A joint study between the USDA and researchers at Clemson University in South Carolina concluded that grass-fed beef is better for human health than grain-fed beef in ten different ways:
Compared with grain-fed beef, grass-fed beef was:
Another study found that when cattle are free to forage on their natural diet of grass, their meat is almost as lean as wild game. The graph below shows that grass-fed beef has an overall fat content similar to antelope, deer, and elk.7
Eating meat this lean on a regular basis can lower your LDL cholesterol levels.4
Lean beef is also lower in calories per pound. A 6-ounce steak rom a grass-fed steer has almost 100 calories less than a 6-ounce steak from a grain-fed steer. If you consumed just the average amount of grass-fed beef (70 pounds) in a year, you would save 18,000 calories in a year compared to eating grain-fed beef.
The graph below shows that grain-fed beef has a much higher ratio of omega-6 to omega-3 fatty acids than wild game or grass-fed beef. A high ratio of omega-6 to omega-3 fatty acids has been linked with an increased risk of cancer, cardiovascular disease, allergies, depression, obesity, and auto-immune disorders.5 A ratio of four or lower is considered ideal. The ratio in grain-fed beef is more than 14 to 1. In grass-fed beef, it is approximately two to one. According to this study, grass-fed beef even has a lower fatty acid ratio than wild game.
(Data for both graphs comes from G.J. Miller, “Lipids in Wild Ruminant Animals and Steers.” J. of Food Quality, 9:331-343, 1986.)
CLA (conjugated linoleic acid) is a cancer-fighting fat that is most abundant in grass-fed products. The richest sources of CLA are grasses and legumes, and the most natural and effective way to increase your intake of CLA is to eat the meat products of grass-fed animals. Research has shown that when cows get all of their nourishment from pasture they produce as much as 5 times more CLA than cows fed grain in a feedlot.
The type of grasses and legumes growing in a pasture can influence the amount of CLA in cow’s milk. A recent research study found that Red Clover increased CLA levels in the milk of grass-fed dairy cows. When dairy cows grazed pasture that contained 20 percent red clover, they produced 50 percent more cancer-fighting, fat-reducing CLA than cows that grazed on grasses alone.9 Red Clover grows in abundance in the grazing fields of our ranch in the Nebraska Sandhills.
Researchers in Finland measured CLA levels in the serum of women with and without breast cancer. Women with the highest levels of CLA in their diet had a 60% lower risk of breast cancer than those with the lowest levels.10
Researchers in France measured CLA levels in the breast tissues of 360 women. The women with the most CLA had a staggering 74% lower risk of breast cancer than the women with the least CLA.11
The significant differences in these studies highlight the importance of having a high level of CLA in your diet. You can accomplish this by eating lots of green, leafy plants or grass, and grass-fed beef.
In addition to being higher in omega-3s, grass-fed beef is higher in vitamin E, a potent antioxidant. In humans. Vitamin E is associated with a lower risk of heart disease and cancer. Most Americans are deficient in vitamin E, and most nutritionists recommend vitamin E supplementation.
The graph below compares vitamin E levels in meat from (A) feedlot cattle, (B) feedlot cattle given 1000 IU of vitamin E per day, and (C) cattle raised on fresh pasture with no additional supplements. The meat from the grass-fed cattle is four times higher in vitamin E than the meat from feedlot cattle, and almost twice as high as the meat from the feedlot cattle given vitamin E supplements.13
This is just a sampling of the research on the health and nutrition properties of grass-fed beef.
Research is ongoing, and important new findings will be posted here as they become available.
1. Siscovick, D. S,. T. E. Raghunathan, et al. (1995) “Dietary Intake and Cell Membrane levels of Lon-Chain Polyunsaturated Fatty Acids and the Risk of Primary Cardiac Arrest,” JAMA 274(17): 1363-1367
2. Simopoulos and Robinson, The Omega Diet, published by HarperCollins, 1999.)
3. Rose, D. P., J. M.Connolly, et al (1995, “Influence of Diets Containing Eicosapentaenoic or Docasahexaenoic Acid on Growth and Metastasis of Breast Cancer Cells in Nude Mice.” Journal of the National Cancer Institute 87(8: 587-93.
4. Tisdale, J. J. (1999) “Wasting in Cancer.” Jr Nutr. 129(1S Suppl.): 243S-246S
5. Tashiro, T., H. Yamamori, et al, (1998), “:n-3 vs. n-6 polyunsaturated fatty acids in critical illness.” Nutrition 1
6. Duckett S. K, et al, Journal of Animal Science, (published online) June 2009, “Effects of winter stock growth rate and finishing system on: III. Tissue proximate, fatty acid, vitamin and cholesterol content.”
7. Miller, G. J.,”Lipids in Wild Ruminant Animals and Steers.” J. of Food Quality, 9:331-343, 1986.)
8. Davidson, M. H.,Hunninghake, D., et al. (1999) “Comparison of the effects of lean red meat vs. lean white meaton serum lipid evels among free-living persons with hypercholesterolemia: a long-term randomized clinical trial”, Arch. Intern. Med, 159(12)
9. Z, Wu, L.D., Satter, and M.W. Pariza, “Paddocks containing red clover compared with all grass paddocks support high CLA levels in milk.” US Dairy Forage Research Center.
10. A. Aro et al,
11. Bougnoux, P, Lavillonniere F, Riboli E. “Inverse relation between CLA in adipose breast tissue and risk of breast cancer. A case-control study in France.” Inform 10;5:S43, 1999
12. Bougnoux, P., E. Germain et al (1999)” Cytotoxic drugs efficacy correlates with adipose tissue docosahexaenoic acid level in locally advanced breast carcinoma”, Br. J. Cancer, 79(11-12) 1765-9
13. Smith, G. C., “Dietary supplementation of vitamin E to cattle to improve shelf life and case life of beef for domestic and international markets”, Colorado State University, Fort Collins, Colorado 80523-1171