Grass-Finished vs Grass-Fed Beef: What’s the Difference?

Published September 08, 2019
Ben Kissam

Written By: Ben Kissam, BS

Ben has a B.S. in Movement and Sports Science and over 7 years Certified Personal Training Experience.

<article> <section> <p>If people ‘are what they eat,’ then it matters <a target="_blank" href="" rel="noreferrer">what our food</a> eats, too. </p> <p>If we eat <a target="_blank" href="" rel="noreferrer">sugar</a> and processed foods, our bodies won’t function optimally or be as healthy. And if cows—which become steaks and other beef products we buy—don’t eat the right stuff, they suffer, too.</p> <p>What cows eat not only changes how healthy their meat is but how it tastes and how it affects our environment, too.</p> <p>Unfortunately in America, we have a lot of terms to define beef. This can make it really confusing to know which beef is the best.</p> <p>In this article, we’ll explain why grass-finished beef is the best option, why <a target="_blank" href="" rel="noreferrer">grass-fed beef</a> isn’t always what it might seem, and where to find local, grass-finished beef.</p> </section> <hr class="divider-50 divider-medium mx-auto"> <section> <picture class="lazy-load"> <source data-srcset="" type="image/webp"> <source data-srcset="" type="image/jpf"> <source data-srcset=""> <img src="" class="img-fluid" alt="raw-beef-slices"> </picture> <header>What is grass-finished beef?</header> <p>A ‘<i>grass-finished</i>’ cut of beef means the cow was allowed to roam and forage for grass its <i>entire</i> life.</p> <p>When cows are allowed to roam freely for their meals, they produce healthier, leaner meat. More vitamins, minerals, and omega-3 fatty acids are found in grass-fed, grass-finished beef than in grain-fed cows <sup>1</sup>. </p> <p>Grass-finished beef also has a different fat structure. Though leaner, fat from grass-fed cows contains more <i>carotenoids</i>—plant-based nutrients that are healthy for humans <sup>2</sup>.</p> <p>And when it comes to beef, grass-finished is the premium distinction. Given the choice, this is the kind of beef you should eat. And here’s why.</p> </section> <hr class="divider-50 divider-medium mx-auto"> <section> <header>What is grass-fed beef?</header> <p>While not a clearly defined term by the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA), ‘<a target="_blank" href="" rel="noreferrer">grass-fed’ beef</a> comes from cows that were fed <i>mostly</i> grass during their lives <sup>3</sup>.</p> <p>The key word there is ‘mostly.’</p> <p>Grass-fed beef refers to cows who <i>start</i> out eating grass. But without the grass-finished term after it, that means the cow’s diet might eventually have been supplemented with cheaper soy, grain, and corn products <sup>4</sup>.</p> <p>U.S. cattle aren’t required to be fed grass their whole lives (or allowed to roam freely) to obtain the grass-fed label. Often, it’s only for the first 9 to 12 months.</p> <p>That’s what makes the <i>grass-finished</i> distinction so important.</p> </section> <hr class="divider-50 divider-medium mx-auto"> <section> <header>What about grain-fed cattle?</header> <p>Grain-fed cattle are raised in feedlots, fed a processed diet of corn and soy, and often injected with hormones to ensure rapid growth <sup>3</sup>. Unfortunately, they live short, cramped, manufactured lives.</p> <p>That’s why when you see grass-fed, grass-finished beef at stores, it’s usually more expensive <sup>5</sup>. It’s healthier than grain-fed beef, and many think it tastes better, too.</p> <p>The scary part is most people don’t know that grass-fed cows might spend more than half their lives on feedlots, just like grain-fed cows. </p> <p>Only grass-finished beef offers the assurance that a steak you paid $7 extra is actually worth it.</p> </section> <hr class="divider-50 divider-medium mx-auto"> <section> <picture class="lazy-load"> <source data-srcset="" type="image/webp"> <source data-srcset="" type="image/jpf"> <source data-srcset=""> <img src="" class="img-fluid" alt="cows-pasture-resting-grass"> </picture> <header>Is grain-fed beef bad?