There’s nothing better than sitting on the patio on a warm summer evening with my family with the rich smell of steak on the grill in the air. Who doesn’t enjoy a juicy steak on occasion? As you should! Beef is a fantastic source of vitamins and minerals, including vitamin B12 and iron. However, choosing grass-fed beef is essential to ensure you’re getting the highest quality of nutrients in your meat. I will explain why in just a minute.
It may sound simple but it’s worth repeating… food is what fuels your body. It is where we get essential macro- and micronutrients. Your body depends on macronutrients such as carbohydrates, proteins and fats for energy. Micronutrients such as vitamins and minerals help support all of the body’s systems to function optimally. Food is essentially medicine for your body, so the source of your food is just as important as what you eat.
Finding high-quality grass-fed beef can be challenging. Even if you live in an area where you have easy access to grass-fed beef and organic fruits and vegetables, it can be expensive. If eating all organic doesn’t fit in your budget, I always recommend getting at least your meat from organic sources.
I have some great news to share with you about my favorite place to get organic meats, and how you can get organic meats delivered straight to your front door at an affordable price. Before I do that, let me tell you why eating grass-fed beef matters and what that really means.
What Does Grass-Fed Beef Really Mean?
Have you ever walked down the meat aisle at your grocery store and wondered what the difference is between “grass-finished” and “grass-fed beef?” What about “100% organic” or “natural?” It can all be a bit confusing and you might even ask if there’s really a difference.
The answer is yes, there is a difference between all those labels. And it directly relates to the quality of the meat you buy. Don’t worry. I’m going to break it down for you.
All cows eat grass at some point in their lives. It’s what they naturally do. However, that doesn’t mean they were fed a diet of grass 100% of the time for their entire lives. That’s why these labels of “grass-fed” may not mean what you think.
As our population grows, modern agriculture uses a variety of practices to accelerate growth, increase size, and speed up production. Commercially raised cows leave the pasture and are taken to feedlots, where their diet changes to grains full of steroids and other chemicals so they can fatten up for quicker production. The idea is to cheaply produce more meat to sell at a higher profit – grain is cheaper than fresh, clean grass. Surprisingly though, the meat for these cows can be labeled “grass-fed” since they did eat grass at one point in their lives.
Grass-Fed Beef vs. Grass-Finished Beef
In 2016, The Department of Agriculture (USDA) loosened its standards for the grass-fed beef label.1 As long as the cow was fed grass at any point of its life before it was slaughtered, it can be labeled as “grass-fed” beef. That label does not address the use of antibiotics, hormones, or pesticides. It also doesn’t mean that it was fed grass its entire life. A lot of times cows eat a grass diet while on pasture, but are fed a grain diet that includes steroids, growth hormones to prepare them for slaughter.
If the beef is labeled “grass-finished” that means the cow spent 100% of its life on a grass pasture, however that still doesn’t mean it wasn’t injected with antibiotics or hormones before it was slaughtered. “Grass-finished” means the cow has reached physical maturity and stayed on pasture. This process takes 2 to 3 years after its maturity, compared to 18 to 20 months with grain-finished cows. This is why grass-fed and grass-finished is a higher quality of meat.
However, the only way to ensure your meat is free of antibiotics or harmful chemicals is to make sure the label says 100% organic grass-fed beef.
Natural or All-Natural
The term “natural” broadly means the meat was minimally processed and is free of synthetic dyes, coloring, flavorings, and preservatives. The term is largely unregulated by the USDA for most foods except meat, poultry, and egg products. In order to be labeled “natural,” the meat must be minimally processed and free of artificial ingredients. However, the term “artificial ingredients” doesn’t include antibiotics, growth hormones, or ingredients that include GMOs. So while natural sounds great when you’re looking to eat a nutrient-dense diet, you can still be exposed to harmful toxins.
Now that you understand those terms a little better, let me tell you about another term to look out for when buying beef: “grass-fed and grain-finished.” That’s right, there is yet another way to label beef!
The Problem with Grain-Fed Beef
What exactly does that “grass-fed and grain-finished” label mean? Basically, it means the cow that your beef came from was grass-fed until the last few months of its life, and then it is “finished” with grains. It’s a more specific version of simply “grass-fed”.
If your beef is not 100% certified organic, there is no way of knowing how many toxins are in your meat. The reality is that toxic chemicals are virtually unavoidable in non-organic food.
Modern conventional farming practices are now built around the widespread use of GMOs, synthetic pesticides and herbicides, and the liberal use of antibiotics and growth hormones to increase the amount of meat the processor can get from the cow.
GMO crops are cheaper and more readily available, therefore they are the first choice for animal feed in the United States. That means your beef could be cross-contaminated through the food the cow eats. Unless it’s labeled as certified grass-fed beef and organic, animals are almost certainly fed a diet of GMO grains. The same applies to the food you buy at a farmers’ market or grocery stores. Stick with pasture-raised, organic meats, and always ask if the cow was fed GMOs.
Three Benefits of Choosing Grass-Fed Beef
Not only is grass healthier for cows than grains, it’s natural. Grass-fed beef is abundant in vitamins and minerals and is less fatty than conventional beef. Let’s take a look at the benefits of choosing grass-fed beef.
