There are many health benefits of grass-fed beef over conventional beef.
Technically speaking, “grass-finished” or “100% grass-fed” beef is what you will want to look for in the store to increase the health benefits that your beef contains.
Why is grass-finished beef healthier?
As you may know, cows have ruminant stomachs. This means that when they are grass-fed, they are able to effectively break down grasses into nutrition for their best health.
Alternatively, cows that are grain-fed suffer because the grain doesn’t digest well, gives inadequate nutrients and can increase the risk of illness and infection in cattle.
This reduced nutrition and inflammatory problems are then passed on to you when you eat it. After all, you are what you eat, but also are what you eat….has previously eaten.
Health benefits of grass fed beef vs grain fed beef
Is grass-fed beef healthier than conventional beef? All told, the answer is a solid yes.
This is because grass-finished beef contains more nutrients, antioxidants, healthy fatty acids, may decrease inflammation and is much better for the environment and ecosystem than conventionally raised cows.
Additionally, 100% grass-fed beef contains compounds that help maintain and build muscles more so than any other kind of food.
If that wasn’t enough, little or no antibiotics are necessary when raising grass-fed beef, so the risk of antibiotic resistance for people is much lower than with conventional beef as well. And most grass-fed beef is raised without the use of pesticides.
Let’s dig into some of these specific benefits.
Grass fed beef contains more nutrients
Overall, grass-finished beef is richer in vitamins and minerals and contains less unhealthy fats than its conventional counterpart. Here is a summary of the nutritional differences between grass-fed and conventional beef [R, R, R, R, R, R].
raw 8 oz
raw 8 oz
|Protein||43 g||38 g|
|Total fat||28 g||33%||44 g||52%|
|Saturated fat||12 g||43%||16 g||57%|
|Monounsaturated fat||10.4 g||20 g|
|Omega 3 fat||200 mg||108 mg|
|CLA (percent of fat)||.72%||0.33%|
|Polyunsaturated fat||0.96 g||0.97 g|
|Vitamin E||0.8 mg||2%||0.4 mg||1%|
|Vitamin K||2.4 mcg||2%||1 mcg||0%|
|Thiamine||0.1 mg||7%||0.1 mg||7%|
|Riboflavin||0.3 mg||16%||0.2 mg||12%|
|Niacin||18 mg||95%||9.6 mg||51%|
|Vitamin B6||0.8 mg||40%||0.8 mg||40%|
|Folate||28 mcg||7%||16 mcg||4%|
|Vitamin B12||4.8 mcg||80%||1.7 mcg||28%|
|Iron||4.8 mg||22%||4 mg||18%|
|Magnesium||49 mg||12%||38 mg||9%|
|Potassium||392 mg||11%||700 mg||20%|
|Zinc||10 mg||66%||9.6 mg||65%|
|Selenium||32 mcg||46%||30 mcg||43%|
|Choline||152 mg||31%||126 mg||26%|
|Betaine||17.6 mg||16 mg|
Grass finished beef is high in antioxidants
Fruits and vegetables are known for their antioxidants, but did you know that grass-finished beef contains a large amount as well? These antioxidants protect the body from free radicals and even help the meat stay fresher longer.
Specifically, grass-finished beef contains more carotenes, which are a type of provitamin A. This antioxidant also makes the fat of grass-fed beef have a more yellowish tone. An example is beta-carotene, which is 2 to 7 higher in grass-fed beef than conventional beef [R].
Grass-fed beef also contains more vitamin E, which acts as a potent antioxidant in the body.
Another major antioxidant called glutathione is also 2 times higher in grass-fed beef compared to grain-finished beef too [R].
Grass-finished meat contains 1.5 times more polyphenols than conventionally grown meat [R].
All of these antioxidants also help increase blood levels of antioxidants in people that eat grass-fed meat as well.
Selenium is a mineral known for its strong antioxidant capacity and grass-fed beef selenium content meets 65% of the recommended daily value.
Take home message about the antioxidants in grassfed beef
With much more total antioxidants than conventional beef, grass-fed beef is a much healthier option.
The increase in antioxidants isn’t limited to the meat; grass-finished milk and dairy products can have even higher concentrations of antioxidants than the meat itself.
And grass-finished dairy also contains an antioxidant called quercetin at levels that are similar to the amounts found in cabbage, celery, potatoes, and other fruits and vegetables [R].
All of this is to say that antioxidants should come from a variety of food sources, which can include grass-fed meats, grass-fed dairy, fruits, vegetables, spices, and herbs. A diverse diet is always best for health.
