An important health consideration is the issue of grass (pasture) vs grain fed meat (lamb and beef). It’s widely promoted in the various paleo communities that ruminant (grass-fed) meat is a superior choice nutritionally, we’re going to run through:
Since all cattle in Australia eat grass or crops at some stage during their lifetime, it is important to check that the meat you’re buying was also finished with grass / crops rather than on grain-based feedstock to fatten them up before slaughter. Nutrient quality of grain finished cattle is comparable to cattle that have been fed grain their whole lives, even feeding grain for 30 days before slaughter will affect meat quality.
In addition to carefully selecting your beef or other meats, you will want to make sure any livestock-derived products like butter, milk and cheese (if you’re a hedon!) come from grass-fed animals. There is a common misconception that Organic labelled products are grass-fed, but it is possible to have organic grain-fed livestock, but the packaging label will not differentiate.(When I pointed out this fact to a shop assistant at Dr Earth, she verified with her manager and then said: “That makes me really angry!” )
Organic does not necessarily mean Grass Fed.
While the national standard for Organic Livestock nutrition calls for the animal to be fed their natural diet (grass/pasture) there is some leeway. If the standard cannot be met, up to 5% of the feed ration can be substituted.
A study by RMIT University in Melbourne looking at the effect of cattle feeding systems on nutritional value found that only grass-fed beef reached the Food Standards Australia and New Zealand recommended target of more than 30mg of long chain n-3 FA/100 g of muscle for a food to be considered a source of omega-3 fatty acids.
The proportions of trans 18:1 and Omega-6 Fatty Acids (FA) were higher for both grain-fed beef groups versus grass-fed beef. Data from the study revealed that grain-feeding decreases functional lipid components (long chain omega-3 FA) and Conjugated Linoleic Acids (CLA - preventative and regenerative benefits) in Australian beef regardless of meat cuts, while increasing total trans 18:1 and saturated FA levels.
Grass fed and finished meat also gives you healthy doses of Vitamin E and Vitamin A as a result of increased precursor availability. Antioxidants such as glutathione and superoxide dismutase are also more prevalent in grass fed vs grain-finished animals.
Grass-fed meats are a staple of the Paleo and BulletProof Diets, and there is fat on every cut of meat you can eat. Eating grass finished turns the fat from junk-food into super-food!
Grass Fed does not necessarily mean Grass Finished
It is not uncommon for the cattle to be given grain-heavy feedstock to fatten them up before slaughter. To maximize the favorable lipid profile (good fats!) and to guarantee the elevated antioxidant content, cattle should be finished on 100% grass or pasture-based diets. Always ask your butcher if you’re unsure.
Note also that Wagyu Beef (you know that top dollar stuff?) is grain fed. According to Wikipedia, Australian wagyu cattle are grain fed for the last 300–500 days of production. Just goes to show that even though grain-fed meat can cost more and taste better (to some), it doesn’t make it good for you!
Source: Daley CA, Abbott A, Doyle PS, Nader GA, Larson S. Effect of feeding systems on omega-3 fatty acids, conjugated linoleic acid and trans fatty acids in Australian beef cuts: potential impact on human health. College of Agriculture, California State University, Chico, CA, USA.
Chart showing the negative impact of grain feeding on CLA and Omega 3 levels in beef
Places to Buy Grass Finished Beef and Lamb
Useful resources we’ve put together:
Find Grass Fed Butter in Australia
INFOGRAPHIC: Why Grass Fed (& FInished) Beef is Better For You