Grassfed vs. Grain Fed. What’s the Difference and is it a Deal Breaker?

Contributed by Amy Kubal, MS, RD, registered Paleo Dietitian and the ring leader of Robb Woff’s RD consulting team. Post courtesy of Robb Wolf. Photo courtesy of our friends at Q7 Ranch & Mother Hen Poultry.

Cattle graze at Q7 Ranch in Marengo.

It’s time for the weekly trip to the grocery store and the purse strings are a little tight this go round. You’re standing in the meat section comparing prices:  Grassfed Flank Steak – $9.99/lb, Feedlot Flank Steak – $4.99/lb. Holy Cow!! That’s $5/lb difference – and considering you need four pounds that’s $20. Ugh!  What do you do and what’s the big deal?

The most obvious differences between grass and grain fed meats are the animal’s diet and living environment prior to butchering.  The grassfed variety was most likely raised on a pasture eating primarily grasses while the grain eaters are most commonly feedlot cattle.  From an ethics perspective grassfed is most often the best choice.  Now let’s look at the nutrition side of things.

Here’s a comparison of grass vs. grain fed beef:

Ground Beef
(100 Gram Serving)
Kcals Fat (g) Saturated Fat (g) Omega-3 (g) Protein (g) Niacin (mg)
Grassfed 192 12.7 5.0 0.88 19.0 4.8
Grain fed  – 85/15 215 15.0 5.9 0.05 18.6 4.6

The obvious (USDA Nutrition Database available) statistics may not seem all that remarkable – but overall grassfed beef is higher in long chain omega 3 fats and Conjugated Linoleic Acid (CLA), some B-vitamins, carotinoids and trace minerals. Additionally, levels of trans and saturated fats tend to be lower in grassfed meats.  While not overwhelming, these small nutrient variations add up quickly when the frequency and amounts consumed are taken into consideration. But is grain fed meat a deal breaker if you want to be paleo?

If grass fed meat isn’t in your budget that doesn’t mean you should throw in the towel and head over to the tofu section! Do the best that you can! Select the highest quality meat possible, (this does not mean the hamburger that is sold in tubes at Wal-Mart). Watch for sales on grassfed and/or high quality cuts of meat. If grain fed is your choice, select lean cuts and lean ground meats. If possible buy your meat from a local rancher/farmer and in quantity. This is often cheaper and you can see how the animals were raised – not all grain fed cattle are a product of antibiotic pumping, dirty feeding, corporate feedlots.  Often the local farmers grow the crops that feed their herds and take very good care of their animals. Again, do the best that you can!

Lastly, consider your priorities. If you are buying a cup of coffee at Starbucks every morning, eating out frequently, or spending your money on movies, gaming, etc; and still insist that grassfed meat is too expensive, it may be time for you to reconsider what’s really important. It’s your Moo-ve!

Posted in Coach's Column.