Health Benefits of Grass Fed Beef

Health benefits of grass fed meat

Many of my recipes call for grass fed beef and not just regular beef and this is an important distinction.

Red meat consumption is often vilified, and often without cause. There is a definite difference between farm lot read meat and grass fed, pastured beef from happy cows (those come from California, you know).

Far from being the heart-disease causing food it is made out to be, grass fed beef is a source of many  nutrients and is an important part of a healthy diet.

CLA

Chris Kresser explains the benefits of Conjugated Linoleic Acid (CLA) in grass fed beef:

Conjugated linoleic acid (CLA) is a type of PUFA that is found naturally in milk and meat products, primarily from ruminants such as cows or sheep. As I’ve explained before, CLA exhibits potent antioxidant activity, and research indicates that CLA might be protective against heart disease, diabetes, and cancer. Beef is one of the best dietary sources of CLA, and grass-fed beef contains an average of 2 to 3 times more CLA than grain-fed beef. (6)This is because grain-based diets reduce the pH of the digestive system in ruminant animals, which inhibits the growth of the bacterium that produces CLA. It’s interesting to note that as a whole, Americans consume far less CLA than people from countries such as Australia, where grass-fed beef tends to be the rule rather than the exception.

This article further elaborates on the benefits, including:

  • Reduced risks of heart disease: “In animal studies, CLA has demonstrated potent anti-atherogenic effects, preventing fatty streak and plaque formation in the arteries of rodents by changing macrophage lipid metabolism.”
  • Possible reduction in certain types of cancer: “It appears to work primarily by blocking the growth and metastatic spread of tumors, controlling the cell cycle, and by reducing inflammation.”
  • Promotes weight loss: “In a few studies, dietary supplementation of CLA has been shown to increase lean body mass, reduce body fat mass, and improve overall body composition in overweight individuals.”

Healthy Fats

According to some sources, grass fed meat can have 2-4 times the Omega-3 fatty acids as grain fed beef. (source) Another study found that the increased Omega-3s in grass fed meat made a noticeable difference in the Omega-3 levels of those who had consumed the beef. (source) This study also found that the animal’s diet in the last few weeks was extremely important, and that for full benefit, beef must be grass finished as well as grass fed.

Grass fed beef also has a different saturated fat profile than conventional beef. This article explains:

While I’m not particularly concerned about saturated fat of any kind, it’s worth noting the differences in SFA composition of grain-fed vs. grass-fed meat. There are three main types of saturated fat found in red meat: stearic acid, palmitic acid, and myristic acid. (4) Grass-fed beef consistently contains a higher proportion of stearic acid, which even the mainstream scientific community acknowledges does not raise blood cholesterol levels. (5) This higher proportion of stearic acid means that grass-fed beef also contains lower proportions of palmitic and myristic acid, which are more likely to raise cholesterol.

Vitamins + Minerals

Grass fed meat contains a range of vitamins, minerals and antioxidants including:

  • Carotenoids: Ever noticed the yellowish tint in the fat from grass fed meat after it cooks? This indicated the presence of Carotenoids (precursors to Vitamin A) which are found in green grass, especially rapidly growing green grass.
  • B-Vitamins: Red meat is also a great source of B vitamins, especially vitamin B-12, which plays an important role in fertility, mental health, muscle health and heart health.
  • Vitamin D: Red meat contains high levels of an especially absorbable form of Vitamin D that appears to increase blood levels faster than synthetic Vitamin D or vitamin D in dairy.
  • Iron: Red meat is a well known source of Iron, which is especially beneficial for pregnant women or those who are anemic.

Where We Buy Beef

Whenever possible, we buy directly from a local farmer so we can verify the health of the animals and support the local economy. In many areas, it is possible to find farmers who will sell beef by 1/4 or 1/2 of the cow and this is also the most economical choice.

When these options aren’t available, we purchase from Butcher Box or US Wellness Meats since I’ve been able to verify the quality of both of these.

More reading:

Chris Kresser on Grass Fed Meats

Dave Asprey on Grain fed vs. Grass fed

Do you eat red meat? Grass fed or grain fed? Share below!

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Reader Comments

  1. We eat grass-fed beef from a local farm.  We bought 1/4 cow last month and so far we are loving all the steaks! 

  2. We buy grass-fed meat from a local farmer (CSA), though you can never have too much! 🙂 We LOVE ground beef. My 3 year old could eat only ground beef all day, every day and would be a happy kid. 😛

  3. We also eat grass-fed from a local farmer, to the extent we can find it.  So far so good.  We always run out of ground beef and stew beef, though, before our next side is ready.

  4. we try to eat mostly grass-fed.  We get our meat from our farmers market from april through december, and shop at whole foods and trader joe’s about 80% of the time during those off months.  The more grass fed the better at our house, but it isn’t 100%,…. financially sometimes we dont always do it (esp if we are having people over for dinner, a BBQ, cooking for a crowd).  

