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May 15, 2019

The difference between 'grass-fed' and 'grained' beef

Is one more nutritious than the other?

Healthy Eating Beef
Beef Meat 05152019 Image by tomwieden/From Pixabay

A cut of beef.

Do you really know where your food comes from? Concerns over both animal welfare and our own dietary health has for years put pressure on the beef industry to be more transparent in how they raise cattle for meat production. Unfortunately, there is still a lot of confusion over the meaning of some labeling.

When you go to your neighborhood supermarket for ground beef or steak, you probably see a variety of different labels on the packaging – including organic, natural, no hormones, no antibiotics added and grass-fed. A USDA Process Verified label means that the United States Department of Agriculture has evaluated and verified that the beef meets a certain set of standards set forth by the company requesting the evaluation.

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Beef can be “grass-fed,” defined by the USDA as coming from cattle fed only natural grasses throughout their lives after they were weaned from their mother’s milk, or “grained,” defined by the USDA as cattle fed a combination of corns, soy, cottonseed and other grains.

Grass-fed cattle are typically raised on open pastures, but some feedlots referred to as concentrated animal feeding operations do provide a diet of natural grasses instead of grains to their cattle, leading to some murkiness in the definition of “grass-fed."

When shopping for grass-fed beef, look for labels like American Grassfed, and Certified Grassfed by AGW (A Greener World). These programs have stricter verification programs than the USDA.

Besides the ethical implications of treating cattle more humanely, the question has often been raised: Is grass-fed beef healthier for you? Studies have shown that there are nutritional differences between “grass-fed” and “grained” beef, but while grass-fed beef is superior in some ways, the gap between the two is not large.

Here are some of the major differences: (Sources:,, American Grassfed Association and


• No antibiotics and hormones are added. Cattle are healthier and are unlikely to come down with infections or have liver abscesses

• Leaner, but has more good fat

• More Omega 3 fatty acids to help fight heart disease, dementia and arthritis

• More vitamins like Vitamin A, Vitamin E and Beta-carotene, which are all necessary for a healthy immune system

• About 500 percent more conjugated linoleic acid (CLA) which according to is “an essential fatty acid that has many benefits including improved immune system and bone density”

• More antioxidants like glutathione, superoxide dismutase and catalase that are important to cellular health and offer protection from debilitating illnesses


Antibiotics and hormones are used that may increase our risk for cancers, antibiotic-resistant bacteria and affect our body’s natural development, especially during puberty

• Does however have more heart-healthy oleic acid which is also commonly found in olive oil

• Still a good source of protein, healthy fats and vitamins and minerals

More research is needed to better clarify the impact each one has on our health. Also, it is important to keep in mind that even grained beef has a lot of health benefits and is a good source of protein in your diet. Grass-fed beef is more expensive and not easily accessible to everyone so you need to make the best choice possible for you and your family.

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