Grass-fed beef is becoming more widely available in response to consumer demand as preferences shift toward eating healthy, real food that's grown or raised in as natural environment as possible. So, what exactly are the differences between grass-fed and grain-fed beef? Here's an overview of three ways a cow's diet can affect the beef that ends up on your plate:
A cow's diet can impact its health in the same way human health can be impacted by diet. Historically, cows have been raised eating grass and being out to pasture most of the year, but it can be cheaper for farmers to raise cattle indoors on a diet of grains, such as soy and corn, and supplement their diet with growth hormones, which causes cows to gain weight at an unnatural rate.
Some cows struggle to digest a diet that's predominantly grains, and they don't have access to the nutrients found in pasture fields, such as protein from clover. Grain-fed cows are also routinely given antibiotics due to being fed in feeding pens in close proximity to other cows, which can increase their risk of picking up common illnesses. Conversely, grass-fed cattle have space to roam and their meat is often marketed as higher welfare or organic, so they are not routinely given antibiotics.
Whether grass-fed or grain-fed, beef is a good source of a number of nutrients including vitamin B12, iron and zinc. However, a cow's diet affects its nutrient composition, and grass-fed beef contains significantly more omega-3 fatty acids, vitamin A and vitamin E than grain-fed cows. This makes grass-fed beef a good choice for those who don't like oily fish, so may not be getting enough omega-3 in their diet.
Grass-fed cows tend to be leaner than grain-fed cows, so their beef contains less fat. If you've been put off eating beef due to how fatty it can taste, you may enjoy a lean grass-fed steak or wish to replace your usual ground beef with grass-fed ground beef. Some people also find they prefer the flavour of grass-fed beef, and it's been described as a deep, earthy flavour that's almost like game meat but without the gamey aftertaste.
If you'd like to try grass-fed beef you may be wondering where to buy it. Some larger supermarkets sell a few cuts of grass-fed beef, but you'll find a bigger range at a farmers market, your local farm shop or a specialist online supplier.