  5. After making the decision to eat real foods…the hardest part is going organic. Cutting out flour, sugar and grains has been somewhat easy…since there are good substitutes. Financially, the organic part is hard. We raise our own chickens for eggs, and are going to raise pigs this year.  It’s..do we go camping this year, or buy a 1/4 of a cow.  We stopped buying Christmas gifts..since it isn’t our birthday. We have a huge garden every year. Love to shop at resale shops over retail stores any day….even if we had the money.  We are blessed to have reasonably good health at the ages of nearly 60 and 69.  The sad part of this story…I fed my kids killer foods while they were home (totally unaware). I think I am in better shape than my grown children. Now, trying to convince them of the proper way of eating is hard, when the media says differently.

  6. We eat grass-fed as much as we can!  Ground beef is so versatile and easy, we eat it all the time!

  7. We bought a 1/4 of a cow this year & loved it.  We’ll definitely keep doing it!

  8. I’m so excited that you wrote about this company – it turns out that they’re 30 minutes south of me!! 🙂 AND, we’re out of beef.

    We buy an entire steer for our family of 10 and although our fav’s are the obvious steaks and ground beef, I’d really like more skirt steaks to work with.

  9. Right now I can hardly afford regular ground beef, let alone grass-fed.  How critical is it to make this switch?  I was shocked when I looked up some prices.

    • It is more expensive… I’d look around locally, depending on where you live. I’ve been able to get some great prices in the past from Amish farmers in our area, and we’ve also discussed buying a cow at auction and renting a field to pasture it for a few months before butchering. Grass fed is great, and important if you can do it, but if it’s not in the budget, definitely just do what you can without feeling guilty 🙂

  10. Not to nit-pick, but I’m pretty sure that picture is of a conventional T-bone steak. It’s that odd pinkish color. Grass-fed natural beef will have a darker appearance and the fat will have on orange-like tinge from all the beta-carotene.

    Anyway, to answer Kimberly Job – yes, the prices are higher, but they reflect the true cost of raising a large animal for slaughter in an environment nature intended. That is, a herd on range land. As opposed to crowded together in unhealthy feedlot conditions to cut costs.

    That said, surely if there’s one thing worth spending on it’s the food you’re going to be putting in your body. Personally, when my wife and I are trying to decide on our expense budget, food gets priority and if cuts in spending are required, I/we search elsewhere in our living expenses.

    It’s getting hard, I know, but most people are surprised how fulfilling and far reaching quality organic foods can go in satisfying one’s nutritional needs. Cheap junk food always leaves you craving more.

    • Haha, you caught me :-). It’s a stock image from a package I purchased, but I haven’t thought to take any pictures of our beef before I cook it, so in the interest of not committing any copyright infringement, I went with the stock image 🙂 Grass fed steak does look much better!

  11. so far ground beef, after first taste can’t go back to the other

  12. LOVE Grass fed beef….it tastes SOOOO much better!

  13. Does anyone else think grass finished tastes funny? I like grass fed but grass finished just seems a bit gamey. Is there something i can do to make it more enjoyable?

    • pre-marinating gets rid of the “gamey” taste, in my opinion, but I’ve also heard of soaking it in raw milk…

    • Definitely tastes funny. We have been eating NO grocery store beef for almost 4 years, eat ground organic turkey and venison exclusively. However, my kids still get “regular” beef at school and occasionally at restaurants. We just arrived at our second home in Uruguay, and the first night I cooked ravioli with meat sauce, using local grass-fed beef. My 7-year-old said, “mommy, this meat tastes funny.” And I had to agree, it tasted “funny” to me too. Gamey, almost. And we’re accustomed to venison, it doesn’t get much more “gamey” than that!

  14. We have been eating local grass fed meat for years now and buy from several different farmers depending on the animal.. we have our favs! We love it! eating other meats make us feel yucky.

  15. We raise and sell 100% grass fed beef here in Ohio. When looking for grass fed beef make sure it is 100% grass fed. Just because it says organic doesn’t mean it’s 100% grass fed. Organic beef can be fed organic corn and you won’t get the benefits of grass fed.

  16. I have only recently (last six months) learned about the health value of grass-fed and finished meats. I have been amazed at the flavor of the meat. I enjoy red meat, but the grass-fed just has such an incredible flavor to it, I find it challenging to stop nibbling on it while I’m preparing dinner! It seems more like an entirely different meat compared to the conventional beef you get form the store. It does cost more, so my hubby and I decided that we would rather do vegetarian a couple nights a week so that we can afford to buy the better quality beef. It is totally worth it! Also, after three months of only grass fed, I tried a fast food burger. I was sick for 24 hours afterwards! Ick! It just goes to show how much better the good stuff is for our bodies. 🙂

  17. I’m already signed up for your newsletter and am off to sign up for their newsletter!  

  18. My favorite beef product is the heart. Not because it’s the best-tasting cut (I’d choose a nice steak for that), but because it makes a wonderful stew and it’s quite cheap, even for grass-fed! Anytime anyone says “Grass-fed is too expensive” I tell them to check out beefheart. Tasty, economical, and  if you cut off the leaf fat you also end up with some lovely tallow on your hands. 😀

  19. Is organic meat as important as grass-fed? We are on a tight budget and I’m wondering if I should make the switch to organic, grass-fed meat or just grass-fed. Suggestions?

  20. I only eat beef once in a while, and it has been a while since I have cooked with it. I cooked some ground grass-fed beef from a local source last night, and the fat was extremely bright red, and there was a lot of it. Is this normal with grass-fed beef?