The Benefits of Grass Fed Beef

grass fed beefImagine a cow happily strolling through a bright green pasture, grazing on grass and enjoying a relaxing day in the sun. Now imagine another cow confined to a pen, where she is shoulder-to-shoulder with other cows. She rarely sees sunlight; she is pumped full of antibiotics daily; she wallows around in her own excrement; and she’s fed an unnatural diet of grains loaded with growth hormones so she can be slaughtered faster.

I speak of two extremes, of course. But the latter paints a fairly accurate depiction of where most of the beef you get from the grocery store comes from.

Let’s cover a few basics about grass fed vs. grain fed beef.

Grain fed beef

First, you need to understand that cows are ruminants. This means a cow’s natural diet is fresh pasture and grass. It’s what they’ve been eating for thousands of years. Cows are one of the few animals with the ability to digest grass. This is because they have a rumen, which is essentially a large internal “fermentation tank” that aids in digestion.

But, most cows are now raised in concentrated animal feeding operations (CAFOs). That’s mainly because the food industry, like every other industry, revolves around increasing efficiencies and profits. The health of the animal and the health of the consumer are secondary concerns.

CAFO - grass fed beef feedlotCows raised in CAFOs and even cattle raised on most small farms are fed a grain-based diet that includes mostly corn and soybeans. Why? Because this type of feed is cheap. To speed their growth and reduce the health problems that come from being fed this unnatural diet and way of living, these animals are also given hormones, feed additives, and antibiotics that supposedly ward off disease. They actually do the opposite.

Here’s what the Environmental Protection Agency has to say about CAFOs:

CAFOs congregate animals, feed, manure and urine, dead animals, and production operations on a small land area. Feed is brought to the animals rather than the animals grazing or otherwise seeking feed in pastures, fields, or on rangeland.

Grass fed cows, on the other hand, eat grass from a pasture. Here’s why you should care …

Grass fed beef health benefits

Animal Health

Cows that are fed grass and allowed to roam through a pasture have a dramatically better life than cows raised in feedlots. Grass-fed animals have access to fresh air and sunshine. They’re less likely to be sick, diseased, and underdeveloped. They are free to roam and do the things they’re biologically programmed to do. In short, they’re not treated like machines whose only purpose in life is to produce as much hamburger meat as possible for the grocery stores and restaurants you frequent.

Environmental Health

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the most alarming public health issue with grain fed feedlot operations is the amount of manure they produce.[1] CAFO manure contains a variety of potentially harmful pathogens and contaminants like E. coli, growth hormones, antibiotics, and other chemicals.

Livestock animals in the U.S. produce between 3 and 20 times more manure than people in the U.S. each year … between 1.2 and 1.37 billion tons of waste.

While manure is important as a fertilizer for the farming industry, in causes problems … big ones. Overapplying livestock manure can overload soils with nitrogen and phosphorous, which can wreak havoc on the soil and lead to a variety of other issues.[2]

Groundwater is contaminated by commercial feedlot operations through runoff and leaching. An EPA study found that 29 states identified animal feeding operations as contributing to water quality impairment.[3]

The agriculture sector is the leading contributor of pollutants to lakes, rivers, and reservoirs. States with the most CAFOs experience on average 20 to 30 serious water quality problems per year as a result of manure management problems.[4]

And one of the most alarming environmental effects of CAFOs is their emission of greenhouse gases, and subsequent contribution to climate change. Globally, livestock operations are responsible for nearly 18 percent of greenhouse gas production and more than 7 percent of U.S. greenhouse gas emissions.[5]

Your Health

Several studies, including one conducted by researchers at California State University in Chico that examined three decades of research, found that beef from grass fed cows is lower in saturated fat and higher in “good fats“, lower in calories, and contains more healthy omega-3 fats, vitamins A and E, and antioxidants like beta-carotene.[6],[7]

Certain cuts of grass fed beef are as lean as a chicken breast!

