What are the Nutritional Differences?
When it comes to meat, “organic” and “grass-fed,” or “pasture raised,” are the latest nutritional buzz words. What does it all mean?
Buying beef these days is not as easy as knowing what cut you’d prefer. Should you buy organic? Should you buy grass-fed? What do these terms mean and which is the best choice for you?
The term grass-fed is used to explain how the cow that eventually becomes your steak was raised and fed. A grass-fed animal was raised on pasture. Its diet was the natural diet of cows: grass and shrubs.
Do you remember when your eighth grade health teacher presented you with a poster of a human made out of fruits and vegetables and exclaimed, “you are what you eat?” The same idea applies here. Cattle that graze on pasture as opposed to grain are healthier because of their diet. The cuts of beef that you buy from grass-fed cattle are thus more nutritious. They are rich in heart healthy omega 3s, for example, because omega 3s reside in the green leaves of the vegetation they eat. Grass-fed beef is also rich in vitamin E and beta carotenes. It is a good source of conjugated linoleic acid, or CLA, which may be a powerful cancer fighter.
Most farmers that raise cows on pasture are organic or strive to farm without the use of chemicals like fertilizers, pesticides, and antibiotics, but this is not guaranteed. The USDA has not yet developed guidelines to define the term grass-fed. However, the organization is expected to do so soon, calling for a diet that is at least 95% grass.
In order to be certified organic, cattle farmers must meet strict criteria. Their animals must be born and raised on organic pasture. They must have free access to the outdoors. They cannot be treated with antibiotics or growth hormones. Organic beef is thus free of chemicals. It has no additives or preservatives and it is not genetically modified.
Unless it is labeled grass-fed, organic cattle is fed organic grains. And there lies the problem. Remember that an animal is what it eats. Cattle raised on grain, even if it is organic, is not as healthy as cattle raised on grass. Therefore, it produces meat that is lower in omega 3s, vitamin E, and CLA than its grass-fed counterpart does.
What About the Taste?
Choosing which type of meat to buy is a personal decision. Grass-fed beef is nutritious. It is also lean. Because of this, the meat is less tender than the meat produced by a grain fed animal. Some people describe it as having a “gamey” taste.
Organic beef has the tender taste we are accustomed to, and it is free of potentially harmful chemicals. Its overall nutritional make-up, however, is not as impressive as the nutritional make-up of grass-fed beef.