These days, food labels can be confusing. This is particularly true for beef. Every package has so much information!
First, there’s the standard nutrition label. And then, there are claims about hormones, antibiotics, and everything in between. Sometimes, it even mentions how (and where) cattle were raised. It’s enough to make your head spin.
Two popular labels are “grass-fed” and “organic.” It’s all thanks to health trends and heightened consumer education. Plus, brands are trying to get your attention.
If you eat beef, learn what these words mean. It’ll help you shop – and eat – smart.
Cows are either grass-fed or grain-fed. But it’s natural for cows to eat grass. Grain, on the other hand, is cheap and high in energy. It reduces the number of feeding days, so it’s easy for farmers.1
Grass-fed beef is leaner. After all, the cows are eating plants.2 It’s a lot like humans and vegetables. The more plants you eat, the leaner you’ll be.
Meanwhile, grain is a high-energy food. It fattens up cows, resulting in buttery and greasy beef. Many Americans have gotten used to the flavor.3
2. Omega-3 Fats
Grass-fed beef contains more omega-3 fatty acids. These fats help prevent inflammatory diseases like atherosclerosis, cancer, and arthritis. They can even improve brain health and depression.
To reap these benefits, you need 1 to 4 times more omega-6 than omega-3. However, Americans usually get 11 to 30 times more. By boosting your omega-3 intake, you’ll have a more favorable ratio.4
For a vitamin-A boost, eat grass-feed beef. This nutrient is needed for healthy vision, cell division, and immunity – just to name a few.
When cows eat grass, they get carotenoids from natural plant pigments. These carotenoids are vitamin A precursors, meaning that your body will eventually convert them to vitamin A. In fact, you can see carotenoids in the beef’s fat. It’ll look more yellow than white.
Compared to grain-feed beef, grass-fed has seven times more carotenoids.5
4. Vitamin E
You’ll also get more vitamin E from grass-fed beef. As an antioxidant, this nutrient can fight heart disease, enhance immunity, and ward off cancer.
Grass-fed beef has three times more vitamin E than grain-fed. It’ll also have a brighter color, as vitamin E prevents oxidation of myoglobin – the red heme iron in meat.6
Organic meat farming focuses on the way animals are treated. The cows are raised in a way that mimics their natural environment. They can roam in a pasture and aren’t locked up.7 The opposite of organic beef is conventional beef.
1. No Pesticides Or Fertilizers
Organic beef comes from cows that don’t eat food with pesticides or fertilizers. Genetically modified organisms are also not allowed.
There isn’t a rule for what kind of food. It can be grain or grass. As long as it’s 100 percent organic, the meat is considered organic.8
2. No Antibiotics & Hormones
In organic farming, cows are not given antibiotics or hormones. These are typically used to make them stronger and meatier. But it’s not natural, and some are wary about the effect it may have on humans.
Genetically modified organisms are also not allowed in organic meat farming.
3. Omega-3 Fats
Organic beef is rich in omega-3 fats. In fact, it’s the most noticeable difference between organic and non-organic beef. The content is even higher if the cow is slaughtered in the summer.9
In A Nutshell
- Refers to what cow feed is
- Grass may or may not have pesticides
- Cows may or may not have antibiotics and hormones
- Cows may be free to roam only during certain seasons
- Refers to how cow feed is grown
- Feed can be grain or grass
- Grass and grain does not have pesticides or fertilizers
- Cows do not have antibiotics or hormones
- Cows must be free on a pasture
As you can see, grass-fed and organic aren’t opposites. They might overlap or be completely separate. This is why it’s crucial to understand labels.
Both options cost more than conventional beef. Decide what’s important to you, then take your pick. If you want the best of both the worlds, opt for grass-fed organic beef.
|↑1, ↑2, ↑4, ↑5, ↑6||Daley, Cynthia A., Amber Abbott, Patrick S. Doyle, Glenn A. Nader, and Stephanie Larson. “A review of fatty acid profiles and antioxidant content in grass-fed and grain-fed beef.” Nutrition journal 9, no. 1 (2010): 10.|
|↑3||Van Elswyk, Mary E., and Shalene H. McNeill. “Impact of grass/forage feeding versus grain finishing on beef nutrients and sensory quality: The US experience.” Meat science 96, no. 1 (2014): 535-540.|
|↑7||Organic 101: What the USDA Organic Label Means. United States Department of Agriculture.|
|↑8||Organic 101: What the USDA Organic Label Means.
|↑9||Kamihiro, Sota, Sokratis Stergiadis, Carlo Leifert, M. D. Eyre, and Gillian Butler. “Meat quality and health implications of organic and conventional beef production.” Meat science 100 (2015): 306-318.|