By Nancy Snyder, M.S., R.D.
So what exactly does it mean to be grass-fed?
While all beef cattle in the U.S. are grass-fed for the first year of their lives, conventional beef are “finished” on a grain diet along with supplements to promote weight gain. In order to qualify as “grass-fed,” the USDA specifies that the cattle must feed on grass exclusively with continuous access to pasture throughout the growing season. While grass-fed farming is considered more environmentally-friendly, production time and operating costs are greater for producers, resulting in a more expensive product.
So what’s the skinny on grass-fed beef? Despite the higher cost, grass-fed beef has been shown to be lower in calories and saturated fat than its conventional counterpart, and it contains greater amounts of heart-healthy, omega-3 fatty acids, as well as antioxidants like vitamins A and E.
While the nutritional profile of grass-fed beef is better than that of grain-fed, consumers should be careful not to mistake it as a good source of any of the aforementioned nutrients. For example, salmon, which is considered a rich source of omega-3s, delivers 20 times more mg than that of grass-fed beef.
Can’t splurge on grass-fed beef products or don’t see them on your favorite restaurant menu? Don’t fret; selecting leaner cuts of beef (such as round or sirloin) can help you control calories and contribute to a more heart-healthy diet—whether they’ve been grass fed or not.