Packed With Vitamins and Minerals
Grass-fed beef is an excellent source of B vitamins, especially B12 and B6. Your body cannot produce these vitamins on it’s own. The only way to get them is through diet.
Vitamin B6, also known as pyridoxine, supports your body in so many ways from promoting a healthy inflammatory response, supporting heart health, and reducing the risk of Alzheimer’s disease. Vitamin B12 promotes red blood cell growth, facilitates healthy bones, and supports healthy hair, skin, and nails.2 Both are water-soluble vitamins, meaning they dissolve in water. These vitamins are carried to your body’s tissues and any excess is removed through your urine and not stored in your body.
Grass-fed beef is also rich in vitamins A & E. These two fat-soluble vitamins are essential to support a healthy immune system response, facilitate cell growth, and promote bone health.3 Since they are fat-soluble, your body uses what it needs and stores what it doesn’t in fat cells.
Zinc, selenium and iron are also abundant in grass-fed beef. These minerals are essential to support a healthy heart. Zinc and selenium play important roles in reducing oxidative stress from free radical damage.4 Your body uses iron to make hemoglobin, a protein in red blood cells to carry oxygen from the lungs to all parts of your body.5
Supports Heart Health
Grass-fed beef is significantly lower in saturated fat compared to grain-fed beef. In fact, it essentially has the same fat content as skinless chicken. Studies have shown that replacing the saturated fat in grain-fed beef with unsaturated fats in grass-fed beef can lower the risk of heart disease.6 Another upside is that grass-fed beef packs in 2 to 6 more omega-3 fatty acids than in grain-fed beef. Omega-3 fatty acids support heart health and facilitates a healthy inflammatory response.7
Full of Protein
You likely know that beef is rich in protein, yet do you know how much protein is in that steak you’re eating? Just 3 ounces of grass-fed beef contains about 20 grams of protein. Protein is very important to your overall health! It’s more than important – it’s critical. Your body needs high protein intake to perform a wide array of functions from growing and repairing its own tissues to supplying your body with energy. In fact, your body is quite literally made up of protein.
Protein molecules provide structure to many parts of your body including your muscles, skin, organs, and even play a role in your hormone function. Protein is a macronutrient, meaning your body needs large amounts of it for optimal health, as opposed to the comparatively small amount of micronutrients your body needs like vitamins and minerals.8
A Note About Vegan and Vegetarian Diets
Many people have adopted vegan and vegetarian diets in an effort to eat healthier and get away from the meat-centered Standard American Diet. As a functional medicine doctor, I don’t recommend a vegan or vegetarian diet, including vegetarian meat substitutes.
Avoiding meat can make it difficult to get enough essential nutrients including iron, vitamin B, and even protein. The beans, grains, and dairy vegetarians lean on as a protein source can lead to leaky gut. It can also increased inflammation throughout your body.
As I mentioned, your body doesn’t produce B vitamins on their own, which are abundant in meat protein. What’s more, iron and other important nutrients such as vitamin B12 deficiencies are common in vegans and vegetarians. It’s important to get your protein from animal sources to ensure you’re getting optimal amounts of the essential nutrients your body needs.
How to Get 100% Grass-Fed Beef
I’m so excited to share with you my go-to source for 100% grass-fed beef and grass-finished beef. I am also going to give you some extra savings. I get all of my meat from ButcherBox. It is so convenient. I just tell them what I want and they deliver it straight to my door. It takes out the guessing of whether or not your beef is completely grass-fed. It also ensures the cow the beef came from wasn’t given antibiotics or any other added hormones.
ButcherBox sources all of its beef from pasture-raised cows that were never fed grains that could be sourced with pesticides, GMOs or other toxins. I believe in ButcherBox so much that as a gift to you, I’m giving you $10 off your first order.
Butcher Box also delivers organic, free-range chicken and wild-caught seafood, as well as steaks, ground beef, and ribs. You can get a variety of meat from one place and guarantee that it is organic. This recipe for BBQ Ribs is a great addition to your summer cookout. If you’re looking for something to feed your entire family, I love this Easy Beef Roast recipe. Beef can even be incorporated into a veggie focused dish such as Veggie Stuffed Kabocha Squash with Ground Beef.
Getting high-quality nutrients is important. That’s why I always recommend eating a diet of organic fruits, vegetables, and meats. However, I understand that buying all organic foods can be expensive. At the very least, the meat you eat should come from organic sources.
- USDA Revokes Grass Fed Label Standard. Fred Hoefner. National Sustainable Agriculture Coalition. 2016.
- Foods High in B Vitamins. WebMd. 2020.
- Vitamins A and E: metabolism, roles and transfer to offspring. The British Journal of Nutrition, Vol. 93. 2005.
- Effect of the Interaction Between Selenium and Zinc on DNA Repair in Association With Cancer Prevention. Aysegul Yildiz, Yesim Kaya, and Ozgur Tanriverdi. Journal of Cancer Prevention, vol. 24. 2019.
- Iron: Fact Sheet for Consumers. National Institutes of Health. 2021.
- Grass-Fed Beef: Is It Good for You?. WebMd. 2020.
- Omega-3 Fatty Acids. Aysegul Yildiz, Yesim Kaya, and Ozgur Tanriverdi. Cleveland Clinic. 2019.
- Nutrition Basics. Washington State University. 2020.