Grass Fed Vs. Grain Fed Beef?


Photo by Andy Kelly on Unsplash

The end of summer is NEAR! When I think about summer, I always think about grilling! With

limited time left before school starts and the leaves start to change, I know I will be utilizing my grill as much as I can! I thought I would take a moment and geek-out and clarify some

differences in meat and perhaps give you some “food for thought” (see what I did there!?) for your next trip to the grocery store. While I love animals, I will personally never be a

vegetarian. I believe in supporting local farmers, and also consuming meat responsibly and

ethically.

There is considerable support among the nutritional communities for the diet-heart (lipid)

hypothesis, the idea that an imbalance of dietary cholesterol and fats are the primary cause of atherosclerosis and cardiovascular disease (CVD) [4]. Health professionals world-wide

recommend a reduction in the overall consumption of saturated fatty-acids (SFAs), trans-fatty acids (TAs) and cholesterol, while emphasizing the need to increase intake of n-3

polyunsaturated fats [4, 5]. Such broad sweeping nutritional recommendations with regard to fat consumption are largely due to epidemiologic studies showing strong positive correlations between intake of SFA and the incidence of CVD, a condition believed to result from the concomitant rise in serum low-density-lipoprotein (LDL) cholesterol as SFA intake increases [5,6]. Red meat is typically thrown in the category of “bad food” for heart disease. I try and stress that there is a VAST difference in grass-fed/free-range meats and their commercially raised, grain-fed counter-parts.


To start, I always try and emphasize that there is no such thing as "good" cholesterol and "bad" cholesterol, however, this is how many doctors describe it in attempt to make this topic easier to digest (pun intended). Cholesterol is an essential molecule we need to survive. LDL is a carrier of cholesterol that brings cholesterol through the blood stream and deposits it in arteries, often times in the case of repair. HDL is a carrier of cholesterol that picks up cholesterol that has been deposited for elimination. Things that raise LDL levels include smoking, trans-fats, stress, various saturated fatty acids, and alcohol. Things that raise HDL levels are the opposite! Unsaturated fatty acids (omega 3's), exercise, healthy living in general.


Recent lipid research would suggest that not all saturated fatty acids (SFAs) have the same

impact on serum cholesterol. For instance, lauric acid (C12:0) and myristic acid (C14:0), have a greater total cholesterol raising effect than palmitic acid (C16:0), whereas stearic acid (C18:0) has a neutral effect on the concentration of total serum cholesterol, including no apparent impact on either LDL or HDL. Lauric acid increases total serum cholesterol, although it also decreases the ratio of total cholesterol: HDL because of a preferential increase in HDL cholesterol [1, 2, 3]. Thus, the individual fatty acid profiles tend to be more instructive than broad lipid classifications with respect to subsequent impacts on serum cholesterol, and should therefore be considered when making dietary recommendations for the prevention of CVD.


If you just read that and your eyes glossed over- have no fear. Simply put, the TYPE of saturated fat you eat matters when it comes to considering if you should eliminate it from your diet.


Growing consumer interest in grass-fed beef products has raised a number of questions with regard to the perceived differences in nutritional quality between grass-fed and grain-fed cattle. Research spanning three decades suggests that grass-based diets can significantly improve the fatty acid (FA) composition and antioxidant content of beef, albeit with variable impacts on overall palatability. Grass-based diets have been shown to enhance total conjugated linoleic acid (CLA) (C18:2) isomers, trans vaccenic acid (TVA) (C18:1 t11), a precursor to CLA, and omega- 3 (n-3) FAs on a g/g fat basis. While the overall concentration of total SFAs is not different between feeding regimens, grass-finished beef tends toward a higher proportion of cholesterol neutral stearic FA (C18:0), and less cholesterol-elevating SFAs such as myristic (C14:0) and palmitic (C16:0) FAs. Several studies suggest that grass-based diets elevate precursors for Vitamin A and E, as well as cancer fighting antioxidants such as glutathione (GT) and superoxide dismutase (SOD) activity as compared to grain-fed contemporaries.


Fat conscious consumers will also prefer the overall lower fat content of a grass-fed beef

product. However, consumers should be aware that the differences in FA content will also give grass-fed beef a distinct grass flavor and unique cooking qualities that should be considered when making the transition from grain-fed beef [8].


So overall, consider grass-fed meat instead of grain-fed if CVD runs in your family :) As always, PLEASE supplement your diet with a high-quality omega supplement. We carry them in the office, or I am happy to provide you guidance on what to look for on a store shelf if you prefer. It is one of the simplest things you can do every day to decrease your risk factor for CVD.




Reference list (because no-one likes fake news):

1.Mensink RP, Katan MB. Effect of dietary fatty acids on serum lipids and lipoproteins.

Arteriosclerosis Thrombosis Vascular Biology. 1992;12:911–9.

2. Mensink RP, Zock PL, Kester AD, Katan MB. Effects of dietary fatty acids and carbohydrates on the ratio of serum total HDL cholesterol and on serum lipids and apolipoproteins: A meta-analysis of 60 controlled trials. American Journal of Clinical Nutrition. 2003;77:1146–55.

3. Kris-Etherton PMYS. Individual fatty acid effects on plasma lipids and lipoproteins. Human studies. American Journal of Clinical Nutrition. 1997;65(suppl.5):1628S–44S.

4. Griel AE, Kris-Etherton PM. Beyond saturated fat: The importance of the dietary fatty acid

profile on cardiovascular disease. Nutrition Reviews. 2006;64(5):257–62. doi: 10.1111/j.1753- 4887.2006.tb00208.x.

5. Kris-Etherton PM, Innis S. Dietary Fatty Acids -- Position of the American Dietetic

Association and Dietitians of Canada. American Dietetic Association Position Report. Journal of the American Dietetic Association. 2007;107(9):1599–1611. Ref Type: Report.

6. Hu FB, Stampfer MJ, Manson JE, Rimm E, Colditz GA, Rosner BA, Hennekins CH, Willett

WC. Dietary fat intake and the risk of coronary heart disease in women. New England Journal of Medicine. 1997;337:1491–9. doi: 10.1056/NEJM199711203372102.

7. Posner BM, Cobb JL, Belanger AJ, Cupples LA, D'Agostino RB, Stokes J. Dietary lipid predictors of coronary heart disease in men. The Framingham Study. Archives of Internal Medicine. 1991;151:1181–7. doi: 10.1001/archinte.151.6.1181.

8. Daley, C. A., Abbott, A., Doyle, P. S., Nader, G. A., & Larson, S. (2010). A review of fatty acid profiles and antioxidant content in grass-fed and grain-fed beef. Nutrition journal, 9, 10. doi:10.1186/1475-2891-9-10

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