Grass-Fed Beef 101: What Does It Mean, What Are the Health Benefits, Where Can We Buy?

What's Grass-Fed beef and what do we need to know about it? Chef Rob Endelman gives us the scoop in this guest post.

What exactly is Grass-Fed beef? Cows, by nature, are ruminants, which means they have four-chambered stomachs able to digest grass, unlike humans’ stomachs. Grass-fed cows graze on the different varieties of grasses growing in the pastures where they roam. These cows are most likely not administered hormones and antibiotics, as the use of chemicals is counter to the ideals of most grass farmers. Unfortunately, only a small percentage (estimated at five percent) of our beef comes from grass-fed cows, but it is a delicious and nutritious alternative.  

What if a cow is not Grass-Fed? Most of the cattle that turn into our beef spend a large part of their lives on commercial feedlots, where they are most likely fed a diet of corn, other grains and animal by-products. Cows grow bigger faster when fed this diet. They are also probably given hormones and antibiotics, which further spur growth. (The equation is straightforward: bigger cows faster = more slaughtering = more money.) In addition, there's a high probability that this corn-based feedis from genetically modified crops laced with pesticides.All of this doesn't sound good, does it?

So why should we eat grass-fed meat, milk, eggs, cheese and butter instead of the more readily available corn-fed variety? Bottom line, grass-fed products are healthier for us than corn-fed. As The New York Times reported last week:

New research from California State University in Chico breaks it down, reviewing three decades of research comparing the nutritional profiles of grass-fed and grain-fed beef.Over all, grass-fed beef comes out ahead, according to the report in the latest Nutrition Journal. Beef from grass-fed animals has lower levels of unhealthy fats and higher levels of omega-3 fatty acids, which are better for cardiovascular health. Grass-fed beef also has lower levels of dietary cholesterol and offers more vitamins A and E as well as antioxidants. The study found that meat from animals raised entirely on grass also had about twice the levels of conjugated linoleic acid, or CLA, isomers, which may have cancer fighting properties and lower the risk of diabetes and other health problems.

So, what to do? Start buying grass-fed meat and dairy products. Grass-fed goods are becoming more readily available as the number of farmers producing them increases. Farmers’ markets in big cities are a great source, as are stores like Whole Foods Market. Alternatively, click here for a list of grass-fed suppliers, many of whom ship within the United States.

Rob Endelman is a chef who, in addition to teaching cooking technique, empowers people with the knowledge to make better choices when it comes to buying and preparing food. He believes that a lack of awareness about our industrial food supply has contributed to the increase in modern diseases such as obesity, diabetes and cancer. Through his blog, The Delicious Truth, and business, Cook with Class, Chef Rob helps people understand, identify and avoid hormones, antibiotics, pesticides and synthetic additives.

image via Carla Gottgens/Bloomberg

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