Grass-Fed: What Is It & Why Should You Care?
Here is the USDA definition of grass-fed meat:
Grass (Forage) Fed means that grass and forage shall be the feed source consumed for the lifetime of the ruminant animal, with the exception of milk consumed prior to weaning. Animals cannot be fed grain or grain byproducts and must have continuous access to pasture during the growing season.
In plain English, grass-fed animals must have access to roam freely in pasture and may not be fed any traditional “feed” substance made from grain or corn. So basically, grass-fed means the animal is eating and moving the way its body is supposed to. This is not the case in conventional feedlot farming practices and this is the reason why conventionally raised animals are very commonly sick and require antibiotics. And if you know a bit about how illness works, you know that it comes along with chronic inflammation and inflammatory conditions, which means we then eat the meat from an animal with inflammation. Yuck. Animal rights beliefs aside, here are the two key reasons you should care about putting value into how your animal-based ingredients were raised:
Research shows us that grass-fed meat and animal products have lower saturated fat, lower inflammatory omega6 content, higher anti-inflammatory omega3 content and higher concentrations of beneficial antioxidants like vitamin C, E and D than their conventionally raised counterparts. This means grass-fed provides a healthier nutrition profile for cardiovascular and metabolic disease risk.
Grass-fed animals are far superior to conventionally raised animals for environmental sustainability. They use less blue water (aka stored water, not just rain water), emit far less methane and actually rejuvenate the land on which they graze. Regenerative farming practices have shown incredible results in reinvigorating unhealthy soil and preventing erosion and soil exposure.
What To Shop For
When shopping for ruminant meat (cow, sheep, goat, bison) or their food products (milk, cheese, yogurt), look for Certified Grass-Fed labels as often as possible. For poultry, pork and eggs, you are more likely to see the term Pasture-Raised or Pastured, which is a less highly regulated term but does have the same pastured meaning and grass-fed and does require USDA certification. Grass-fed and pasture-raised products do tend to carry a higher price tag than their counterparts, but that is due to the increased labor involved in raising animals healthfully and the lack of subsidies for these regenerative farms. The more we vote with our dollar, however, the more products become available and at lower costs. That said, please do not fret if you cannot find or afford to buy grass-fed for every single purchase. Your body will be just fine eating a non-grass-fed steak once in a while or non-pasture-raised eggs in the omelet at the brunch restaurant you go to. Do what you can with what you have access to.
Another thing to note is that just because we know grass-fed meat is healthier than conventional meat, does not mean we should eat plate-sized servings. We still need to look at a balanced plate of primarily plants that are supported by a moderately sized portion of high quality meat.
Be sure to check out our recipes for all kinds of delicious recipes that can feature regenerative protein sources, such as these tasty Cabbage Stuffed Bell Peppers using grass-fed ground meat!
What is “grass fed” meat? (usda.gov)
Is Grassfed Meat and Dairy Better for Human and Environmental Health? – PMC (nih.gov)
Animal board invited review: Animal source foods in healthy, sustainable, and ethical diets – An argument against drastic limitation of livestock in the food system – PubMed (nih.gov)
Meat is Magnificent: Water, Carbon, Methane & Nutrition – Sustainable Dish