Grass- or Grain-Fed Beef…Is there a Difference?

BeefBy Alison Acerra, MS, RD

No question about it, beef is a mainstay in the American diet.  Average consumption hovers around 270 pounds per person annually according to the Earth Policy Institute.  Public health experts have warned of the dangers of consuming too much red meat, mainly due to its correlation with high cholesterol and heart disease risk.   These animal proteins are a significant source of total and saturated fat in the food supply.  This wasn’t always the case however, and here’s where the story gets interesting.

Prior to the 1950’s, cattle were traditionally allowed to graze pastures freely, with grass being their primary source of nutrition.  In efforts to streamline beef production, conserve land, reduce costs, increase yields, and produce well-marbled meat, the industry changed dramatically.  Today, most cattle are raised in large feed lots, where their mobility is limited and diets consist mainly of grain or corn.

This change has led to significant changes in the nutritional quality of the beef available to us.   When it comes to grass-fed versus grain-fed beef, the grass-fed version is the healthier, more environmentally friendly (and many believe), tastier option (although it’s more expensive)!  You can have your beef and be healthy too.

Regardless of whether cattle are raised sustainably (grass-fed) or conventionally (grain/corn-fed), beef is a nutrient dense food and a tremendous source of high biological value (HBV) protein, iron, vitamin B12 and zinc. Beef has the capacity to facilitate the absorption of fat soluble vitamins A, D, E and K.

Nutritional Differences Between Grass-Fed and Grain-Fed Beef

  • Total and saturated fat:  Grass-fed beef is 25 percent lower in saturated fat
  • Omega 3 fatty acids:  Grass-fed beef contains  two to five times more anti-inflammatory, HDL-cholesterol raising omega 3s
  • Antioxidants: Grass-fed beef contains seven times more beta-carotene and three times more vitamin E, two important antioxidants with disease fighting benefits.
  • Hormones and Antibiotics:  Grass-fed cattle are raised without the use of hormones and antibiotics.

Bottom line: Grass-fed beef is the healthier alternative to grain-fed or corn-fed beef and can be enjoyed in moderation as part of a heart healthy, plant-based diet rich in fruits, vegetables, whole grains and lean proteins.

ALISON ACERRA, MS, RD, is a nutrition and wellness manager at Guckenheimer, an on-site corporate restaurant management and catering company. She has more than 10 years of experience in the nutrition and wellness field.

After completing her graduate studies in clinical nutrition at New York University, she spent several years in the clinical setting focusing on weight management, cardiovascular and diabetes prevention.

Alison invites your questions about nutrition topics.  Just post them here or on our Facebook page.

About LifeWise Health Plan of Washington

LifeWise Health Plan of Washington is the leading health plan for individuals in Washington state, serving more than 100,000 members. LifeWise offers individuals competitive plans that engage our members to successfully manage their health. LifeWise is committed to providing its members peace of mind about their healthcare coverage and has been serving the health insurance needs of individuals in Washington state since 2002.

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49 Comments on “Grass- or Grain-Fed Beef…Is there a Difference?”

  1. thejoyfulnoiseproject Says:

    Great Article. I didn’t realize there was a different type of beef at the market that was fed grass as a cow!

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  2. rami ungar the writer Says:

    This is why when I eat meat, I prefer kosher meat; pardon the expression, but we cut out the bull and treat the animals humanely, the way we’ve been doing it for 5000 years. if anything, Jewish cholesterol problems are caused by overeating healthy, safe, grass-fed beef.

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  3. vanbraman Says:

    I believe there is a difference in taste. I prefer the tast of grass fed beef. The nutritional benefits are a plus, but for me it is the taste that makes the choice.

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  4. Empowered Results Says:

    Reblogged this on EMPOWERED RESULTS ~ Creating A Difference In Our Communities… and commented:
    OK you meat & potato peeps! What do you think? Grass or Grain???? 🙂

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  5. Halo Halo Designs Says:

    I’ve been gradually decreasing the amount of meat I consume, and when I can, I prefer to buy grass-fed. The higher price doesn’t seem as steep, since I don’t eat as much of it. Very informative post, thanks and congrats on being freshly pressed!