</header> <p>On top of being unfair to the animals, these massive feedlots full of grain-fed cattle leave a large carbon footprint and can be harmful to the environment. </p> <p>One study actually found that if Americans gave up beef, it would reduce carbon emissions more than if we gave up cars <sup>6</sup>.</p> <p><i>Whoa.</i></p> <p>If you’ve been eating grain-fed beef your whole life, it’d be hard to label it as ‘bad.’ The beef industry does us no favors by making it so complicated.</p> <p>We won’t call it ‘bad,’ but if you can afford to buy grass-finished beef, you should. Besides being healthier for you, it’s better for the earth and helps support local farmers.</p> </section> <hr class="divider-50 divider-medium mx-auto"> <section> <picture class="lazy-load"> <source data-srcset="" type="image/webp"> <source data-srcset="" type="image/jpf"> <source data-srcset=""> <img src="" class="img-fluid" alt="beef-steak-raw-prep-cutting-board"> </picture> <header>Is grass-finished beef the healthier option?</header> <p>Think about it this way. If you applied the old adage “you are what you eat” to beef products, then yes, grass-finished beef is probably healthier.</p> <p>Cows that can roam and are fed natural diets are going to be healthier than cows that are (unfortunately) crammed into a cage and fattened up with artificial hormones.</p> <p>And while it’s not really fair to us as consumers, the beef industry and their distinctions about what’s what change all the time. So do your best to stay informed, and buy local when you can.</p> </section> <hr class="divider-50 divider-medium mx-auto"> <section> <header>Where Can I Find Grass-Finished Beef?</header> <p>Meat subscription services like <a target="_blank" href="" rel="noreferrer">Butcher Box</a> make it easy to deliver grass-fed, grass-finished beef right to your house.</p> <p>Sites like <a target="_blank" href="" rel="noreferrer">Eat Wild</a> also help you locate local farmers that sell grass-finished beef. This is a great way to support local businesses and know what you’re putting into your body. And if you buy in bulk, you’ll probably save a lot of money.</p> </section> <hr class="divider-50 divider-medium mx-auto"> <section> <header>Alright, What Do I Need to Remember?</header> <p>Here are a few quick hitters to remember about the grass-finished vs grass-fed beef debate:</p> <ul> <li><i>Grass-finished</i> cows eat grass their whole lives. If cows “are what they eat” like us, it’s probably the healthiest beef option if you can afford it.</li> <li><i>Grain-fed</i> cows are raised in cramped feedlots, fed corn and soy, and often given artificial hormones so they grow faster.</li> <li><a target="_blank" href="" rel="noreferrer"><i>Grass-fed</i></a> cattle means the cows are fed grass and allowed to roam but not necessarily for their entire lives. That second distinction, ‘grass-finished’, makes a <i>huge</i> difference.</li> <li>Research shows grass-fed, grass-finished cows are not only healthier to eat, but better on the environment.</li> </ul> <p>Alright, enough talking. Anyone else hungry for a <a target="_blank" href="" rel="noreferrer">steak</a>?</p> <div class="sub-head">Resources</div> <ol> <li><a target="_blank" href="" rel="noreferrer">Is grass-fed beef really better for you, the animal and the planet?</a></li> <li><a target="_blank" href="" rel="noreferrer">What Are Carotenoids?</a></li> <li><a target="_blank" href="" rel="noreferrer">Differences in Fatty Acid Composition</a></li> <li><a target="_blank" href="" rel="noreferrer">What is the difference between grass-fed and grass-finished beef?</a></li> <li><a target="_blank" href="" rel="noreferrer">Frequently Asked Questions Of American Grass Fed Beef</a></li> <li><a target="_blank" href="" rel="noreferrer">Giving up beef will reduce carbon footprint more than cars, says expert</a></li> </ol> </section> </article>

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