Consumers have been led to believe that meat is meat is meat. In other words, no matter what an animal is fed, the nutritional value of its products remains the same. This is not true. An animal’s diet can have a profound influence on the nutrient content of its products.
The difference between grain fed and grass fed animal products is dramatic.
First of all, grass fed products tend to be much lower in total fat than grain fed products. For example, a sirloin steak from a grassfed steer has about one half to one third the amount of fat as a similar cut from a grain fed steer.
In fact, grassfed meat has about the same amount of fat as skinless chicken or wild deer or elk.1 When meat is this lean, it actually lowers your LDL cholesterol levels.
Because grassfed meat is so lean, it is also lower in calories.
Fat has 9 calories per gram, compared with only 4 calories for protein and carbohydrates. The greater the fat content, the greater the number of calories.
A 6-ounce steak from a grass-finished steer has almost 100 fewer calories than a 6-ounce steak from a grainfed steer.
If you eat a typical amount of beef (66.5 pounds a year), switching to grassfed beef will save you 17,733 calories a year—without requiring any willpower or change in eating habits. If everything else in your diet remains constant, you’ll lose about six pounds a year. If all Americans switched to grassfed meat, our national epidemic of obesity would begin to diminish.
Although grassfed meat is low in “bad” fat (including saturated fat), it gives you from two to six times more of a type of “good” fat called “omega-3 fatty acids.”
Omega-3 fatty acids play a vital role in every cell and system in your body. For example, of all the fats, they are the most “heart friendly.” People who have ample amounts of omega-3s in their diet are less likely to have high blood pressure or an irregular heartbeat. Remarkably, they are 50 percent less likely to have a serious heart attack.
Omega-3s are essential for your brain as well. People with a diet rich in omega-3s are less likely to be afflicted with depression, schizophrenia, attention deficit disorder (hyperactivity), or Alzheimer’s disease.4
Another benefit of omega-3s is that they may reduce your risk of cancer.
In animal studies, these essential fatty acids have slowed the growth of a wide array of cancers and kept them from spreading.5 Although the human research is in its infancy, researchers have shown that omega-3s can slow or even reverse the extreme weight loss that accompanies advanced cancer.6 They can also hasten recovery from cancer surgery.
Furthermore, animal studies suggest that people with cancer who have high levels of omega-3s in their tissues may respond better to chemotherapy than people with low levels.8 Omega-3s are most abundant in seafood and certain nuts and seeds such as flaxseeds and walnuts, but they are also found in grassfed animal products.
The reason that grassfed animals have more omega-3s than grainfed animals is that omega-3s are formed in the green leaves (specifically the chloroplasts) of plants. Sixty percent of the fat content of grass is a type of omega-3 fatty acid called alpha-linolenic or LNA.
When cattle are taken off grass and shipped to a feedlot to be fattened on grain, they lose their valuable store of LNA as well as two other types of omega-3 fatty acids, EPA and DHA. Each day that an animal spends in the feedlot, its supply of omega-3s is diminished.