Don’t be surprised as more and more beef jerky makers begin touting their products with the “Grass-fed” label. That would mean the jerky meat comes from steer that is raised on a diet of grass alone all of its life – as opposed to being fed with grain.
It’s better, right? Well, kind of. As a nation whose typical consumer eats nearly 70 pounds of beef products per person every year, we probably should know more about grass-fed vs. grain-fed beef.
Ok, so you’re thinking, “There’s no way a steer can live off of eating grass alone its entire life.” Well, it can. Steer are what are known as ruminant animals – they’re not like pigs or poultry. Steer have a digestive organ that chicken and pigs do not have. It’s called the rumen and it uses enzymes that can break down plant fiber into nutrients and glucose.
Where grass-fed beef makes a difference is by what good stuff and bad stuff it puts into a beefeater’s system. Most of those revolve around fats. Saturated fats are bad for you. Unsaturated fats are better.
Monounsaturated fats play a big role in normal growth and development, as well as brain function. Monounsaturated is good for humans in moderation. So you need it – just not too much. Grass-fed beef hedges against overdoing it because it typically contains much less monounsaturated fat than does grain-fed beef.
Then there are polyunsaturated fats. There are two main actors in this category when it comes to beef.
- Omega-6 polyunsaturated fats: Grass-fed and grain-fed beef contain very similar amounts of omega-6 fatty acids. These help with bone health, metabolism, and stimulate skin and hair growth. Too much, though, can lead to water retention, high blood pressure and may contribute to heart attacks and stroke.
- Omega-3 polyunsaturated fats: This is where grass-fed beef really makes a major difference, containing up to five times as much heart-friendly omega-3 fatty acids, which can reduce risk for cancer and heart disease. But they have also been shown to fight depression and anxiety, arthritis, dementia, improve eye and brain health, and even promote bone and joint health.
But there’s also something else. Grass-fed beef tends to be richer than grain-fed beef in antioxidants like Vitamin A and Vitamin E. Grass-fed beef contains carotenoid precursors to Vitamin A, such as beta-carotene. This is an antioxidant that sits in your cells’ membranes and protects them from oxidation. It is also four times higher in Vitamin E – which translates to a lower risk of heart disease and cancer.
Grass fed beef is also lower in calories and total fat. Grass-fed steer steak contains about one-half to one-third the amount of fat as similar cuts from grain-fed steer. It contains the same amount of fat as skinless chicken or wild deer or elk. It also helps lower that bad LDL cholesterol.
So, remember that no foods are perfect. The idea is to eat those that benefit the body through moderate consumption. Grass-fed beef jerky fits that bill.