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by Kunal K January 25, 2013 5 min read

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:

  • What you should look for to make sure you’re getting the right meat
  • Why it is so important for you
  • Where you get it from!
Ground Beef from multiple countries
(Ground beef in America - the perfect example of anti-provenance)

The How’s

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!” )

Vegetarian Cows Example
(vegetarian diet - grass is a vegetable, grains are vegetarian... what else would they feed them???)

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.

The Why’s

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!

(What else is in your meat that you don't know about? Check out the sugar content in this high end jerky!!)

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!

Why grass fed beef is better:
  • The typical Australian feedlot ration contains more than 50% barley and/or sorghum and balanced with whole cottonseed and protein meals were used as feed for Short Term Grain Feeding of 80 days (STGF) and Long Term Grain Feedlot of 150-200 days (LTFL) regimens.
  • There was a significantly higher level of total omega-3 (n-3) and long chain n-3 FA in grass-fed beef than the grain-fed groups regardless of cut types.
  • Cuts from STGF beef had significantly reduced levels of n-3 FA and conjugated linoleic acid (CLA) and similar levels of saturated, monounsaturated and n-6 FA compared with grass feeding.
  • Cuts from LTFL beef had higher levels of saturated, monounsaturated,n-6 FA and trans 18:1 than similar cuts from the other two groups indicating that increased length of grain feeding was associated with more fat deposited in the carcass.
  • There was a step-wise increase in trans 18:1 content from grass to STGF to LTGF, suggesting grain feeding elevates trans FA in beef, probably because of increased intake of 18:2n-6.
  • Only grass-fed beef reached the target of more than 30mg of long chain n-3 FA/100 g muscle as recommended by Food Standard Australia and New Zealand for a food to be considered a source of omega-3 fatty acids.
  • The proportions of trans 18:1 and n-6 FA were higher (P<0.001) for both grain-fed beef groups than grass-fed beef.
  • Data from the present study show that grain feeding decreases functional lipid components (long chain n-3 FA and CLA) in Australian beef regardless of meat cuts, while increasing total trans 18:1 and saturated FA levels.

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

  • Being Sydney based, we buy our meat from Grass Roots Urban Butchery (aka GRUB.) The meat all comes from Taralga Springs or Cape Grim.
  • Establishment 218 also sell some grass fed meats. I made some delicious BBQ t-bones after a soak in a coconut amino marinade for 48 hours :)

Check out GRUB in Sydney for a great way to buy some high quality and delicious meat sourced directly from Taralga Springs. Prices and weights fluctuate with the seasons, but you are generally going to get 25-30kg of high quality pasture raised and finished meat and bones for under $15 per kilo!

Useful resources we’ve put together:
Find Grass Fed Butter in Australia
INFOGRAPHIC: Why Grass Fed (& FInished) Beef is Better For You


What does Organic mean in Australia? Here is a link to the national standard 
Information about a proposed Grass Fed standard in Australia
CHOICE Beef Labelling Guide
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.
A review of fatty acid profiles and antioxidant content in grass-fed and grain-fed beef

Bulletproof on grass fed meat: https://www.bulletproof.com/diet/healthy-eating/grass-fed-beef/
Chris Kresser on grass fed meats: http://chriskresser.com/grass-fed-vs-conventional-meat-its-not-black-or-white
Where’s the best place to buy delicious grass-fed/finished meat near you? Please share your tips in the comments!

Kunal K
Kunal K

Co-Founder, OptimOZ.com.au

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