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Nov 2, 2006 04:12 PM

Grass-fed beef [moved from General Topics]

From Harold McGee:

"... is grass-fed beef a meaningful source of omega-3s? No. An entire grass-fed beefsteak contains hundredths of a gram of long-chain omega-3s, and less than a quarter of a gram of linolenic acid. You can get the same quantities from a couple of walnut pieces and a few grams—a very small bite—of salmon or oyster."

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  1. Nice cut.

    The article also says:
    "Sure enough, grass-fed beef has substantially more omega-3 fatty acids than conventional beef raised on grain or a combination of grain and other concentrated nutrients."

    So if you're choosing between the two and this is a consideration, it could potentially be one more small reason to choose the grass-fed.

    2 Replies
    1. re: krissywats

      I emailed McGee and asked, "So much for omega-3s. How about the other common claims that grass-fed beef is (1) leaner than grain-fed and (2) has a healthier ratio of unsaturated to saturated fat?"

      His answer: "Sorry for the long delay in responding: yes, grass-fed beef tends to be leaner, but not necessarily by much; and yes, it definitely does have a better ratio of unsaturated to saturated fats, and of omega-3 to omega-6 fats (though the absolute amount of omega-3 is not significant)."

      1. re: Robert Lauriston

        good to know - still sounds worth it to me!

    2. "Nice cut" indeed.

      Robert's quotation accurately maintains the general thrust of the article, and also includes a link to the original. krissywats quotes a single line out of context which completely misrepresents the thrust and meaning of the article.

      McGee himself sums up his article in these words:
      "Beef is wonderful stuff, and grass-fed beef is especially lean and flavorful, but it’s still beef."

      1 Reply
      1. re: PDXpat

        I can't possibly be on a mission to take anything out of context when another good chunk of the article was listed in the OP. I was rather supplementing and pointing out that there was more SAID in the article then the quote above, which I believe is misleading on it's own, even if not intentionally.

        If one is looking to make a choice between one or the other it's good to know all the facts, 'substantial' means more than 'just a little' - so either the author is confused or misinformed or he knows what he's talking about, which is it?

        From having read ONLY the quote in the OP I was not, in any way, expecting the article to refer to grass-fed beef having any more omega-3s than conventional, so I was surprised jby 'substantially more' - that's quite a statement. Those of us seeking out more omega-3s might WANT 3 more walnuts worth in our beef.

        I guess your point was.....?

      2. see michael pollan, omnivore's dilemma about how bovines go from being "solar powered" animals to "petroleum powered" animals when their diet is switched from their natural forage to corn. also cites health benifits of grass-fed beef/ vs corn fed agribusiness america.

        1. Ranching has its own ecological issues.

          The slightly higher but still trivial amounts of omega-3 in grass-fed beef should logically be receiving less attention than the higher percentage of saturated fat.

          10 Replies
          1. re: Robert Lauriston

            True enough. Human activity of any sort, including growing soybeans and other vegetables, has ecological impact. 4+ billion souls cannot walk on this earth without leaving footprints. And those souls must eat something.

            Back to food...unless one eats extraordinarily large amounts of beef, the purported health benefits of one sort over another are going to be rather minor, and largely overshadowed by the impact of the decision to eat beef at all. For most folks who choose not to, the decision is made for reasons other than culinary, and are thus off-topic here.

            While I like the *idea* of grass fed beef, I can't say I care so much for the beef itself. Grass-fed beef I've eaten has been rather tough and stringy as a general rule, and not a great deal more flavorful. I'm hoping that will improve as better methods are worked out.

            1. re: PDXpat

              I like the idea of beef that's as heart-healthy as salmon, but until that gets out of the lab I go for flavor.

              Usually I prefer grain-fattened, but I recently had a really delicious grass-fed steak from Estancia, not sure whether it was from Uruguay or Montana.


              1. re: Robert Lauriston

                Thanks for the tip. I'm new-ish in the area, and still scouting resources. I'll check 'em out.

              2. re: PDXpat

                You might try grass fed beef stewed or braised. Grass fed steak takes some getting used to, as it does not deliver that tender, marbled texture we have come to associate with a good steak. I actually prefer the flavor of grass fed beef to grain fed beef. It's more complex, with notes of grass and minerals, but it can take some getting used to.

                1. re: PDXpat

                  I've found going up a cut (for lack of a better word) tend to help with that. I'm a NY Strip fan for corn-fed beef, but prefer Ribeye with grass-fed (it's less tough). If you're a Ribeye fan, go with the filet. If you like filet best, you probably won't like grass-fed.

                2. re: Robert Lauriston

                  Agreed. The main nutritional issue in the grass fed vs grain fed debate is that health problems commonly associated with eating beef are specifically a product of eating grain fed beef. The high saturated fat content of grain fed beef causes clogged arteries and heart disease. Grass fed beef has far less saturated fat, so it does not cause the same health problems. Then, there are the problems associated with eating hormones, antibiotics and diseased steers (e coli, mad cow, etc), all of which are unique to grain fed beef.

                  It stands to reason that grass fed beef is also a better source of vitamins, minerals and phytonutrients, as the grass fed steer has a more variated and nutritionally whole diet. However, I have not seen any studies on this matter.

                  As for Omega 3-s, the main issue with Essential Fatty Acid is the ratio of Omega-3:Omega-6:Omega-9. Measuring Omega-3 content outside of this context is basically meaningless. I get plenty of EFAs by eating lots of hempseeds.

                  1. re: Morton the Mousse

                    Grass-fed beef has a higher percentage of saturated fat than grain-fed.

                    1. re: Robert Lauriston

                      Can you cite a source? Everything I've read on the subject has stated that grass-fed beef contains a lower percentage of saturated fat than grain-fed beef.

                      1. re: Morton the Mousse

                        The fat in regular beef is about 45% saturated. This sort of cranky-looking site says grass-fed is 50%:


                        The grass-fed promoters never seem to provide actual numbers to back up their claims.

                        When grass-fed is signifciantly lower in fat overall, then it would also be lower in saturated fat, but the total fat content of grain-fed beef varies widely. USDA "extra-lean" must be under 5% fat. A test performed for a New York Times article in 1986 found some as low as 3.2 percent.

                        1. re: Robert Lauriston

                          THe overwhelming majority of information available on the web is long on rosy claims and very short on cites or substantiated facts. Here's an article from a student at the U. of Idaho that has some of each.


                          There's a Washington Post article also that has some solid information.

                3. Slightly off topic - but the following article noted that grass-fed beef has the least intramuscular fat (i.e. marbling), but claimed it's the best (and cheapest) of the batch -- which included various prime grade & even Wagyu steaks.

                  The writer even mentioned that one rancher refused to send him his grass-fed steak because it sometimes "tastes like salmon" - don't know if that has anything to do at all with the omega-3s, but an interesting tidbit. ;)