Cows are originally created to roam free and eat grass. With the consumption of more meat worldwide, producers have decided to mass-produce more cows to meet these high demands. The result: grain-fed cows in feedlots.
What's the difference?
Initially, all cows start out their lives in the same way: the calves are born, they drink their mother’s milk, roam free and eat grass, hay, shrubs and whatever else they can find in their surroundings.
However, once they have grown to be about 750 pounds (usually taking 6-12 months), the conventionally raised cows are separated from their mothers and are moved to large feedlots where they are fattened up to achieve the “marbling” we desire. These large feedlots are called Concentrated Animal Feeding Operations (CAFOs) and their main purpose is to maximize the cow’s weight gain and minimize expenses. The life of a cow in feedlots usually last about 3 to 4 months. Here, they are fed grain-based feed that’s usually made of corn, soy and other cereal grains. It could even include cotton byproducts, old candy, beet, citrus pulp and peanut shells. In addition, cows are usually cooped up in cages that are barely larger than their own bodies. Often, they are packed together like sardines where they end up standing knee-deep on their own manure.
Because of what these conventionally raised cows are eating and their unsanitary living conditions, they often become sick. To prevent loss and sickness, cows are given growth hormones and antibiotics. Once they are fattened up, they are moved to a factory where they are slaughtered and packed for supermarkets, restaurants and other commercial uses.
In contrast, grass-fed cows usually continue to live on grassland and are fed mostly grass their entire lives. They have not been raised in confinement and have never been fed any growth hormones or antibiotics. Farmers who raise grass fed cows are committed to producing healthy animals. Natural habitats provide sanitary conditions and less stress on the cows. In turn, they develop a stronger immune system and are able to naturally resist diseases.
Furthermore, the conditions of the cow when they are alive are as important as when they’ve been butchered into the meat we eat on our plates. On a cellular level, we are absorbing the cow’s energy when we consume them.
Does it really matter what cows eat?
As the movement into a more holistic healthy way of living increases, more of us are becoming aware of the fact that what we eat truly affects our overall health and well-being. “You are what you eat,” not only applies to us but also with cows.
As mentioned above, cows are created to eat grass. They are ruminants who chew their cud and have a four part stomach. Because their food stays longer in their digestive system, they are able to completely digest grass and convert the cellulose into proteins and fats.
In comparison to humans unable to digest cellulose because they do not have the necessary enzymes to break them down, cows cannot properly digest corn and other grains because they weren’t designed to. Feeding cows corn and other grains forces them to adjust to these types of feed and their whole digestive system becomes stressed. Therefore, the cows become more vulnerable to various diseases.
Yes, some could say that grain-fed cows still have some nutritional value but compared to grass-fed cows they are significantly less.
- Fatty Acid Composition – When cattles are shipped to a feedlot to be fattened on grain, they immediately begin to lose the omega-3s they have stored in their tissues. As a result, the meat from feedlot cows usually contain only 15 to 50 percent as much omega-3s as that from grass-fed cows. Grass-fed beef have significantly higher levels of omega-3s compared to grain-fed beef. The average ratio of omega-6 to omega-3 in grass-fed beef is 1.53:1 as opposed to grain-fed beef which is 7.65:1. Our society today is already consuming more omega-6 from our diet, with a ratio of 50:1 (omega-6:omega-3) as opposed to the 4:1 that our bodies need.
- Saturated Fats – In red meat, there are three main types of saturated fat: stearic acid, palmitic acid and myristic acid. Stearic acid has no adverse effect on blood cholesterol levels or other risk factors for cardiovascular disease. However, palmitic and myristic acid are more likely to raise cholesterol levels. Grass-fed beef consistently contains a higher proportion of stearic acid and lower proportions of the other two acids. Grass-fed beef is lower in overall fat and artery-clogging saturated fats and as stated above, has the added quality of omega-3 fatty acids.
- Conjugated Linoleic Acid (CLA) – Beef is one of the best sources of CLA, a nutrient associated with protection against diabetes, cardiovascular diseases and certain forms of cancer. Beef is one of the best dietary sources of CLA and grass-fed beef contains 2 to 3 times more CLA than grain-fed beef. This is mainly due to the grain feed reducing the pH levels of the digestive systems in ruminant animals, inhibiting the bacteria growth that produces CLA.
- Antioxidants – Grass-fed beef contains significantly more antioxidants compared to grain-fed beef. They contain more vitamin E, glutathione, superoxide dismutase (SOD) and catalase. All of these antioxidants play an important role in protecting our cells from free-radical damage. Moreover, antioxidants work together to protect the meat from damage during butchery to the cooking process.
- Vitamins & Minerals – Grass-fed beef contains higher levels of nutrients such as zinc, iron, phosphorus, sodium and potassium. Grass-fed cows contain more carotenoids, such as beta-carotene (a precursor to vitamin A), since they are pigments found in plants that are simply not in grains. Cows that consume grass have significant amounts of carotenoids absorbed in their tissues. These carotenoids make the grass-fed beef fat more yellow than grain-fed beef. Yellow fat is a sign of high nutrient density.
Overall, grass-fed meat is better for our health, the environment, farmers, animals and of course, the economy! The higher the demand for grass-fed beef, the more producers will try to meet this demand and the movement towards sustainability will increase.
Here at Fitness Foods, we choose to use grass-fed beef for all of the above reasons. Now that you know the difference between grass-fed and grain-fed cows, the choice is yours!