Why Grass Fed Beef?
March 21, 2021
What are the advantages of grass fed beef and other pastured products? This is a question that frequently comes up in conversations about food. Is there anything that really sets these products apart from meat raised on commercial style farms? In this post, we will explore the differences between grass fed beef and commercial beef. By commercial beef, I mean beef that is raised on feedlots feeding concentrated grain rations in the finishing stages of beef production. These feedlots also use synthetic hormones to improve performance.
Let’s start off by discussing briefly the digestive tract of a cow. Cattle are ruminants, which means they have four stomachs, and they ruminate. When a cow eats, the feed goes into the first stomach, the rumen. In the rumen are bacteria, which are specifically generated to digest the type of feed the cow is eating. These bacteria start to break down the feed, and when the cow’s rumen is full, she will lie down and ruminate, which means she will regurgitate a mouthful of feed from the rumen, rechew it, swallow, and repeat the process. The food then finishes the digestion process in the last three stomach compartments, the reticulum, omasum, and abomasum.
The digestive system of a ruminant is designed to digest forages. Forages require a lot of ruminating in order to break down sufficiently. Over the years, the beef industry has started to feed more concentrated grain rations, which require very little ruminating, and break down very fast. This rapid digestion process creates a very high level of acids in the rumen, which does not contribute to stomach health. Once on the concentrated grain ration, a cow can’t survive for more than 8 – 10 months, because the high levels of acids will cause failure in the digestive tract.
Next, the environmental footprint of pasturing animals is lower than that of raising meat in a commercial setting. For one thing, there is less equipment and fossil fuels needed to operate this way. Also, with regenerative pasture management, there is much more nutrient value going back into the soil, creating a more sustainable production method. A healthy pasture also results in a superb ground cover and root system, which holds soil and reduces erosion and nutrient runoff into water bodies. Another plus – with soil-building grazing practices we are actually sequestering carbon from the atmosphere back into the soil where it belongs. The reason this happens is because growing plants take in carbon dioxide, and when the cattle graze on the plants, they trample about 40% of the plant biomass into the soil, thus increasing the carbon levels in the soil, and decreasing carbon content in the atmosphere.
Now let’s get into the differences in the actual meat. Perhaps the most widely known benefit of grass fed beef is the higher level of fatty acids. One of these is called CLA (conjugated linoleic acid). CLA can help to prevent things like obesity and diabetes. People who receive sufficient CLA also tend to have better insulin sensitivity, which helps to maintain healthy blood sugar levels. Grass fed beef also contains up to 6 times more omega-3 fatty acids than commercial beef. Grass fed beef contains less calories than commercial beef, which, along with the other things mentioned above, can help to prevent heart disease.
So, hopefully this helps you sort through some of the questions about grass fed meats. Below, I have listed the nutritional profile for grass fed beef.
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A 100 gram (3.5 oz.) serving of grass fed beef contains:
– Calories: 198
– Protein: 19.4 grams
– Fat: 12.7 grams
– Carbohydrates: 0 grams
– Fiber: 0 grams
– Sugar: 0 grams
Grass fed beef is also high in:
– Omega 3 acids
– Conjugated Linoleic Acid
– Vitamins A and E
– Vitamin B12 and B6