Really, How Much Better Is Grass-Fed Beef?



EmbeddedDr. Frank Lipman is an integrative and functional medicine physician, founder of Eleven Eleven Wellness in NYC and the creator of Be Well by Dr. Frank Lipman. In his monthly column for R29, he'll talk about the latest health and wellness news; his favorite stay-healthy tips and tricks; plus, answer your questions on how to be your healthiest, best self, every day.

With all the hype around the term “grass-fed,” you may be wondering – what exactly does it mean, and is grass-fed beef really that much better?

The answer is a definite YES. For those who choose to eat meat, grass-fed is definitely the better way to go for your body, the environment, and the animals. Although factory-farmed meat may be cheaper and easier to get your hands on, it’s really in your best interest to treat your body right and make the extra effort to find grass-fed.

What's the story?
Traditionally, all meat was grass-fed. Cows are ruminants, with a multichambered stomach uniquely designed to digest grasses. Now, the majority of meat in America comes from factory-farmed cows that are raised on corn. The diet is designed to keep prices low while producing as much meat as possible. The cattle aren’t meant to be on a corn-based diet, and eating this way causes acidosis – turning their stomachs to become unnaturally acidic. Acidotic animals experience ulcers, diseases, and weakened immune systems, and they have to be fed large amounts of antibiotics to survive the harsh, toxic conditions of their confinement. They are fed corn until they are obese enough to be slaughtered.

To make matters worse, most corn grown in America is genetically modified to resist herbicide, contains extremely high levels of starch, and is sprayed with ammonia fertilizer. Because of this, when you eat grain-fed meat, it’s not only full of antibiotics, it’s packed with chemicals and is the product of very sick cows.

How are we affected by the antibiotics used in grain-fed meat?
Eighty percent of all antibiotics in the United States are used for livestock feed. According to a report by the Environmental Working Group, a significantly high amount of meat in the U.S. contained high levels of antibiotic-resistant bacteria (known as “superbugs”). These superbugs can cause infections and complications that are very difficult to treat and can spread antibiotic resistance – meaning the medicine needed to treat sick people may become ineffective.

How does this affect the nutrition of the meat?
Conventionally raised, grain-fed meat is completely different than grass-fed in terms of nutrition. To make meat production even cheaper, conventionally raised cattle feed may even contain “by-product feedstuff” – garbage, stale cookies, poultry manure, chicken feathers, bubble gum, and restaurant waste. Their diet ultimately becomes your diet, and the “meat” you’re consuming isn’t really even truly meat anymore. Appetizing, right?

These cows are living extremely far away from the environment in which nature intended for them. Taking cows away from their natural diet of grasses and switching to grains lowers the nutritional value of the meat significantly. Grass-fed meat is high in omega-3s, which can help to heal inflammation, while grain-fed is high in omega-6s and pro-inflammatory. Grain-fed meat also ends up being much higher in saturated fat, while grass-fed is higher in conjugated linoleic acid (CLA), a good fatty acid that reduces the risk of cancer, diabetes, and obesity.

So what should you look for?
Bottom line? You should always look for beef, butter, and dairy products from grass-fed cows. You should choose meat that is 100% grass-fed and grass-finished – meaning they were fed grass for their entire lives, and no grains or animal by-products were ever fed to them. Meat can be labeled organic and still be grain-fed, so if you’re not sure, it can be a great idea to actually contact the farmer or producer and ask if the animals were 100% grass-fed for their entire lives. If it doesn’t say grass-fed, assume it’s grain-fed. Many local meat suppliers and farmers' markets offer grass-fed beef, so be sure to check out the American Grass-Fed Association or EatWild.com to find grass-fed producers in your area. It’s worth it!