Grass-fed versus grain-fed beef

Before you buy your next thick, juicy steak, there are a few things to consider.

  1. How can you get the best bang for your buck?
  2. Is there a substantial difference between grass-fed and grain-fed beef?
  3. Where can you buy local beef?

Grass-fed beef 101

The main differences between grass-fed and grain-fed beef are nutritional content, availability, price, taste, cooking technique, and the health and treatment of the animal before slaughter.

Nutritional Content

  • Grass-fed beef is higher in the essential fatty-acid Omega-3, an essential fat critical for growth, development and fighting inflammation.
  • Conjugated linoleic acid, CLA for short, helps your body burn fat, boosts your metabolism and improves thyroid function.  CLA may also help protect us against cancer. Grass-fed beef is 2-4 times higher in CLA than grain-fed beef.
  • Richer in antioxidants: four times higher in Vitamin E and high in Vitamin C and beta-carotene.
  • Higher in protein than grain-fed beef.
  • Grain-fed beef is nearly three times higher in Omega-6 fatty acids. A balance of Omega-3 and Omega-6 fats is critical for health. Our diets tend to be overly high in Omega-6 fats which promoting various health risks.


Commercial grain-fed beef is more widely available in supermarkets and restaurants. Unless specifically labeled otherwise, assume that it is grain-fed beef and not grass-fed beef. In Santa Cruz, 100% grass-fed beef is widely available. Supply and demand determine what is available and some places that used to carry local and/or grass-fed, grass-finished beef may not continue or vice versa with grain-fed beef. Stay alert when reading signs and labels and when in doubt, ask! Currently, you will find grass-fed beef at the following:

  • Grocery stores such as Staff of Life, New Leaf, Deluxe Foods, and Shoppers Corner
  • Butcher shops: el Sachichero on the West Side
  • Local farms: Morris, Paicines, Pacific Pastures, N-A Ranch, Gleason, Devil’s Gulch, Ratay and Claravale. Look online using your zip code on
  • Restaurants: Michael’s on Main, Bluewater Steakhouse, Burger., Gabriella Cafe, Oswald’s, and Ristorante Avanti. Menus change all the time so always ask the wait staff if their beef is 100% grass-fed.
  • Farmers’ Markets. Talk to the farmer about the option of buying large quantities for a discount.


On average, grass-fed beef is more expensive (anywhere from $2-6/lb). Buying in bulk will almost always save you money. Price varies depending on the cut of beef, ground usually being the cheapest. Keep your eye open for sales and if you have a large freezer, consider buying part of a cow from a local ranch.

Taste & Texture

Grain/corn-fed beef have a reputation of being more tender and “better” tasting. This depends on the cut, how you cook it and of course, personal opinion. Grass-fed beef is leaner and is therefore easy to overcook. Following these tips ensures excellent taste and tenderness.

Health and treatment of the cow

Cows are supposed to eat grass. When they eat corn or grain, they get sick, overwrought with E. coli, and are given antibiotics. These antibiotics as well as growth hormones accumulate in the fat tissue of the cow, which is then passed along to you.

When you pay more per pound for grass-fed beef, the difference in cost helps to cover the cost spent to give the cow room to move around, cleaner living conditions, a better diet, improved health and more humane slaughter. Cows sold for grass-fed beef are slaughtered an average of 7 months later than grain-fed, commercial cows since the grass doesn’t make them over fat (taking them longer to reach an appropriate weight).

Getting the best value

  • Buy in bulk
  • Buy locally, try to buy part of a whole cow with some neighbors
  • Buy less expensive cuts of beef at the store and cook them longer (i.e. chuck roasts)

Considering the nutritional superiority and more humane treatment of grass-fed cows, it is no wonder more people are using their dollar to vote for grass-fed beef.

Continue reading on Grass-fed versus grain-fed beef – San Francisco Healthy Living |

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