Is Grass-Fed Beef Actually Better?

Here's what you need to know about the trendy meat label.

Photo by: Heebyj / Getty Images

Heebyj / Getty Images

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Grass-fed beef has gotten a health halo. Proponents will boast that cattle that are fed a grass-based diet yield beef that is tastier and healthier. A subtitle to this story also suggests grass-fed beef is also better for the planet because allegedly raising cattle on grass yield less of an environmental impact. The alternative to grass is to feed cows a grain-based diet, which gets a bad reputation for being poorly digested as it contains corn. This beefy gossip has led to a boom in grass-fed offerings everywhere from your local grocer to Amazon Prime.

Many beef lovers are clamoring for cuts of grass-fed beef, but there are some little-known facts about how cattle are raised that could save you the confusion, and some money.

What Does Grass-Fed Mean?

So first, the punchline: All cows (yep, all of them) start out on a grass diet. In fact, cattle spend the majority of their lives munching away on grass and forage. What it really comes down to is how cattle cross the finish line. Confused? Can’t blame you. “All beef is grass-fed, but some beef is grass-finished. When cattle are grain-finished, they eat a grain-based diet for the last four to six months of their life” says Sara E. Place, Ph.D., Senior Director, Sustainable Beef Production Research for the National Cattlemen’s Beef Association. “But, grain-based doesn’t mean 100% corn; it’s actually on average 55% grain in the USA today.”

OK, But Is Grass-Fed Better for the Planet?

As for the corn, grain and impact on the plant, there’s more to that story, as well. Ruminant animals like cows have an amazing ability to digest and ferment what they eat, turning it exactly what they need to nourish themselves. According to Dr. Place this can actually benefit the environment. “Cattle expand the land we have available for food production, and can enhance ecosystems. Cattle are solar-powered, self-replicating bioreactors that have been upcycling plants we can’t eat into high-quality food and other products like pharmaceuticals for thousands of years. Everything but the moo is used.”

Bottom Line: When it comes to buying beef, you do you! Having all the facts about grass- and grain-finished beef can help folks make more informed choices at the grocery store and may even help lower your grocery bill.

Dana Angelo White, MS, RD, ATC, is a registered dietitian, certified athletic trainer and owner of Dana White Nutrition, Inc., which specializes in culinary and sports nutrition. She is the author of four cookbooks First Bites: Superfoods for Babies and Toddlers, The Healthy Air Fryer Cookbook, The Healthy Instant Pot Cookbook and Healthy Quick and Easy Smoothies.

*This article was written and/or reviewed by an independent registered dietitian nutritionist.

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