Should you buy grass-fed beef?
First, let’s discuss what “grass-fed” even means. This definition is not set or regulated by the USDA- they actually retracted their definition several years back. The American Grassfed Association (AGA) is now recognized as the primary certifying agency for grass-fed products. Most beef cattle are grass-fed throughout their lives and “finished” on either grass or grains. By many people’s standards, grain-finished beef has better marbling and flavor, but grass-finished has a lower fat content and a better fat profile, specifically more omega-3s. It also comes with a higher price tag.
Omega-3 fatty acids are polyunsaturated fats that have many benefits such as anti-inflammatory properties in the body, beneficial effects on blood cholesterol levels, improvement in brain function/health, etc. In fact, they are essential, meaning the body cannot synthesize them, and they must be obtained through the diet. The recommended intake is 1.1-1.6 grams per day for most adults.
Grass-fed beef is shown to have a higher content of omega-3s than grain-fed, but let’s note the overall difference in omega-3 content between both types of beef and the sockeye salmon. Neither even compares. Additionally, the predominant omega-3 fatty acid in beef is ALA (alpha-linolenic acid), which is already the most common omega-3 fatty acid in the Western diet. EPA (eicosapentaenoic acid) and DHA (docosahexaenoic acid) omega-3 levels are higher in fish and seafood, and many people fail to consume adequate amounts daily.
Switching to grass-fed beef isn’t going to make a monumental difference in your omega-3 intake, so it is up to you to decide if you are willing to pay the extra cost to purchase it or if you just prefer the flavor. Products such as grass-fed skim milk or grass-fed whey protein are not worth shelling out the extra cash for because both are either fat-free or low fat, and thus have very little difference, if any at all, from the grain-fed alternative products.
Food for thought!
-Katy Hair, RD, LDN, CPT
USDA Nutrient Database
Miller, M. No nutritional difference between grass fed and grain fed beef. Ag Daily. 15 Aug 2017.
Smith, S. Grass-Fed Vs. Grain-Fed Ground Beef – No Difference in Healthfulness. Texas A&M. 25 Mar 2014.