With the recent paleo eating style emergence there is a lot of hype around grass fed beef and its superior health benefits. Even though it’s popular with paleo folks, the trend is continuing on and there is more and more people willing to spend extra in order to get that pricier cut with the magical ‘grass fed’ tag on it.
So why don’t we look at it closer and answer a bunch of most common questions? After all it’s nice to know what you are getting for that extra money!
Why Is Grass-Fed Beef Healthier?
This is the most frequently asked question, so let’s deal with it first!
Simply put, grass-fed meat is better than conventional meat for two main reasons:
- It has a superior fatty acid profile
- It’s more nutrient dense
Even though these two statements summarize pretty much all the benefits of pasture-raised beef, they sound a bit boring… What do they actually mean?
Let’s look at them step by step!
– Omega-6 and omega-3 content.
Some of you, dear steak lovers, have definitely heard about polyunsaturated fatty acids (a.k.a. omega-3 and omega-6) and their health benefits. But did you know that it’s not so much their total consumption but their overall ratio that matters?
Ideal omega-6:omega-3 ratio lies between 2:1 and 1:1. And that’s exactly what grass-fed steak is all about. Studies consistently show that grass-fed beef has higher levels of omega-3 (in fact, it approximates wild-caught oily fish!).
And that leads me to another popular question – why does grass-fed beef have more omega-3?
The answer is simple. Cows eat what they are supposed to eat from the evolutionary point of view, they are not treated with hormones/antibiotics (i.e. organic) and they get some good exercise from roaming freely on the pasture.
As a result grass-fed cows are leaner (forget USDA prime steak) and healthier than their CAFO peers. hence the higher omega-3s.
– Saturated fat composition.
Did you know that saturated fat is not all the same? In fact there are different saturated fats, such as myristic, palmitic and stearic acids – the three main types of saturated fat contained in red meat.
The proportion of stearic acid, the saturated fat that, it’s agreed, doesn’t raise blood cholesterol, in grass-fed beef is higher than in conventional beef. Hence the proportion of the other two fatty acids, which are more likely to raise cholesterol, are lower.
Once again, healthy eating coupled with a bit of exercise and your steak is going to be remarkably healthy…thanks to the superior fatty acid profile!
– Higher nutrient density.
What else is there in grass-fed meat? Well, just about everything looks much nicer – more beta-carotene, vitamin E, riboflavin, thiamine…the list goes on.
In other words, when you get grass-fed steak you get more nutrients per calorie consumed. In my opinion, that’s a really cool thing, given the stressful environment that many of us live in.
Why Does Grass-Fed Beef Have Trans Fats?
Thanks to the media and the various supermarkets marketing campaigns we know that trans fats are evil. So how come grass-fed steak, which contains these evil fats is seen as a healthier choice?
There are actually two types of trans fats: natural and artificial.
Natural trans fats occur as a result of bacteria, which naturally sits in the stomachs of various ruminants (e.g. cows), digesting the grass consumed by these animals. This is how conjugated linoleic acid (CLA) is born.
It forms up to 9% of total fat which comes from grass-fed meat (i.e. 3-5 times more than in grain-fed).
Why is CLA a good thing? Research shows that CLA might:
- Protect us from heart disease
- Improve insulin sensitivity thus lowering the risk of type 2 diabetes
- Reduce the risk of cancer
- Help manage healthy weight
So what about artificial trans fats?
As you might have guessed they also affect all the above but in the opposite direction. So, if you really want to keep your clock running, avoid fast food, margarine, doughnuts and a good chunk of packaged foods (crisps anyone?).
Why Grass-Fed Beef Is More Expensive?
People often wonder how is that grass-fed steak costs more? The answer lies between these lines.
First, it takes more time and feed to actually grow the cattle. It’s harder to get bigger fast by only eating grass (even though it does depend on the breed). Now that the animal’s total weight is lower than it would have been with the help of grain (and steroids), the farmer will ask for a higher price to get back whatever he paid for the feed and the waiting.
Second, now that grass-fed steak popularity is rising, there is naturally more demand in it. Combine it with the smart marketing campaigns (e.g. ‘higher in omega-3’ tags) and you get the higher price.
If you are on a budget and still look into getting the benefits of grass-fed meat, opt for cheaper cuts (e.g. flank, brisket, chuck) and ground beef. After all beef is all the same!
Why Does Grass-Fed Steak Taste Better?
As Mark Schatzker, the author of Steak: One Man’s Search For The World’s Tastiest Piece of Beef, puts it – grass is more sophisticated than grain. Grain is simple and standard no matter where you go.
Grass is a different story. There are many factors at play – season, precipitation, daylight, grazing frequency… All these make it complicated and unpredictable to a certain extent.
Now that grass has so much flavor, it gets passed on to the animal, which makes grass-fed steaks taste nicer and more…interesting (if you get what I mean). This is where steak eating becomes close to wine tasting!
Even though it tastes nicer, many steak lovers noticed something – why is grass-fed beef tougher?
As I already mentioned, it takes more time to grow animals for their slaughtering size. Given that the animal is then older, it had more time to accumulate collagen (this is where the flavor comes from) in its muscle fibers. And it’s also leaner from being fed grass!
This is like a small trade-off, when you exchange some tenderness for healthier bits.
I hope I was able to show you why is that grass-fed beef is good for you. Now I hope you will start making a better choice, not just for yourself but for the environment too.
Now tell me – do you prefer grass-fed beef? Would you pay extra for it?
Any questions or comments? Please leave them below!
Find other useful tips for cooking steaks:
- How To Cook Healthy Steak In Skillet: 6 Tricks To Use
- Best Skillet For Cooking Steak: 6 Points To Remember When Buying One
- Top-7 Cheapest Places To Buy Grass-Fed Beef Online In The US
- How Do I Store Steak So It Stays Fresh & Flavorful
- The 7 Ideas For Saving Money On Beef – How To Get A Good Cheap Steak
- How To Store A Steak After Opening The Package & Keep It In The Fridge
- How To Store Meat Long-Term In The Freezer
- Why Grass-Fed Is Better For You & Your Health
- Should I Use An Oven Bag To Cook My Steak, Chicken or Turkey?