Here’s another reason to be concerned about grain fed beef: evidence suggests that using antibiotics in animal feed is contributing to an increase in antibiotic-resistant microbes, which cause antibiotics to be less effective in humans.[8]

And, the Journal of Dairy Science has reported that levels of E. coli are usually higher in grain-fed cattle.[9]

Tips for cooking grass fed beef

Cooking grass fed beef is a little different than cooking grain fed beef. Since grass fed cows get a lot more exercise and eat a natural diet, they tend to be leaner and have less fat. Therefore, grass fed meat requires about 30% less cooking time than traditional grain fed meat.

Here are my top tips for cooking grass fed beef:

  • Don’t overcook it! Cook for 30-40% less than you’re used to. Err on the side of caution. Take the meat off early, let it rest, then use a meat thermometer to check if it’s done to your liking. Remember the meat will continue cooking so if you’re within 10 degrees of your desired temperature that’s okay.
  • Always let grass fed meat (and any other meat for that matter) rest for at least 5 minutes after you remove it from the grill, stove, oven, etc.
  • Never use a fork to turn your beef. Always use tongs.
  • When roasting, reduce the temperature by 25-50 degrees.
  • Never use a microwave to thaw your grass fed beef. Either thaw your beef in the refrigerator or for quick thawing place your vacuum sealed package in water for a few minutes.
  • Let grass fed beef sit at room temperature for 30 minutes before cooking. Avoid cooking grass fed beef straight from the refrigerator.
  • Sear the meat at high temperature on both sides to retain moisture.
  • Try a combination of searing and roasting, which is my favorite method of cooking grass fed beef. Sear the meat for 2 minutes/side in a cast iron pan over high heat. Transfer to a pre-heated oven (350 degrees), and cook for an additional 4-6 minutes. Season with salt and pepper and let sit for 5 minutes before eating.
  • When you cut the meat, cut across the grain as this will improve texture because you are cutting the fibers in the meat into shorter segments.

Here’s one of my favorite grass fed beef recipes: Chimichurri Flank Steak

Where to buy grass fed beef

1. Eat Wild

This site is awesome. It lists farms near you that sell grass fed beef.

2. Farmers Markets

This is where I found my grass fed beef suppliers. Search for farmers markets near you on Local Harvest, then email the market master and ask if they have farms that sell grass fed beef.

3. Ask Your Friends

One of the easiest ways to find a grass fed beef supplier is to ask your friends. Post a message on Facebook or talk to your foodie pals and ask them if they know a good place to get pastured raised beef.

4. American Grass Fed

An association of certified grass fed beef producers.

*Check out my Where to Find Grass Fed Beef article for more ideas.

Want More?

This article is #4 in my 10-part Healthy Eating 201 tutorial.

To go to the next article and learn about the healthiest and unhealthiest type of fish you should be eating click here.

To read article #3 about how many meals you should eat each day for optimal health click here.


[2] Burkholder, J., Libra, B., Weyer, P., Heathcote, S., Kolpin, D., Thorne, P., et al. (2007). Impacts of waste from concentrated animal feeding operations on water quality. Environmental Health Perspectives, 11(2), 308–312.

[3] Congressional Research Service. (2008). Animal waste and water quality: EPA regulation of concentrated animal feeding operations (CAFOs).

[4] Environmental Protection Agency. (2001). Environmental assessment of proposed revisions to the national pollutant discharge elimination system regulation and the effluent guidelines for concentrated animal feeding operations.

[5] Massey, R. and Ulmer, A. (2008). Agriculture and greenhouse gas emission. University of Missouri Extension. Retrieved from



[8] Kaufman, M. (2000). Worries rise over effect of antibiotics in animal feed; Humans seen vulnerable to drug-resistant germs. Washington Post, p. A01.

[9] T.R. Callaway, R.O. Elder, J.E. Keen, R.C. Anderson, D.J. Nisbet. Forage Feeding to Reduce Preharvest Escherichia coli Populations in Cattle, a Review. Journal of Dairy Science. March 2003 (Vol. 86, Issue 3, Pages 852-860, DOI: 10.3168/jds.S0022-0302(03)73668-6).