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  6. petermonaco Says:

    Love me some grass fed beef. Thanks for helping squash the “red meat will kill you dead” mantra that so many like to repeat.

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  7. Andrew Says:

    We still raise cows on grass here in NZ, and I can definitely taste the difference when I eat American beef.

    From memory, buffalo are still grass fed in most places and their beef certainly tastes better too. Sure, it’s more expensive, but if that means you eat a little less overall, that isn’t a bad thing either.

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  8. Dawn Akemi Says:

    Our factory farmed and biotech engineered food supply frightens me. Thank you for your information.

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  9. Linda Says:

    Grass feeding is for milking cows. Grain feeding is for steers for butchering. A farm girl.

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  10. sallybroadhurst Says:

    Reblogged this on and commented:
    Here’s the beef on…well, beef! Great nutritional blog on choosing the best type of beef for your health.

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  11. yepiratemanaguagunn Says:

    Very interesting, to put it mildly. I certainly notice the many differences between local beef and beef from Argentina and Uruguay, where animals are grass-fed.

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  12. dmill96 Says:

    It’s a tastier alternative as well. We do a recreational that often involves taking us up US 275, which we call “feedlot alley”. Once we went a little further, to Valentine Nebraska and in the process drove through a lot of grasslands, where cattle are grazing naturally rather than the artificial feedlot environment. By chance we stumbled upon a steakhouse that had a cut we’d never even seen and was absolutely delicious. Not sure exactly where it was from but it wasn’t those feedlots. While we’re willing to be carnivores it’s hard to pass by all those feedlots and now feel sorry for those poor beasts. At least those grass-fed critters get something of a life before we end it, who knows if they can tell the difference, but it’s nice to think that actually roaming the range makes them feel better. But exercising those muscles that we end up eating, instead of just standing all day in a feedlot, has to produce better beef.

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  13. Mei Says:

    I always question myself whenever I go to the grocery store and pay extra money for the grass fed beef….good to know that the extra money is well spent. Thanks for sharing your knowledge!

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  14. London inventory reports Says:

    Is there a way to recognise which is grass-fed and which is grain-fed beef just by its look?

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  15. the typist Says:

    I love being a vegetarian.

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    • GiRRL_Earth Says:

      Amen! I love being a vegan.

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      • Linus Says:

        I doubt you are a true Vegan. You don’t own a leather hand bag? Your car doesn’t have leather seats…or you would walk rather than riding in a car that has leather seats? You clearly would never fly JetBlue then. If you have a son, you won’t let him play baseball…the ball and glove are leather. Because to be a true Vegan, you can’t use ANY product that comes from animals…even though the animals were put here for us. And don’t forget, if Vegan’s were around back in the good ole days, our society would look quite different now. It would have been kind of hard to expand West without eating a Buffalo or two. Those long journey’s would have been really tough going across Nebraska eating nothing but tumble weeds.

        In the immortal words of Denis Leary – “not eating meat is a choice, eating meat is an instinct.”

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      • GiRRL_Earth Says:

