Eat the Meat That Eats Its Greens:
Nutritional Benefits of Grass-Fed Meat and Game
Lisa Brown, Staff Writer
Eric Schlosser's 2001 best-seller "Fast Food Nation" did much to shed light on the appalling practices of the industrial farming industry. Conscientious consumers everywhere are giving a second thought to the question of where the meat they consume is coming from. And yet, while we know that grass-fed, free-roaming ruminants such as cattle, deer and bison are healthier, happier creatures, the lure of time-and-money-saving supermarket meat can be difficult for the harried (and who isn't harried?) to withstand.
So, for the overwhelmed and/or lazy-ish among us (this writer included) who need an extra incentive to seek out the grass-fed meat we know we should be consuming, here's a rundown on just a few of the (quite impressive) nutritional differences between grass-fed and grain-fed meat.
Calories & fat grams
Meat from grass-fed cattle contains far less total fat than meat from animals raised in a feedlot - sometimes as little as 1/3 the fat found in feedlot meat. And of course, the lower the fat, the lower the calories. According to the website www.eatwild.com (http://www.eatwild.com/healthbenefits.htm), "a 6-ounce steak from a grass-finished steer can have 100 fewer calories than a 6-ounce steak from a grain-fed steer." Also, "if you eat a typical amount of beef (66.5 pounds a year), switching to lean grass-fed beef will save you 17,733 calories a year." Even highly marbled (i.e., fattier) cuts of grass-fed beef are lower in fat and calories than the grain-fed equivalent.
Bison meat is so lean (at 2.4 fat grams per 3 oz. serving) as to be the only red meat recommended by the American Heart Association. At approximately 120-140 calories per 3 oz. serving, bison meat has the same or fewer calories as a same-size serving of skinless chicken breast.
At 153 calories per 3 oz. serving, venison is another low-calorie choice. And going for the lean version (again, 3 oz.) will run you only 107 calories. Venison averages 2.5 fat grams per 4 oz. serving, which compares quite favorably against an equally sized serving of grain-fed flank, which is considered a low-fat cut of steak at 14.2 fat grams per 4 oz. serving.
There is little doubt that most of us would benefit from eating more foods rich in Omega-3 fatty acids. A diet rich in Omega-3 will pump up your HDL ("good") cholesterol levels while knocking back your LDL ("bad") cholesterol levels and triglycerides. Studies have also shown Omega-3 fatty acids to be beneficial in the prevention of cardiovascular disease and the treatment of rheumatoid arthritis and lupus symptoms. While seafood is an excellent source of Omega-3, mercury-contamination worries give many pause. Grass-fed meat provides the benefits of Omega-3 fatty acids without the mercury risks of seafood.
Grass-fed meat is far superior to grain-fed in Omega-3 levels. Grain feeding greatly reduces the Omega-3 levels in cattle while raising the cattle's total fat and saturated fat levels. According to Eatwild.com, grass-fed beef has 2 to 4 times more Omega-3 than grain-fed because "Omega-3s are formed in the chloroplasts of green leaves and algae. Sixty percent of the fatty acids in grass are omega-3s." (www.eatwild.com) Ostrich meat, venison, and grass-fed bison are also shown to be excellent sources of Omega-3.
Vitamins and nutrients
B vitamins are essential for brain and nerve function. Vitamin B deficiency can contribute to memory loss, anemia, and impaired immune function. Venison and grass-fed bison are mightily rich in B vitamins, with a 4 oz. serving of venison providing 60% of the RDA of B12, as well as 40% of the RDA of B2 and 38% of the RDA of B3. (World's Healthiest Foods). A pound of grain-fed beef contains less than a third of the vitamin B12 as a same-size amount of venison.
In addition to B vitamins, venison and grass-fed bison meat is rich in protein, iron, potassium and selenium (an essential micronutrient). Grass-fed meat is also found to be up to 4 times higher than grain-fed in the antioxidant vitamin E.
In conclusion, eating grass-fed meat will provide you with far more bang for your nutrition buck than will grain-fed beef. EatWild is the best resources for finding grassfed beef and lamb farmers by state; for sources of local venison, ostrich, and bison meat, please see our Games and Exotic Meats Sources directory. Local grass-fed meat can also sometimes be found at specialty grocery stores and butcher shops.