Barrett Simon, Livestock Agent
There is a large amount of uncertainty regarding the beef products that we, as consumers, deal with. With all of the health claims and new trends being promoted within the industry, it is easy to get confused. While many producers in the Post Rock District produce and eat their own, home grown beef, I hope to shed some light on the subject for those that buy fresh meat products to put on their table. Grain-fed versus grass-fed beef has been a hot topic for several years now. While I’ve noticed many people are firm proponents of one or the other, there are a large number of consumers who are not aware of the advantages either product offers.
The United States has grown a unique market for truly high quality beef. We’ve recently added China to the long list of countries who are open to importing our much more consumer satisfying cuts of meat. Why has our grain fed beef risen to the top? Higher concentrate diets allow for cattle to reach finished weights faster with an increase in fat deposition. Our cattle are finished at younger ages and display a much greater degree of marbling. Grain-fed beef excels in the three factors that consumer panels have deemed the most important: tenderness, juiciness, and flavor. In regards to healthy eating, grain-fed beef does have more total fat; however, monosaturated and polyunsaturated fats are actually deemed to be the “good fats” that are important to the diet. These “good fats” are the same as the fats that consumers are often encouraged to eat in foods such as nuts or olive oil. They are found in much more desirable levels in grain-fed beef products. Of course we are all familiar with the cost advantage that also plays a role when deciding between the two types of beef cuts. Grain-fed beef will typically be between two and three dollars cheaper per pound.
There is no doubt that grass-fed beef is the leaner alternative. Being lower in total fat, many consumers think of this as the “heart healthy” option. However, this is a misnomer. The level of cholesterol in the diet has very little absorption or correlation to the amount of cholesterol within the body (Peveto). The real health advantage in grass-fed beef is the amount of Omega-3 fatty acids, B vitamins, and antioxidants that it contains. Omega-3’s are said to fight triglyceride levels within the blood. There are also claims of improved joint health due to the amount of Omega-3’s in the diet. These fatty acids are nearly twice as rich in grass-fed beef. Now, at approximately 35 milligrams of Omega-3’s per serving, grass-fed beef is still far behind the 1,000 plus that can be offered with salmon (Aubrey), but it is an improvement over grain-fed beef in that regard.
A brief note—when buying ground beef, realize that fat is added during the process to meet the desired percent lean. Ultimately, the fat content of ground beef is the buyer’s preference and is not effected by whether the product is grain or grass-fed.
After that, it is up to the consumer to decide on the flavor they prefer, the price they pay, and how they prepare the beef. While studies and panels may be able to predict palatability and consumer satisfaction, they can never fully pinpoint an individual’s preferences.
· Peveto, Kyle “After Years of Study High Cholesterol Foods—Red Meat, Eggs, and Butter—Are Found to Play a Very Small Role In Raising Cholesterol” http://www.theadvocate.com/baton_rouge/entertainment_life/health_fitness/article_4987ca54-6b24-5209-adde-bd93570a403b.html 7/20/14
· Aubrey, Allison “The Truth About Grass-Fed Beef” http://www.npr.org/2010/04/08/125722082/the-truth-about-grass-fed-beef 4/8/10
Post Rock Extension District of K-State Research and Extension serves Jewell, Lincoln, Mitchell, Osborne, and Smith counties. Barrett Simon may be contacted at Barrett8@ksu.edu or by calling the Mankato Office at 785-378-3174, Smith Center Office 785-282-6823, Beloit Office 785-738-3597, Lincoln Office 785-524-4432, or Osborne Office 785-346-2521. Join us on Facebook at “Post Rock Extension” along with our blog site at postrockextension.blogspot.com. Follow us on Twitter @KSRE_PostRock. Also remember our website is postrock.ksu.edu