        Linus, Linus, Linus,
        I really didn’t want to go there with you because as the proverbial “they” say, “You cannot argue with stupid.” But here I go, arguing with stupid. To that end, I shared your ignorant comment with a fellow vegan and this is what he had to say:
        “They are not all bad points. I would tell him that being vegan means you don’t “support” animal cruelty to the best of your ability. For example, I didn’t get the hybrid Ford Fusion because it had leather seats. I chose to get the stripped down version of the car because I didn’t want leather. If he did his research he would have mentioned that the tires in your car probably have animal products, that’s something you cannot practically avoid in my opinion. You can also tell him you look at the ground when you walk so you don’t step on ants, you have the PETA bug catcher for spiders and flies in your house, you wash microbes off your tomatoes before you eat, you don’t use products that were tested on animals, etc. but it won’t matter. The bottom line is you want to be the best person you can be and not eating or wearing animal products gets you there. Even if you walked to every place you went he would argue that you can’t eat anything that was trucked to its destination because of the tire affect. That is, if he was informed enough.
        The ignorance shines through in his other points. I don’t have to tell you that humans evolved as herbivores but rather than explaining evolution to somebody that may not have the capacity to understand it just simply ask how elephants or giraffes would do it? They travel clear across countries in order to get to water. I’m also pretty sure you could find more than tumble weeds in Nebraska. I resent the belittling of humans… The same species that created the pyramids are not capable of dragging food across a state? And it’s not surprising that he’s looking up to Denis Leary. A comic who makes a living off of re-ensuring people’s biases. Maybe he should turn off comedy central and pick up a book written by Peter Singer, a well respected philosopher who will tell him why meat is absolutely a choice here or the China Study which would inform him of the dangers of eating meat. Lastly, if eating meat is an instinct, why doesn’t he run after a deer, or rabbit or even a turkey in his back yard and sink his teeth into its flesh for dinner tonight?

        Like

      • Thomas Says:

        Linus, I take strong exception to your post. First of all, who said that animals were put here for us? What is your source? The Bible? What about the dozens of other hominid species that preceded us? Were they put here for us as well? What about Homo neanderthalensis (Neanderthals) that lived concurrently with modern humans? They were bigger and stronger than us and their brains were about as large. They looked virtually identical to us. Did God intend for us to have dominion over them as well? What about the 99% of all species that have ever existed on Earth that are now extinct, most of whom preceded the emergence of Homo sapiens? Were they all put here for us as well? Billions of years of evolution and progress and extinction, all just to make fossil fuels for our Sea-Doos? What about microbes and bacteria and viruses? Were they put here for us, so that we might have dominion over them? One could argue that many of them have dominion over us. To simply say “animals were put here for us,” without so much as citing a single source or conveying any rationale for such a profound and sweeping statement seems to me a very arrogant thing to do.

        As for your Denis Leary quote, I object to the notion that eating meat is an instinct. Whenever I’ve watched young children interact with the world, and in particular with animals, I’ve never concluded from those observations that eating other animals is instinctual for human beings. Think back to when you were a child and you first encountered a cow or a chicken or a horse. What was your instinct then? Did you salivate at the sight of the animal? Did you feel an irresistable urge to pounce on it and sink your woefully inadequate teeth into the animal’s hide and its warm, pulsating flesh underneath? Do you enjoy raw, blood drenched flesh Linus? Does that satisfy your instincts, or like most humans do you find it repulsive?

        Just because you and I and so many others have been conditioned since a child to enjoy highly disguised animal flesh that has been cooked and modified and processed to the point where it no longer evokes in you any association with an actual living creature does not mean that eating meat is “instinctual.” Eating meat is instinctual for many animals. That fact is easily observed in kittens that will salivate at the sight of a rodent and pounce on it and kill it. They genuinely do appear to savor and enjoy raw flesh. However, I have yet to see a three-year old human compelled by insinct to behave in the same fashion and, when I think objectively about it, I don’t believe I am inherently endowed with even the slightest instinct to devour other animals.

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  16. the typist Says:

    I like being a vegetarian!

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  17. Marc Says:

    I am a vegetarian but I have not been one for very long. This post makes me think that I should take advantage of being a human and therefore, smarter than cattle and not worry about them having to die for me since all I am trying to do is eating what makes nutritionally sense. Protein, Iron, Vitamin B-12… sounds all very good. I will keep it in mind!

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  18. father2bblog Says:

    Where you live are you able to identify whether or not your beef has been grain or grass fed? If so , what do you have to look for because I am not sure we have that kind of information available to the consumer in the UK.
    – Is there any other way to find out?

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  19. father2bblog Says:

    Oh and congrats of FP

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  20. Karen Says:

    I try always to go for grass! Thanks for the post!

