beef for weight loss

Is Beef Good for Weight Loss: Grass-fed vs Grain-fed

Short answer, yes beef can be good for weight loss. But did you know there are actually different types of beef you could be purchasing? A choice that could drastically affect your weight loss journey. 

There’s a popular debate about whether grass-fed or grain-fed beef is better. The results may actually surprise you by how much a cow’s diet can affect your own nutrition. 

We often hear about grass-fed beef being superior, but are the differences actually that significant?

I took the liberty of doing a nutrient analysis of both, including a culinary insight as to which is best for taste and palatability as well. 

The results of my research are here below. 

Grass-fed vs Grain-fed

Grain-fed

As we know, beef is meat from a cow. The beef you see in grocery stores most likely comes from a CAFO (Concentrated Animal Feeding Operation) unless it has a mark that it is from a local source.

A cow’s diet, also referred to as feed management, allows for control over the quantity and quality of available ingredients, nutrients, and additives.

At CAFOs, cows have a strict diet regiment. Allowing for all the end products to be as consistent as possible and to be frank – get the most bang for their buck.

The feed is typically a grain-base with the use of corn, soy, or wheat as the main ingredient, with hay as a supplement.

Grains are used because grains are more calorically-dense than grass, which is needed for the accelerated growth of grain-fed cattle due to the growth hormones they are given. 

Grass-fed

The cow’s life and diet are quite different with grass-fed beef. 

By definition, grass-fed means that “grass and forage shall be the feed source for the lifetime of the animal (with the exception of milk consumed prior to weaning). Animals cannot be fed grain or grain byproducts and must have continuous access to pasture during the growing season.” 

Grass-fed cattle typically do not receive growth hormones. Therefore they spend a longer amount of time on the pasture to reach maturity before slaughter.

The cattle are able to graze and eat at a more natural pace to prevent overeating. Overeating in grain-fed cattle causes excessive calories to convert to fat.

Is Beef Good for Weight Loss?

The chart below provides a nutritional breakdown of the essential differences between grass-fed and grain-fed beef. It might quickly become evident as to which beef is good for weight loss. 

Four ounces of raw ground meat were analyzed for both. The grain-fed beef is 80% lean and 20% fat.

Now let’s break down what these nutrients and numbers actually mean for your health.

Grass-fed contains 20% fewer calories than grain-fed. There is also more protein per gram in grass-fed. These two facts alone are enough to make the switch to grass-fed beef.

One of the reasons that grass-fed beef has fewer calories is because there is substantially less fat. As fat provides more calories per gram than carbohydrates or protein, this makes a significant difference.

The Total Lipid (aka fat) in grass-fed is 14.4 gm per 4 oz, where the typical commercial grain-fed beef is 22.6 gm. 

While it’s great looking at the total fat content, it’s vital that you also take into consideration the types of fat that are in the meat you are consuming. 

Total Saturated fat is what you don’t want. These are the solid fatty acids that you hear about clogging your arteries. 

Monounsaturated and Polyunsaturated are known as the good fats. These are actually good for your heart and can help lower cholesterol.

Trans fats, while most commonly known to be artificially created, can appear naturally in small amounts in some animals. However, these fats are categorized with the other “bad fats” as they increase your cholesterol levels while decreasing your healthy cholesterol at the same time. A double whammy. 

Grass-fed beef has less saturated and trans fat than grain-fed, while providing more of the heart healthy polyunsaturated fats including the ever sought after omega-3 fatty acids.

So ironically, beef has the infamous “red meat” stereotype of being bad for your cardiovascular health. Grass-fed beef provides you with some of these elusive omega-3 fatty acids that actually improve the function of the heart. This is a compound not so easily found in the typical American diet. 

Grass-fed beef also contains slightly more micronutrients than grain-fed, including; iron, magnesium, phosphorus, potassium, and zinc. 

Research has also shown that grass-fed beef has an increased antioxidant profile containing glutathione, superoxide dismutase, and precursors to Vitamin A and E.

Antioxidants are most commonly found in plant foods so it makes sense that the cattle with a diet higher in plants will have more antioxidants in the meat inself.

A Dietitian’s Advice

With all of this evidence comparing the two nutrient profiles of grass-fed and grain-fed, it’s easy to see why a Dietitian highly recommends grass-fed beef for weight loss.

Grass-fed beef is a leaner product that has less calories and more protein per gram compared to grain-fed beef. It also provides more micronutrients, antioxidants, and healthy fatty acids all while being lower in saturated fat. 

Grass-fed beef truly is superior because of these nutritional advantages. 

The question arises though, do you cook grass-fed beef differently than grain-fed?

Culinary Insight

Grass-fed beef has some unique characteristics that go beyond nutrition as a result of this more natural diet.

The flavor of grass-fed beef tends to have some mild earthy notes to the meat. And as flavor so often affects…the aroma in your kitchen may also have that same earthy hint when cooking grass-fed beef.

As you can see above, grass-fed beef is a much leaner product so there will be less fat if you were to compare it to the beef you normally see at the grocery store. The fat may also look different as it will likely be a bit more yellowish from the increased antioxidant content.

So how do these things affect the actual preparation? Listed below are some tips to use when cooking grass-fed beef:

  1. Shorter Cook Time. Because of the low fat content but higher concentration of polyunsaturated fats, you’ll want to cook the meat about 30% less time than you would prepare conventional beef. This will prevent a tough, dry, end product. 
  2. Lower Temperature. You’ll also want to be sure to cook at a lower temperature to prevent overcooking. This could lead to the little fat that is in the beef, to escape.
  3. Leave it Be. Try to resist the urge to poke, prode, or push the meat too much. Again, you want to try and keep the juiciness in the meat and not in your pan. 
  4. Rest. As with all meats, removing it from the heat and allowing it to rest for a few minutes will maximize the succulence. The integrity of the muscle relaxes and allows the drippings to redistribute throughout the meat allowing it to retain its moisture. 
  5. Enjoy! The only thing left to do is to enjoy your hearty and healthy meal. 

Conclusion

So many people look for healthy alternatives when it comes to eating “red meat”. When in actuality, red meat is actually pretty vital to our health. 

Beef is one of the best sources for vitamin B12. It’s also particularly high in zinc, selenium, and niacin. All of which you need for optimal nutrition. 

So if you are concerned about your “red meat” intake during your weight loss journey, rest assured that grass-fed beef should be your top pick. 

After this Dietitian’s nutrient analysis and examination of grass-fed vs grain-fed beef, grass-fed comes out on top every time as the best beef for weight loss. 

Grass-fed beef is a leaner meat that has less calories and more protein per gram compared to grain-fed beef. It also provides more micronutrients, antioxidants, and healthy fatty acids all while being lower in saturated fat. 

Just cook it a bit more gently at a lower temperature with a shorter cook-time and you’ll have yourself a wholesome delicious meal that you can be proud of. 

If you’re curious which meat is the best for weight loss (not just looking at beef) check out this article here

Happy Cooking! 

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