information claiming that grain finished is far more nutrient dense than grass finished, and when you look a little closer and consider the big picture, that’s just not necessarily true.
Impact of grass/forage feeding versus grain finishing on beef nutrients and sensory quality: The U.S. experience – ScienceDirect
The importance of the ratio of omega-6/omega-3 essential fatty acids – PubMed (nih.gov)
How Too Much Omega-6 and Not Enough Omega-3 Is Making Us Sick (chriskresser.com)
Omega-3 Fatty Acids – Health Professional Fact Sheet (nih.gov)
Ground beef from grass-fed and grain-fed cattle: Does it matter? | Animal Science (tamu.edu)