Not so long ago—fewer than 100 years—cattle were raised very simply. They roamed freely in pastures, eating grass at will and remaining free of drugs. Today, 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, like soy, corn, and grains, the resulting beef is nutritionally inferior. Factory farming practices also contribute to environmental destruction, and the cows suffer unnecessarily. Now, as grass-fed beef becomes increasingly available, you can eat beef raised in a more traditional manner. Here’s why you should go with grass-fed beef:
- 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. They’re also lower in calories: a 6-ounce piece of grass-fed beef has 100 fewer calories than the same amount of grain-fed beef.
- It’s nutritionally superior. Grass-fed beef is higher in omega-3 fatty acids and contains a compound called conjugated linoleic acid (CLA), a fatty acid that can reduce cancer risk. And it’s higher in vitamin E, a potent antioxidant.
- It’s (almost always) free of antibiotics and growth hormones. 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. These, too, end up in the animal’s meat, and can cause serious health problems.While the USDA definition doesn’t specifically prohibit the use of antibiotics and hormones, “The vast majority of grass-based ranchers do not use hormones or antibiotics,” says Jo Robinson, author of Pasture Perfect.
- It’s a vastly more humane process. Cows aren’t supposed to eat grains. When they do, they can develop feedlot bloat—which can cause them to suffocate—and acidosis, a painful condition that leads to diarrhea, ulcers, and liver disease. Nor are cows adapted to spending their entire lives either confined in pens or packed closely together in feedlots.
- It’s more environmentally sound. Raising cows on a diet of grains has devastating environmental consequences. Growing corn to feed livestock requires enormous amounts of fossil fuel and chemical fertilizers, and confining animals creates vast amounts of ground and water pollution.
CLA May Reduce Body Fat
Conjugated linoleic acid (CLA), found in grass-fed meat and dairy products, may help reduce body fat. A study in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition showed that taking CLA supplements for one year reduced body fat mass in healthy, overweight adults by as much as 9%. The CLA used in this study was Tonalin CLA.
Photo of salad: Pornchai mittongtare; prop styling: Amy paliwoda; Food Styling: Sienna DeGovia