If you thought grass-fed beef was merely a trend, think again. Not only are these animals treated more humanely and their production more environmentally friendly, but cattle fed a diet of grass throughout their lifetime also produce beef that offers nutritional advantages. From the fat content of their meat to its vitamin profile, grass-fed beef offers a better option all round.
When cows are fed grass the resulting meat is leaner. You will notice there is less marbling, so after any visible fat has been trimmed your meat is low in total fat. Reducing your intake of fat is known to benefit your risk of heart disease, diabetes and cancers of the colon, prostate, ovary and breast, so choosing grass-fed meat may help to lower your risk of these health problems. Although lower in total fat, there is no compromise on protein or iron content, so the meat is just as rich in these nutrients important for growth, healing and the prevention of anemia.
Promotes healthier cholesterol levels
Although grass-fed beef contains a similar amount of saturated fat to grain-fed beef, the saturated fats present are less likely to have an adverse effect on your cholesterol profile. Beef from cows fed grass contain a higher proportion of saturated fats that have a neutral effect on cholesterol, while containing less of the saturated fats known to raise cholesterol. This helps to keep your LDL cholesterol under control, which otherwise promotes narrowing of the arteries which is linked to an increased risk of coronary heart disease, strokes and dementia.
An alternative source of omega-3
Meat from grass-fed cows is richer in omega-3 essential fatty acids, containing up to 6 times the amount present in meat from their grain-fed counterparts. Although we usually think of oily fish as being the main source of these oils, meat from pasture-fed cows is also a useful source. Typically we consume too much omega-6 fatty acids in comparison to omega-3 fatty acids; in many parts of the world, our intake is usually greater than 10:1 when the recommended ratio is 4:1. This imbalance promotes inflammation, a driving force behind the development of heart disease, diabetes and inflammatory problems such as Crohn’s and rheumatoid arthritis. Omega-3 oils are also known to favorably alter a number of risk factors for cardiovascular disease, as well as enhance cognitive function and mental well-being. As omega-3s are linked to so many health benefits and as a population most of us struggled to obtain sufficient from marine sources, grass-fed beef offers a useful addition to our diet.
Provides conjugated linoleic acid
Another healthful fatty acid present in the meat from cows fed grass is conjugated linoleic acid. It is generated by bacteria found in a cow’s stomach and its production depends on the acidity of conditions there. When cows eat grass, this creates a more favorable environment than a grain based diet, helping grass-fed cows produce these fatty acids in greater quantities. Those people who consume more conjugated linoleic acid are more likely to benefit from a healthy body weight as this fatty acid protects against the deposition of adipose tissue. The fatty acid may also help to protect against cancer, diabetes, heart disease and osteoporosis, and reduce the risk of infections by boosting immune function.
Richer in antioxidants
Grass contains naturally more beta-carotene and vitamin E, so it follows that the meat from grass-fed cattle is also richer in these antioxidants. These function to protect our body cells from damage by free radicals, which are generated during natural metabolic processes but we are also exposed to these as a result of environmental pollutants. Free radical damage is associated with narrowing of the arteries and the development of cancerous cells, so the benefit of increasing our intake of antioxidants through grass-fed beef is easy to see.