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  21. ceciliag Says:

    Excellent and this is why I have a little block of land with a lot of grass and my cows are grass fed. It is just too scary to eat store bought meat anymore.. I know I am pretty lucky to be able to grow my own but I love to share!! Have a lovely day.. celi

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  22. Sarah Says:

    I live in New England, not big cattle country, but we do have some local grass-fed options. I usually opt for them, but it’s nice to have the rationale laid out so clearly. Thanks, and congratulations for being Freshly Pressed!

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  23. The Hungry Architect Says:

    Not to mention the fact that grass-fed is (more often than not) automatically free-range and organic!
    The age of food awareness is approaching – or should I say returning? Great post!

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  24. the audacious amateur blogger Says:

    The carnivore in me thanks you!

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  25. Liz Alexander Says:

    Hm. This makes me wonder if paying the extra at the health food mart would be worth it..

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  26. Along A Path Says:

    But you didn’t discuss the fact that cattle cannot digest corn. The high acidity of corn cannot be processed in the ph neutral stomachs of cows so they are ridden with intestinal tract disorders, which in turn increases the growth of e-coli.

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  27. A Spare Mind Says:

    Congrats on being Freshly Pressed!

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  28. irtclothing Says:

    Just the title alone was very interesting. I just had to read this. Good job 🙂

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  29. GiRRL_Earth Says:

    …Or you could avoid beef altogether and become a vegan. Grass-fed/Grain-fed, Kosher, humanely raised or factory farmed there is no such thing as happy meat. Even “humanely raised” beef is slaughtered in the same manner, in the same slaughter facilities as tortured factory-farmed animals.

    No one has explained the reasons why we should get animals off the menu better the Philip Wollen:

    http://freefromharm.org/videos/educational-inspiring-talks/philip-wollen-australian-philanthropist-former-vp-of-citibank-makes-blazing-animal-rights-speech/

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  30. littlecitybot Says:

    wow interesting…i’ve always wondered what difference it makes what the animals are fed. also holy crap 270 pounds of beer per person annually?! that’s like an entire cow per person

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  31. Rebecca Says:

    Reblogged this on Five Holts and commented:
    This is a nice summary of the differences between grain an grass fed beef.

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  32. rushoffthefarm Says:

    Did you know that beef cattle are not raised in feedlots? That seems to be a common misconception among beef consumers. Cattle are actually born on farms and raised on grass pastures–that is the most efficient and healthy way. Grain-fed cattle are over a year old when they are moved to feedlots from grazing in pastures. They will spend 4-6 months in a feedlot being “finished” on grain to get the nice grain-fed beef that some consumers prefer. If you prefer the grassfed beef flavor that is great too. The beef industry is fortunate to be able to fill many niches of consumer tastes. Some want lean beef, some want prime cuts, some want grass finished. But keep in mind that however the cut beef gets to the you, that animal started on a grass pasture and was raised by farmers, ranchers and feedlot operators that care about their animals and the land and/or grain that nurtures them.

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  33. It's only P! Says:

    Thank you so much for pointing that out! Pork also qualifies as red meat and has the highest fat content of any meat (even if you can’t see it). Choices… choices. One of the best choices, in my opinion, is to just eat a little less of it – for starters. Great way to hide the fact that it’s a smaller portion of beef (because isn’t THAT the biggest problem for many?) is to make stir fries. 🙂

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  34. www.macuisineetvous.com Says:

    thank for share.

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  35. theinfinitejourneyblog Says:

    Thank u for posting this!!

    Like

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Trackbacks/Pingbacks

  1. Grass- or Grain-Fed Beef… – LifeWise Washington News | Organic Food Home Delivery - August 24, 2012

    […] The nutritional benefits are a plus, but for me it is the taste that makes the choice. Reply …lifewisewanews.com/…/grass-or-grain-fed-beefis-there-a-differ… Share and […]

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  2. What’s the difference between grass and grain fed beef? | Inner Self Fitness - August 24, 2012

    […] This blog has a great explanation about what the difference is. Grass fed is not only better for us and the animal but also for the environment. […]

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