Grass Fed Beef: The Facts

What is grass fed beef?

Grass fed beef refers to the meat from cattle who were raised entirely on grass, rather than grain. Most grain-fed beef is from cows who are raised on grass for the first 6 months - 1 year of their life, then finished on grain, while grass-fed cows are exclusively pasture fed on grass.

If your steak could talk, what would it recall of its short life?

Perfectly green pastoral scenes of grass draped hills dotted with starkly contrasting black and white cows would be far less romantically imagined if you replaced the grass for grain and the free roaming for feedlot confinement.

The reality is that most meat cows end their life in feedlots, where they feed on a grain mix, comprised mostly of roughage, a smaller percentage of grain and some chemical preservatives and supplements thrown into the mix. Antibiotics are often added, as the stress of the situation and the illnesses borne from their conditions may necessitate.

The difference between cows who are ‘finished’ in feedlots and those who spend the whole of their merry lives grazing on grass has been a topic of much discussion in the health world, as consumer interest grows.

Grass fed beef offers many health benefits over grain fed beef: 

  • Fat is yellow because it contains more carotenoids (a good thing)
  • Less total fat
  •  Less fat marbling
  • More omega 3 fatty acids (better for your heart) 
  • More conjugated linoleic acid (a kind of fat thought to decrease risk of cancer and heart disease)
  • More vitamin E and other antioxidant vitamins4
  • Contrary to popular beliefs about cattle’s environmentally detrimental role, grass fed cows actually help reduce land degradation, desertification and soil erosion.
  • A better saturated fatty acid lipid profile
  • Lower in calories
  • Grass fed meat is closer to wild game meat
Grass fed beef is closer to wild game

When cows are raised in the pasture, their meat becomes similar to that of wild game. Wild game meat (and grass fed meat) has a better ratio of Omega-3 to Omega-6 fatty acids, and is less atherogenic (artery-clogging). Jo robinson, the author of Why Grassfed Is Best! The Surprising Benefits of Grassfed Meats, Eggs, and Dairy Products, postulates that grass fed meat best resembles the wild meat we were designed to eat, and what our species existed on for a millennia. While our palates and internal systems have evolved, we are still largely shaped by our hunter gatherer origins.

    Cows have four stomachs

    While we may be experts at digesting tiramisu with our hypothetical extra stomach, bovine bellies are far more useful.

    Cows transform grass to energy in the four chambers of their stomach.

    The energy that powers our bodies is bestowed by the sun, into plants, then into animals and back. We eat plants to derive the energy from the sun that they store in their tissue, but our systems can’t break down the energy of rougher, denser vegetation, such as grass. The cow’s complex digestive system processes, ferments and extracts the goodness out of grass, and we can too, by eating them.

    Cows are nature’s mediator between plant and animal.

    Is it more ethical?

    Depends on one’s stance on using animals for human consumption in general, to some, there is no ethical way to eat meat.

    But for us meat eaters, it is nicer to think that Daisy spent her entire life on extensive pasture land before her eventual demise, rather than a cramped feedlot.

    Does it taste better?

    Because of the differences in fatty acid content, grass-fed beef possesses a distinct character and flavour.

    Whether that flavour is better depends on the palate it lands on, though there is a general consensus that less stressed animals produce a better grade of meat, and grass fed beef is a widely preferred choice for restaurants.

    Less fat means it has to be cooked carefully, as there is less fat to insulate the beef and protect it from drying out.

    How can you tell if beef is grass fed? 

    1. Yellow fat. Grass fed beef is higher in carotenoids which discolours the fat. Grain fed beef has a thicker layer of white fat.
    2. The beef is tougher. Grain fed beef has a more tender texture, usually. If cooked right, this can be offset.
    3. Stronger flavour: aka a better flavour
    4. Less marbling.

    Look for whether the farm you’re getting your beef from is certified under The Pasturefed Cattle Assurance system (PCAS). The central representative body for the grass fed cattle industry, the Cattle Council of Australia has set up the PCAS as a regulatory standard that producers must meet to qualify as grass-fed.

    What are the rules? Among other things, the main idea from the PCAS standard is that:

    “Cattle to have never been fed separated grain or grain by-products and have continuous access to graze pasture with the diet. The Diet is derived solely from forage consisting of grass (annual and perennial), forbs (e.g., legumes, Brassica), browse, or cereal grain crops in the vegetative (pre-grain) state for the lifetime of the ruminant animal, with the exception of milk consumed prior to weaning”.

    Why Fitness Outcomes uses exclusively grass fed beef

    We have an ethos we are not willing to depart from. Part of that is honesty and integrity and a commitment to taking the healthier option for our raw supply rather than the cheaper one, which is why we use free range eggs, chicken and grass fed beef.