It’s officially summer in the Pacific Northwest and we’ve got burgers on the brain! Burgers have a bit of a reputation for being an unhealthy food, but the healthfulness of your burger really comes down to the quality of your meat. Organic, hormone-free and antibiotic-free are all important criteria but choosing grass-fed rather than conventional grain-fed beef is where you’ll find the ultimate nutritional (and environmental) advantage.
What’s the difference?
Both grass-fed and grain-fed cows start out as calves drinking milk, roaming freely and eating grass. Grain-fed cows, however, quickly get moved to a feedlot where they consume a grain-based feed, usually made up of cheap soy or corn products but can be anything from scraps from potato or pasta processing plants or even stale candy! (Remember the scattered Skittles from a truck crash in the Northeast earlier this year?) Grass-fed cows spend the entirety of their lives eating what they were born to eat—grass!—and recent studies have found that there are remarkable nutritional improvements to their meat when they do.
What makes grass-fed beef nutritionally better for us to eat?
- Lower overall fat content – conventional feed is designed to make cows fatter, faster while grass fed cows naturally accumulate less fat
Improved saturated fat profile – higher levels of myristic and palmitic fatty acids have less of an effect on cholesterol levels than other saturated fatty acids
- Increased antioxidants – levels of vitamin A, E, glutathione and superoxide dismutase are all found to be higher in grass-fed beef
- Anti-inflammatory benefits – grass-fed beef has up to 5 times as much omega 3 fatty acids as conventional beef which helps keep our bodies’ inflammatory response in balance
- Healthy weight maintenance – increased levels of conjugated linoleic acid (CLA) promotes body fat reduction and improved body composition
There are some things to be aware of when switching to grass-fed meat. You might notice a slight flavor difference (think earthier) at first and the fat of grass fed cows takes on a yellowish tint from the extra carotenoids (a form of vitamin A and the same thing that makes your sweet potatoes orange.) Also, when purchasing your beef make sure it’s labeled 100% grass fed—sometimes producers will try to use the grass fed label even when the beef has been partially finished on grain. We always recommend buying organic when possible, but sometimes local farmers can’t afford to purchase the certification, so at the farmer’s market just choose the 100% grass fed option and maybe ask them about their farming practices—they’re usually happy to share!
Don’t forget to complete your nutritious burger with a whole grain bun and lots of fresh veggie toppings!
Edited by Flannery N., Bastyr University student intern
Daley C et al. A review of fatty acid profiles and antioxidant content in grass-fed and grain-fed beef. Nutrition Journal. 2010, 9:10.
Gunnars, K. “Grass-Fed vs Grain-Fed Beef – What’s The Difference?” Authority Nutrition. N.p., 22 June 2017. Web. 01 July 2017. https://authoritynutrition.com/grass-fed-vs-grain-fed-beef/
Health Benefits of Grass-Fed Products. Eat Wild – Health Benefits. Accessed July, 1 2017. http://www.eatwild.com/healthbenefits.htm