Healthy fats in grass finished beef
Each serving of grass-fed beef contains around 200 mg of omega 3 fatty acids, a type of fat that is necessary for healthy brain and cell function. In contrast, conventional meat contains little to no omega 3 fats [R].
The other perk to grass-fed meat is that it has less unhealthy fats like omega 6 fats. This type of fat is linked to more inflammation and cancer, so it’s good to keep it in check, especially if you are used to eating a Western diet.
Importantly, the omega 6 to omega 3 ratio in grass-fed beef is strikingly better than conventional meat, with a typical ratio of around 3:1 to 5:1 [R]. This ratio is linked to overall better heart health and lower risk of cancers too.
With less saturated fat and less total fat per serving, grass-fed beef tends to be healthier for people with elevated cholesterol levels. Specifically, the muscle parts, which are the edible parts of grass-fed beef, contain about one-third less saturated fat than conventional meat [R].
While grass-fed beef is lower in healthy monounsaturated fat than conventional beef, this is in part because it is lower in total fat content.
As a bonus, the higher antioxidant content of grass-fed beef may help prevent oxidation of the bad cholesterol called LDL.
Keep in mind, fat content even in grass-fed animals will vary by type of cow and other lifestyle factors. For example, meat harvested in the spring has more healthy omega 3 fats than when it is harvested in other seasons [R].
Grass fed beef is the richest source of CLA
A healthy type of fat that is present in some types of meat is called CLA, or conjugated linoleic acid.
Some, but not all studies, show that grass-fed beef contains about twice as much CLA compared to conventional beef [R].
One study even shows that the amount of CLA in grass-fed milk is 5 times as high as conventional milk [R].
CLA may help reduce body fat, according to a review study of 18 research studies in people [R].
High amounts of CLA found in fat tissue are related to a reduced risk of type 2 diabetes as well [R].
Another possible benefit of CLA is that it may reduce cancer risk, particularly breast cancer and colon cancer risk [R]. Women with the highest intake of CLA had a significantly lower rate of breast cancer than those who had a low intake of CLA [R].
People who have higher amounts of CLA in their fat tissue also have lower rates of heart attacks and heart disease as well [R].
While all of these studies support an association with improved health with higher CLA intake, more research is needed to determine if the link is directly related to CLA or other lifestyle factors.
But, don’t bank on CLA helping much with weight loss alone. Research shows that weight loss, if any, is negligible [R].
Benefits of grass fed beef: excellent source of iron
Grass-finished beef contains an excellent amount of dietary iron. With 4 grams per 8 oz serving, grass-fed beef can meet about 20% of your needs per day.
This is important because many people suffer from iron deficiency, especially women of childbearing age and a high percentage of children.
In fact, over 50 percent of women during childbearing age suffer from iron deficiency even with normal hemoglobin levels according to a recent study [R].
The heme iron in red meat like grass-fed beef absorbs better than plant sources of iron too.
The only time caution is needed with the iron content of grass-fed beef is if you have a disorder called hemochromatosis. In this case, it is best to limit your dietary iron.
Related post: 10 Iron Deficiency Treatment Myths | The Healthy RD
Contains a lot of vitamins
With over 90% of your daily needs for niacin and 40% of your needs for vitamin B6, grass-fed beef stands out as a nutrition powerhouse.
It also has about 2 times the amount of folate that conventional beef contains and much more vitamin K2 as well.
As you can see, you get more for what you pay for when you buy grass-finished beef.
High in electrolytes
Grass-fed beef contains higher levels of electrolytes than cows that are fed grain.
With around 400 mg of potassium per serving, grass-fed beef is a great way to get more potassium in your diet.
Magnesium levels in grass-fed beef are often higher in grass-fed meat than in conventional beef too.
Both magnesium and potassium intakes are linked to improved heart and brain health and most Americans lack both of these nutrients.
May decrease inflammation
With richer amounts of antioxidants and nutrients, it’s no surprise that eating grass-fed beef may reduce inflammation in the body as well.
Many of its nutrients, including selenium, CLA, carnosine, glutathione, and other antioxidants are known to help dampen inflammation [R].
In addition, omega 3 fats are well-known for helping reduce inflammation as well.
To date, no research has specifically looked directly at inflammation markers after eating grass-fed beef, but intuitively, it should be better.
