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The great debate: grass versus grain finished beef

The great debate: grass versus grain finished beef

There's growing interest in choosing grass fed and finished beef products over grain-finished beef, but is this just fancy marketing jargon? Let's find out! 

First, let’s get a couple things straight so we can understand this terminology.
All cows start their lives eating grass. This means all cows are technically grass-fed. What we need to look for is what the animal is "finished" on, which can be either grass or grain.

Grain-Finished: These cows start their lives eating grass, but in order to get the cows to market faster, cows are finished on grain to pack on the fat and speed up growth. Cows that are grain-finished usually live around 18 months before going to market.

Grass-Finished: These cows only eat grass, from birth to market. This means the cows eat their natural diet for their entire life, which is around 36 months before going to market.  

But what does this mean for me, the end consumer? 

Research on the nutritional profiles of grass vs. grain finished meat suggests that grass fed and finished beef has significantly different fatty acid composition, as well as antioxidant composition. Overall, grass fed and grass finished beef tends to have lower fat content. The fat in grass-finished meat has higher levels of conjugated linoleic acid, omega-3 fatty acids, and a lower proportion of cholesterol-elevating fatty acids. Some studies also suggest that grass fed and finished meats have a higher amount of cancer-fighting antioxidants, carotenoids (a precursor to vitamin A), and Vitamin E.

Eating grass fed and finished beef products will result in a greater intake of omega 3 fatty acids. We also know that getting an abundance of antioxidants (including carotenoids and vitamin E) in our diets can help fight free radicals and inflammation in our body.

Summary: there appear to be health benefits from consuming grass over grain fed and finished beef products.

Ok, we’ve talked about the good stuff, but are there downsides to choosing grass-fed and finished beef? One downside to consider would be the difference in price, as grass fed and finished beef is generally more expensive due to the added costs of the cow having a longer life. Additionally, grass-fed beef does have a distinct flavour (from the different fatty acid content). However, there are no researched health consequences of consuming grass-fed and finished beef - only health benefits!

At Meatme, the cows eat grass and only grass. Cows feed on their natural habitat for their entire lives and never see a feedlot for grain. This means that the cows thrive in a way that is natural for them. We know that this way of raising cows is best for the cow, and from what we can see from the research, best for humans too! If you do include animal products in your diet, there are many factors to consider when choosing your meat products including animal feed - in this case, grass or grain. 

Stephanie Dang, Registered Dietitian

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