As I’m moving towards a healthier ketovore diet featuring lots of plants but lots of days where I am focused heavily on meat consumption, I’m digging into terms like grass-fed vs pasture-raised meat, poultry and dairy. I want to not only just lose weight but ensure I am eating the best quality food I can afford so that my health is top-notch.
In planning a well-balanced low carb diet, meat, poultry, and dairy are foods that cannot be ignored as they provide specific nutrients that are difficult to obtain from other food sources, so unless you’re a vegan or a vegetarian, you would want a few servings of those essential foods to stay on top of your health.
What is interesting about meat, poultry and dairy is that not only do the cuts of meat differ in taste and fat content, but they also differ in the way that the animals they came from were fed and raised, which includes their nutritional profile and flavor.
As such, two terms that have gained quite the popularity as of late are grass-fed and pasture-raised.
In this post, you will find a detailed explanation of how they differ from the traditional meat, poultry, and dairy products that we shop for so you can make the best choices for yourself and your family.
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What is Grass-Fed?
Traditionally, when animals reach a certain age, they are sent to feedlots, where they are fed with soy, grain, and are treated with hormones and other supplements that aim to force their growth.
When animals are referred to as grass-fed, it means that they are kept home on grassy plains to feed on their natural food, the grass, and thus grow naturally and more healthily.
What is Pasture-Raised?
A very thin line differentiates grass-fed and pasture-raised. Pasture-raised is a generic term that refers to animals raised in pasture – their natural habitat.
While the word pasture may lead us all thinking about “grass,” pasture-raised animals do not necessarily feed on grass alone.
In the pasture, you will find a variety of crops, legumes, seeds, and all sorts of plants and insects.
Some pasture-raised animals may also be fed with organic grains, such as soy, oats, corn, barley, and triticale, and be given other health supplements.
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Grass-Fed And Pasture-Raised VS Grain-Fed Products
Generally, the early lives of cattle start out the same, where they depend on their mothers’ milk until they are allowed to roam on pastures and feed on grass and other plants. After about six to twelve months things turn out differently for animals sent to feedlots (grain-fed) and animals kept at home or pasture (grass-fed or pasture-raised).
When animals are sent to feedlots, they are fed with grains, given hormones and other drugs to hasten their growth. They will have to stay there for a few months until they are moved to the slaughterhouse. To make matters worse, some of these animals aren’t just fed with grains, but with certain waste products known as “by-product feedstuff.” These may be in the form of candies, bakery and potato wastes, floor sweepings, etc. Gross.
On the other hand, grass-fed and pasture-raised animals spend the remainder of their lives differently, in their natural habitats, feeding mainly on grass, seeds, other crops, and insects (for omnivores, such as, chickens, ducks, and turkeys).
Unfortunately, conventionally raised animals, which are sent to feedlots, are forced to suffer unsanitary living conditions. Because they are often housed inside a small space, they live too close to each other and to their own manure, making them susceptible to various diseases.
To avoid such diseases, they are given antibiotics, but too much antibiotics can make bacteria resistant, which can become a huge problem when us, humans have acquired a similar strain.
On the other hand, pasture-raised animals spread their manure over a large area of land, producing organic fertilizer instead of a source of disease. The risk for contamination is so low that they do not even require antibiotics for survival. Additionally, animals raised outdoors are allowed to move around and perform their normal practices, such as, roosting, rooting, or grazing.
Fatty Acid Composition
There’s quite an obvious difference in terms of the fatty acid composition between grass-fed and grain-fed beef.
While grass-fed and pasture-raised beef may contain very similar amounts of omega-6 fatty acids as compared to conventionally fed beef, grass-fed beef contains very high amounts of omega-3 fatty acids – about 5 times higher than grain-fed varieties.
Grass-fed beef also contains twice the CLA (Conjugated Linoleic Acid), and is known to have less saturated and monounsaturated fats. Both omega-3 fatty acids and CLA are vital nutrients for humans and neither is produced by the body naturally and can only be obtained from the food we eat.
CLA is typically found in whole milk, lamb, beef, and butter. Meat from grass-fed animals has 2 to 4 times more omega-3 fatty acids than meat that comes from grain-fed animals.
When it comes to omega-3 vs omega-6 fatty acids, it is very important to keep them as balanced as possible. Too high of any one causes an imbalance in your hormones which can lead to chronic inflammation and lifestyle diseases that are hard to manage and cause life to be difficult. Grain-fed beef is horribly imbalanced as it is lacking in omega-3 fatty acids.
While red meat, whether grass-fed or grain-fed, is highly nutritious, grass-fed and pasture-raised beef still provides more essential nutrients, such as, Vitamin A, Vitamin E, Iron, Zinc, Potassium, Sodium, and Phosphorous.
Grass-fed and pasture-raised products often taste leaner. There may also be some subtle differences in texture, although some people may still prefer grain-fed beef. There is a definite difference in flavor.
