Grass-fed, Grass-finished, and Grain-finished Beef Defined

Author Molly Hembree, RD, LD
Cows grazing in a field

Time to head to the grocery store. One of the most important things we can do when pondering sales, deciphering labels and making sense of the shelves at the supermarket is separating the fact from the fiction when it comes to what’s in our food. We strive to be informed consumers when it comes to understanding products. Check out Simple Truth Organic™ Grass-Fed Beef in your fresh meat case. What’s grass-fed beef all about? Should you make the swap?

“Grass-fed” is interchangeable with the term “grass-finished.” Both mean that the animal consumed 100% grass throughout its life (after any necessary weaning) and was only possibly supplemented with a select group of vitamins and minerals. On the contrary, an animal that is “grain-finished” also consumed grass the majority of its lifespan, but spent the last four to six months of its life on a feedlot, consuming a diet which likely included grains (mostly wheat), silage, corn and soy. Trading your old ways for “greener” pastures could also seem like the natural choice as a cow feeding on grass rather than grains more closely mimics the way nature intended. The plant-based diet of cattle provides all the necessary fat, carbohydrates, protein and essential vitamins and minerals the animal needs in the entirety of its life.

Ultimately, the nutrition of grass-fed versus grain-fed beef is very similar, surprisingly enough. Read ahead for a more in-depth look at the comparisons.

  • Calories: A 3 ounce serving of raw grain-fed lean beef provides about 154 calories. By substituting grass-fed beef for this, you can potentially save up to 45 calories per serving due to the leanness (somewhat less fat and calories) of the grass-fed animal. Grass-fed cattle have likely experienced more movement and a longer lifespan than grain-fed cattle.
  • Saturated Fat: The primary saturated fat in all beef is stearic acid. Stearic acid has a neutral effect on our blood cholesterol and LDL (“bad” cholesterol), yet does little to help our HDL (“good” cholesterol) levels.
  • Unsaturated Fats: The make-up of grass-fed beef is only slightly higher in polyunsaturated heart/brain-healthy omega-3 fatty acids and CLA (conjugated linoleic acid). Despite this, the best omega-3 fatty acid sources (1-1.6 g total daily is a good goal) remain oily fish (high in EPA/DHA), as well as flaxseed and walnuts (high in ALA). Grain-fed beef tends to be a slightly richer source of monounsaturated fats.
  • Protein: Beef is always a complete protein, providing all nine essential amino acids (as do all animal products other than gelatin, as well as spinach, quinoa and soy). A 3 ounce serving of raw lean beef provides about 24 g of protein.
  • Vitamins/Minerals: All beef is a good source of nine vitamins/minerals, including B-vitamins B2, B3, B6 and B12, iron and zinc. Grass-fed beef may be higher in vitamin E as well as beta-carotene (a precursor to vitamin A).

Simple Truth Organic™ Grass-Fed Beef is available in twelve muscle cuts (including several roasts and steaks), as well as ground beef (85% lean/15% fat). All Simple Truth Organic™ Grass-Fed Beef is sourced from animals born, raised and slaughtered in Uruguay, a country with a climate more conducive to year-round grazing. Eighty percent of the cattle found in Uruguay are of two breeds, Aberdeen Angus and Hereford. No added hormones (including any growth promotants) or antibiotics are administered to these cattle. This beef meets all USDA National Organic Program standards for USDA Organic Certification, including the freedom from pesticides and herbicides on their 100% grass diet. USDA Certified Organic standards promote sustainability, use of renewable resources and conservation of land.

Some proponents of grass-fed beef claim that it’s more flavorful, hearty and meaty-tasting than its conventionally raised counterpart. If you’re wanting to give grass-fed beef a whirl, try gradually introducing Simple Truth Organic Grass-Fed Beef into some of your tried-and-true recipes that use a moist heat method (stew, braise, simmer) rather than a dry one (grill, broil, roast) to cook the beef, being sure to focus on low to moderate heat exposure. Managing the temperature of your grass-fed endeavor should offset the over-cooking of this lean beef. Using a meat tenderizer tool or seasoning may also help in preparation.

It’s crucial that beef cuts are cooked to a safe internal temperature of 145˚F and ground beef to 160˚F. The shelf life of this product from manufacture (reflected on the date code on the product) is 23 days for ground beef and 32 days for muscle cuts, with an approximate 2-3 day shelf life after opening when kept refrigerated below 40˚F.

Armed with more information, you should be a little more comfortable on your trip to the store. Beef, when combined with other sources of protein (dairy, eggs, poultry, fish, nuts, seeds, vegetables, legumes and grains), can be part of a well-balanced diet, up to 10 times a week (each time making sure your serving size is 3 ounces cooked meat).