Consumers are becoming more aware of the relationships between diet and health and this has sparked an increased consumer interest in the nutritional value of foods.
We are always told that when we are consuming meat we should be consuming the best quality that we can source. Grass-fed, free range, pasture raised and organic are just a few things we are told to look for when purchasing our meat. But all these titles come with an added cost, and with life already expensive enough as it is, do we really need to be eating meat that has been raised in this way?
Animals that are grass-fed are fed a diet purely of grass, whereas grain-fed animals are ones in which their diet is supplemented with grain, soy and other ingredients in order to bulk up the energy density of their diet. In New Zealand we are lucky that majority of beef is grass-fed, however as demand for meat continues to rise, pressure on resources increases and the likelihood of coming across grain-fed beef increases.
In New Zealand, a lot of pigs and chickens are raised indoors. This means they have little if any opportunities to go outdoors and therefore are fed almost exclusively a grain diet. This stresses the importance of purchasing free ranged pork and chicken. Even better, also buy organic as this will ensure that the food that they consume is free of pesticide, antibiotics and hormones- which again contributes to the health of the animal.
The fatty acid composition between a grain fed and a grass fed animal is very different. Firstly a paper published in the Journal of Muscle Foods suggested that grass-fed beef contains about twice as much conjugated linoleic acid (CLA) then grain-fed beef. It is suggested that CLA is important as an anticarcinogen amongst other things (1). Grass-fed meat also contains a much higher amount of omega 3 fatty acids, with some studies suggesting it is up to 5 times more (2). Omega-3s are essential in the diet for good health. You can read more about why they are important here.
Several studies also suggest that grass-based diets elevate precursors for Vitamin A and E, as well as important antioxidants such as glutathione and superoxide dismutase compared to grain-fed varieties. (3).
If you are eating meat, you want to be making sure you are eating the very best for your body. The few extra dollars you will pay for high quality meat is well worth it in terms of nutritional density- not to mention how much happier free- range animals are! So the take home message? Just eat real food… that eats real food.
1. Shantha, N. C., Moody, W. G., & Tabeidi, Z. (1997). A RESEARCH NOTE CONJUGATED LINOLEIC ACID CONCENTRATION IN SEMIMEMBRANOSUS MUSCLE OF GRASS- AND GRAIN-FED AND ZERANOL-IMPLANTED BEEF CATTLE1. Journal of Muscle Foods, 8(1), 105-110. doi: 10.1111/j.1745-4573.1997.tb00381.x
2. Alfaia, C., Alves, S., Martins, S., Costa, A., Fontes, C., Lemos, J., . . . Prates, J. (2009). Effect of feeding system on intramuscular fatty acids and conjugated linoleic acid isomers of beef cattle, with emphasis on their nutritional value and discriminatory ability. Food Chemistry, 114, 939 - 946.
3. Daley, C., Abbott, A., Doyle, P., Nader, G., & Larson, S. (2010). A review of fatty acid profiles and antioxidant content in grass-fed and grain-fed beef. Nutrition Journal, 9(1), 10.