The best thing to do is to try both and examine which type better suits your taste. But I feel for the health trade-off, it is best to acquire the taste of grass-fed pasture-raised beef since your palate may just be used to the grain-fed variety.
Grass-fed and pasture-raised meat products typically cost more than grain-fed ones. For some, it may be worth the extra cost because of its nutritional value, but not for everyone. Additionally, some people may have a hard time in accessing these products, since they are not always readily available in all markets.
Hopefully, wherever you live, there’s a farmer’s market or butcher nearby. Make these your best friends when it comes to shopping for food.
Grass-Fed vs Pasture-Raised
It is easy to assume that an animal raised in the pastures only feeds on grass. However, the truth is, ranchers may feed them with grains, especially during the winter months.
The same goes for grass-fed animals, which, do not necessarily have to be pasture-raised. Some animals can be kept in a barn, but fed with grass only, although this scenario is quite rare for grass-fed animals.
Grass-fed refers to what an animal eats, and pasture-raised refers to where it mostly eats.
While grass-fed or pasture-raised meat and dairy products are always preferred over conventional ones, there are some animals, which cannot be categorized, as purely grass-fed or pasture-raised.
Chickens and turkeys, for instance, are omnivores, meaning they feed on both plants and animals, such as, worms and insects. As such, you can say that a chicken or a turkey is pasture-raised, but you can never say that it is grass-fed. The same goes for eggs that are produced by different bird types.
You can also find pasture-raised pork in the market, but not grass-fed pork, since pigs need grains for survival.
The term grass-fed can only be applied to cows, goats, and lambs, because these animals can survive on grass alone.
Dairy products, such as, cheese and milk that come from these animals can also be referred to as grass-fed.
This is because everything the animal eats is within their body and passed to people through food, conversely what they don’t eat, like pesticides, hormones and antibiotics are not passed to us in the food that comes from animals raised in conventional farming methods.
The Nutrient And Health Benefits Difference
There are distinct differences between specific food’s nutrient values and how they affect the human body based on how the animal that supplied them was raised. Here are some important facts to consider when planning your diet.
Health Benefits of Pasture-Raised Meat and Eggs
- Provide more of good types of fats and less of the bad types.
- Do not contain harmful chemicals as a by-product of injected drugs and hormones.
- More nutrient-dense and so provide more nutritional benefit calorie for calorie.
- Pasture-raised meat and eggs are richer in omega-3 fatty acids. Omega-3 is a fatty acid that helps decrease the risk of high blood pressure, heart attack, and cancer, and helps prevent brain illnesses such as schizophrenia, depression, ADHD, and Alzheimer’s disease. As previously mentioned, humans can only obtain omega 3s from food.
- Rich source of CLA (conjugated linoleic acid), a type of good fat that helps reduce the risk of cancer and tumor growth. Like omega 3s, CLA can only be obtained from food.
- Richer in Vitamin E, an antioxidant known to have anti-cancer and anti-aging properties.
The Organic Element
Organic is another term that you may come across when shopping for pasture-raised and grass-fed food products. This term adds another twist to the equation.
What Is Organic
Organic means that food is grown, or animals that provide food are raised in an environment devoid of any pesticides, chemically engineering, or grain, on organic soil, without hormones or injections, and it literally means a “clean” environment or produced using organic agricultural ingredients.
The US Department of Agriculture (USDA) is responsible for organic certification on all foods. In order to meet standards that allow the “organic” labeling of food, farms, growers, and ranches must follow strict guidelines. The USDA performs annual inspections to make sure that farms meet all the organic standards.
Here are some key requirements that must be met by farms for beef, pork, and chickens to be certified as organic:
- All animals that become commercial food must be raised on certified organic land
- The animals can only ingest organic feed
- They cannot be injected with any antibiotics or added growth hormones
- They must have outdoor access (note that no specific time limit is required)
- Any organic feed given to animals cannot contain antibiotics, animal by-products, genetically engineered grain, or grain that was grown with chemicals in the fertilizer or persistent pesticides
- “100% Organic” label means that the product includes 100% organic ingredients and they typically have the official USDA Organic seal.
- The “Organic” label means that ingredients are at least 95% to 99% organic, and the other ingredients meet particular organic standards. This category can also display the seal.
- The “Made With Organic Ingredients” label can be placed on foods that have a range of 70% to 94% ingredients certified to be organic. They cannot display the seal, but the specific organic ingredients can be printed on the package.
- Other products that have 69% or less organic ingredients can also list those on the information panel of the package, they cannot place an organic seal or label.
It’s certainly worth being cautious about your food selection, but it’s equally important to know where the foods you eat come from, what the animals they come from eat and how they are raised.
As you can see, there are many health benefits to choosing pasture-raised and grass-fed products. Consider if this is something financially viable for you.
Being meticulous in your shopping can go a long way towards your overall health goals.