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Friday, April 17, 2015

Grass-Fed Beef - Beware of Twisted Language

With the increasing popularity of "grass fed" beef due to its great health benefits, there are an increasing number of imposters in the business that want to be the lowest price supplier. Here are some things you need to know before you buy.
  1. What does "Finished" mean? This means that the animal is physiologically mature; no longer growing in stature and frame; and is on a diet that will allow the animal to build fat reserves. Where this fat is deposited in or on the animal depends partly on breed of animal and partly on feed quality. A prime or choice grade animal will deposit fat within the muscle tissue. This is called marbling and is a good indicator of flavor and tenderness of the meat – particularly the steaks. A "grass fed" animal younger than 24 months or lighter than 1000 pounds live weight is very likely NOT finished."
  2. "Grass fed" vs. "Grass Finished" – Almost all cattle are grass fed for some period of their lives, especially the beef breeds where the calf runs with the mother cow for a few months after birth. Because of this fact, many will claim that their beef has been "grass fed". A typical beef animal is weaned from its mother, taken off the grass, put into a feedlot and fed corn or other high starch diet. This high starch diet causes very rapid growth and then high fat deposits as the animal matures. This type of fat is high in Omega 6 fatty acid or "bad cholesterol". Now, a true "grass FINISHED" animal continues on a grass (forage) diet with no grain at all. Because there is little starch in the grass diet, the growth of the animal is slower and the fat deposited is high in Omega 3 fatty acid (the good cholesterol). Because of the slower growth, the farmer has more time and expense in producing real "grass finished" animals. Thus the necessity for a higher price.
  3. Price – Now this is where it gets interesting! Ask these questions: Is the price based on live weight, hanging weight, or weight of the finished meat you put in your freezer? Who pays the butchering charger? Is delivery included? You had better ask these questions and use your calculator or you may be in for a rude awakening when you go to the meat shop to get your beef. In a general example, a 1000 pound animal live weight will be about 550 pounds hanging weight(this means the skin is off and the guts are out), which will be about 320 pounds of actual de-boned, trimmed, meat that you are going to put in your freezer. The butchering charges will be 40-65 cents per pound based on hanging weight.

Now as an educated consumer you will know how to read an ad that says "Grass fed beef right off our pasture-ready for butchering-weighs about 450 pounds. Only $400" I assure you that you will get what your pay for – a young calf, with no fat, very little flavor, and a high price tag by the time he is in your freezer.


Research spanning three decades supports the argument that grass-fed beef (on a g/g fat basis), has a more desirable SFA lipid profile (more C18:0 cholesterol neutral SFA and less C14:0 & C16:0 cholesterol elevating SFAs) as compared to grain-fed beef. Grass-finished beef is also higher in total CLA (C18:2) isomers, TVA (C18:1 t11) and n-3 FAs on a g/g fat basis. This results in a better n-6:n-3 ratio that is preferred by the nutritional community. Grass-fed beef is also higher in precursors for Vitamin A and E and cancer fighting antioxidants such as GT and SOD activity as compared to grain-fed contemporaries.

Grass-fed beef tends to be lower in overall fat content, an important consideration for those consumers interested in decreasing overall fat consumption. Because of these differences in FA content, grass-fed beef also possesses a distinct grass flavor and unique cooking qualities that should be considered when making the transition from grain-fed beef. To maximize the favorable lipid profile and to guarantee the elevated antioxidant content, animals should be finished on 100% grass or pasture-based diets.

Grain-fed beef consumers may achieve similar intakes of both n-3 and CLA through consumption of higher fat portions with higher overall palatability scores. A number of clinical studies have shown that today's lean beef, regardless of feeding strategy, can be used interchangeably with fish or skinless chicken to reduce serum cholesterol levels in hypercholesterolemic patients.


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