Increases carnosine levels
Carnosine is an antioxidant that is found in red meat like beef and some research shows that there is more carnosine in grass-fed beef than beef that is fed grain. It is not found at all in plant foods.
This antioxidant is helpful for proper muscle function and is linked to improved exercise capacity. It may also reduce muscle fatigue as well.
Specifically, people with a disorder called heart failure had improvements in quality of life and exercise capacity when given a type of carnosine called levocarnosine.
People with higher levels of carnosine have a lower risk of diabetes and a lower risk of blood sugar levels. This is because carnosine is an antioxidant that helps protect the body, including the kidney.
Grass fed beef is rich in choline
Choline is an essential nutrient that is important for nerve health, fat metabolism, cell membrane structures and making DNA according to Healthline.
Adequate choline intake is also important for a healthy pregnancy and is associated with a reduced risk of birth defects [R].
Athletes, people who drink alcohol, pregnant women, and postmenopausal women are at risk for deficiency in choline.
Grass-fed beef is one of the richest sources of dietary choline and contains over a third of your daily needs.
Grass fed beef is rich in carnitine
Carnitine is a nutrient that is critical for fat metabolism in the body and also helps provide the body with energy according to Medical News Today. It also functions as an antioxidant in the body by protecting cells from toxins.
Red meat like grass-fed beef is the richest source of carnitine from foods. Each 4 oz serving of beef contains around 100 mg of carnitine.
Unfortunately, plant foods do not contain any appreciable amounts of carnitine, so vegetarians may run low in carnitine.
Grass fed beef tastes better
The flavor differences between grass-finished beef and corn-fed beef or other conventional beef are often dramatic.
Complex flavors and richer tastes are evident when you eat grass-fed versus conventional meat. You are tasting the richer antioxidants and nutrients here.
On the other hand, you often can taste and smell the corn when eating conventional beef once your taste buds have tried the higher-quality grass-fed variety. This is entirely unpleasant, for me at least.
It’s similar to the differences in taste between wild-caught fish and farmed fish. The flavor differences are unparalleled.
Grass fed beef is better for heart health
Red meat has gotten bad press related to heart health.
But, it is important to know that research studies do not typically differentiate between types of red meat when they are conducted.
This means that no research exists to show that grass-finished beef raises heart disease risk specifically either.
The latest research available shows that red meat, in general, doesn’t raise heart disease risk, but processed meats do.
And, as you can see by now, grass-fed meat contains plenty of heart-healthy fats, antioxidants, more vitamins, minerals, and CLA, which are all considered to be beneficial for the heart.
Eating grass fed beef is safer than conventional beef
When meat is sustainably grown on grass and forage and the grass is their exclusive food, there is much less risk for bacteria contamination.
Even more important, there are fewer antibiotic-resistant strains of bacteria, including MRSA (methicillin-resistant staph aureus) when eating grass-fed beef according to Consumer Reports.
Over 400 samples of conventionally raised beef contain fecal contamination, which is bad news for you, the consumer.
A study published in Clinical Infectious Diseases found that 96 percent of conventionally farmed chicken and beef had strains of bacteria that are resistant to at least one type of antibiotic.
Feedlot cattle are often fed substances that no cow is meant to eat, including candy, plastics, and other animal remains, sadly.
A better choice, without a doubt, is 100% grass-grazed cows. This is because they aren’t crowded in unsanitary conditions and are not subjected to disease-promoting conditions.
Better for the environment: one of the important benefits of grass fed beef
One of the major benefits of grass-fed beef is that it is clearly better for the environment. New research shows that not only is grass-fed cows better for the environment than conventional beef, but it may also be part of the solution to reducing carbon emissions.
For example, carbon sequestration in the soil occurs when grass-fed animals are properly foraging. In addition, the soil retains more moisture and plant diversity improves.
And a final and very important point is that the microbiome of the soil is greatly improved with grass-fed beef. This leads to improvements in nutrient content and carbon retention of the soil as well.
How to buy the best grass fed beef
The absolute best way to buy grass-fed beef is to buy it locally from a rancher you know and trust. This keeps the distance from farm to plate the smallest and also helps foster the local economy.
As the next best option, look for labels with the American Grassfed Association (AGA) labeling or meat that has 100% Organic Grass-Fed labeling.
Heidi Moretti, MS, RD is The Healthy RD. A registered dietitian for 20 years, has a passion for functional nutrition and natural medicine. Has researched supplements and plants as medicine throughout her career. Loves helping people gain function and vitality by tackling the root causes of illness.