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The Real Beef: Why Serve Grass Fed Beef

The Real Beef: Why Serve Grass Fed Beef

Lisa Turner | Better Nutrition

Not so long ago—fewer than 100 years—cattle were raised very simply. They roamed freely in pastures, eating grass at will, and remained free of routine drugs. Now, most cows are raised on “factory farms,” large-scale operations that confine them to pens and fatten them quickly for slaughter by feeding them large quantities of grain.

Here’s the problem: cows are designed to eat grass, not grains. When they’re raised on a diet of other foods, such as soy, corn, and grains, the resulting beef is nutritionally inferior. Factory-farming practices also contribute to environmental destruction, and the cows suffer deeply and unnecessarily. Now, as grass-fed beef becomes increasingly available, you can eat beef in a more traditional manner. Here’s why you should:

1. It has a better fat profile. Grass-fed beef is considerably lower in fat than grain-fed beef; most cuts have about the same amount of fat as skinless chicken. It is also lower in calories: a 6-ounce piece of grass-fed beef has 100 fewer calories than the same amount of grain-fed beef. Other animals—bison, lamb, and goats—should also be raised on grass, rather than grain, with many of the same benefits.

2. It is nutritionally superior. Grass-fed beef is higher in omega-3 fatty acids and contains a compound called conjugated linoleic acid, a fatty acid that can reduce cancer risk. And it’s higher in vitamin E, a potent antioxidant. Grass-fed meat is more expensive than factory-farmed meat, but maybe that’s a good thing: We’re not supposed to eat nearly as much meat as we do. Maybe it’s time to start focusing on quality, not quantity.

3. It is (almost always) free of antibiotics and growth hormones. Routine antibiotics used to prevent widespread disease in confined cattle end up in the meat we eat, and contribute to the development of antibiotic-resistant bacteria that threaten humans. Cows are also fed growth hormones to speed the time from birth to slaughter. These, too, end up in the animal’s meat, and can cause serious health problems.

4. It is vastly more humane. When eating grains, cattle develop a number of painful and dangerous conditions, including feedlot bloat—which can cause suffocation—and acidosis, a condition that leads to diarrhea, ulcers, and liver disease. Neither are cows adapted to being confined to pens only a bit larger than their bodies, or packed so closely together in feedlots that they can scarcely move.

5. It is more environmentally sound. Raising cows on a diet of grains has devastating environmental consequences. For example, growing corn to feed livestock requires enormous amounts of fossil fuel and chemical fertilizers, and confining the animals creates vast amounts of ground and water pollution.

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