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You’ve probably been hearing a lot about grass-fed meats recently and are wondering if it’s really all it’s cracked up to be. Is it worth paying more? Is it really that much better for you? We have recently switched to grass-fed, free-range beef and pork and would not look back. Here is a look at what we have learned about the grass-fed difference. I hope this will shed a little light into the matter so that you can make the best informed decision based on your personal finances, ethics, and preferences.

Conventional Cows

For the most part, all cows start out eating grass for some period of time in their life. However, conventionally raised cows are treated far different from their natural grass-fed counterparts. Once a CAFO (Concentrated Animal Feeding Operation) cow destined for the conventional life hits around 650-750 pounds (which usually takes about 12 months), they are sent to feed lots. The purpose of a feedlot is to maximize weight and minimize overhead. Capitalism at it’s worst finest. The CAFO cows are usually kept in the feed lots for about 3-4 months to boost their weight to 1200 pounds. They do this by feeding them concentrated feed to fatten them up.

Concentrated feed can mean any number of things, but the base food is always a grain slurry, typically of corn and corn byproducts (husks, cobs), soy and soy hulls, spent brewery grain, spent distiller’s grain, and other cereals. CAFO nutritionists can get pretty creative, though, sometimes including cotton byproducts, old candy (including wrappers), beet and citrus pulp, and peanut shells in their cows’ diet. – Mark Sisson

The average feedlot is not a pretty picture. This is where cows are crammed together standing in their own manure (watch Food Inc. for an ugly visual).

So why don’t we want the beef that eventually ends up on our plate to be grain-fed? The ratio of omega-6 to omega-3 is all kinds of messed up in grain-fed. Not because the omega-6s skyrocket from the grain, but because the omega-3s are simply nonexistent. Why does this matter? Our bodies were made to live on a higher ratio of omega-3 to omega-6. Also, I don’t want cows eating something I’m trying to stay away from myself – grain. Grain does the same thing in the cows body that it does in ours. Lastly, cows were made to eat grass. Naturally, a cow will graze on GRASS, not grain and the primal lifestyle is all about eating as true to nature as possible.

Nutrition

Grass-fed cows shine significantly in their micronutrient profile than their grain-fed counterparts. They are higher in B vitamins, beta-carotene, vitamin K and trace minerals like magnesium, calcium and selenium. Grass-fed is also higher in CLA (conjugated linoleic acid). CLA is actually a trans fat, but it’s the good naturally occurring kind.

This good kind of trans fat has been linked to superior heart health, suppression of tumors, reduced belly fat, and greater fat loss in the obese and overweight.  – Mark Sisson

Affordability and Availability

The main reasons I’ve heard for not eating grass-fed beef is the price and the availability. It’s true, if you want quality meat you will have to pay more and/or it won’t be as convenient. For example, I pay about 40% more for grass-fed beef and drive about 20 miles to get it. However, because of the information above, I value this and don’t mind paying more when I can look the farmer in the eye and know exactly where it comes from. The availability has increased dramatically in the last ten years due to consumer awareness and demand – keep it up!

Ways to get grass-fed beef:

  • Your local grocery store. This is the most expensive option.
  • Farmer’s market. Many don’t, but you may live in an area where grass-fed beef is sold at your local farmer’s market, buy in bulk.
  • Local Farm. This is the most reasonable option. You can search Eatwild for farmers near you. Some farmers sell in bulk (whole, half, or quarter cow) which is the absolute cheapest route. You will need a deep freezer and space to put this, but if you find another person that’s willing to split, you can be stocked up for a whole year! This is our goal eventually.

The bottom line? Eat beef. Get the highest quality beef you can afford (note: we have made sacrifices in other areas to allow room in our budget for grass-fed beef). “Don’t let the perfect be the enemy of the good“.

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