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Monday, February 8, 2010

Real Food Basics: Grass Fed Beef

The Real Food Basics series covers the difference between industrial (grocery store)  food and traditional, real  foods. 

Let's talk about cows. If you live anywhere rural, you've probably seen them grazing on grass. It doesn't seem so remarkable- until you realize all the work that is actually involved. Cows have 4 stomachs (okay, technically, one large stomach with 4 parts, but 4 stomachs sounds cooler). The first two stomachs start the process of digestion. The cow eats her grass, and it gets partially digested. But, not digested quite well enough, which is why they have to spit it back up and chew it again.  This cud gets swallowed, and is finally digested by the other stomachs.
It's amazing that a creature as big as a cow can survive on something as simple as grass. It takes a grass fed cow about 5 years to be fully grown and ready for slaughter.

Industrial Cows:

But industry has shortened the process: Feed a cow corn and it can be ready for slaughter in a short 18 months! Pretty much all the beef in the grocery store is grain fed (mostly corn).
Cows have long digestive processes adapted to eating grass, not grain. They are meant to graze in the open. When they are fed corn and live in feedlots, there are all sorts of consequences:
~The cows get fatter- usually they are about 30% fat.
~Grains make them sick, and grain fed beef increases the risk of E. coli in humans
~There are less omega 3's, vitamin E and beta-carotene in feedlot cattle
~Feedlot cows are treated with antibiotics and growth hormones to prevent illness and fatten them up quicker
(Source: Real Food, what to eat and why by Nina Planck)

Grass fed beef:
"~Grass-fed beef is naturally leaner than grain-fed beef.

 ~Omega 3s in beef that feed on grass is 7% of the total fat content, compared to 1% in grain-only fed beef.
 ~Grass-fed beef has the recommended ratio of omega 6 to omega 3 fats (3:1.)
~Grass-fed beef is loaded with other natural minerals and vitamins, plus it's a great source of CLA (conjugated linoleic acid) a fat that reduces the risk of cancer, obesity, diabetes, and a number of immune disorders.
Beef, in its natural grass-fed state, is a health food of the highest order." (Source: Mercola) 

"You are what you eat":
You've heard the saying "You are what you eat." Cows too, are what they eat. There are healthy, natural, grass fed cows, and then there are the grain fed cows that are sold in the grocery store. Michael Pollan, the food writer takes it a step further when he says, you are what you eat eats, too.  Grass fed cows are natural cows. They have stomachs adapted to eating grass, and they are at their healthiest when they are allowed to graze. It makes sense that eating a healthy animal would positively impact our health.

Where to Buy:
Check out for grass fed beef in your area.
Trader Joe's does sell some grass fed beef, imported from Australia.

When I talk about grass fed cows, I mean that they eat a diet of predominantly grass. Some cows are grass fed, but grain finished, which would be acceptable, if not ideal.

*I'll be posting recipes with grass fed beef later this week!


  1. Grass Fed Beef is a must have. We buy ours from US wellness meats. They've always been fantastic!

  2. oh you are writing what I have been learning for years. I love your blog.
    In the movie food inc. it also talks about the poultry they get to grow in record time, which is so gross.
    There is a market in Riverside, Sprouts, that will advertise special on grass fed beef every now and then. and also wild caugh salmon, not farm raised.

  3. I still haven't seen Food, Inc (besides the clips they showed on Oprah). You must be pretty local. I get my raw milk at Goodwins in Riverside, but have never been to Sprouts. We did a co-op for grass fed beef and it worked out to $4 /lb, for everything from ground beef to roast to top sirloin.

  4. My husband had a mild heart attack recently. His cardiologist said not to eat anything with "hooves"..beef, pig,lamb, etc. BUT our dietician said if we eat grass fed beef, it would be OK...thank goodness we can still eat some beef now and then. Thanks for your informative help.

  5. You said Omega 6 to Omega 3 being 3 to 1. Shouldn't that be Omega 3 to Omega 6 being 3 to 1? Omega 3 is the good stuff that is predominant in grass fed beef over Omega 6 which is the bad stuff.

  6. Anonymous, I had to go back and make sure I had written that right, but yeah, a 3:1 of Omega 6 to Omega 3 is correct. Americans get waaaay too many Omega 6's in our diets. Omega 6's aren't bad in and of themselves; it's when that ratio gets way out of whack that it starts causing problems.