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Grass Fed Beef vs. Organic Beef: Which One is Better?

written by: Terrie Schultz•edited by: Sarah Malburg•updated: 4/22/2010

Is grass fed beef better than organic beef? Learn the nutritional facts about each, and which is the healthiest choice for you.

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    Grain Fed Organic Beef

    In order to satisfy the requirements to display the organic label, strict guidelines must be followed. Organic beef must be free of antibiotics, pesticides, synthetic hormones, additives, preservatives and genetically modified organisms (GMOs). However, while organic grain fed beef does offer many benefits over conventional, non-organic grain fed beef in terms of being free of harmful additives, there are still concerns that indicate that it may not be the healthiest choice.

    Grain is not the natural diet of grazing animals, which are adapted to eat grass. An exclusive diet of gran can cause nutritional disorders in the digestive systems of beef cattle. A diet of grain, usually corn, that is fed to cattle in feedlots stresses the cattle and causes changes to their intestinal flora, greatly increasing the number of potentially harmful E. coli bacteria. In addition, a diet of grain causes the intestine to become more acidic, which selects for acid resistant E. coli. These acid resistant bacteria are more likely to cause illness in people because they are able to survive the acidic conditions of the human digestive tract.

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    Grass Fed Beef

    Grass fed beef is raised on open pastures rather than on feedlots, and are allowed to graze on fresh, growing grass. Grass fed beef is lower in both total fat and saturated fat, and has fewer calories per serving than grain fed beef. It also contains significantly higher amounts of a number of healthy nutrients, including folic acid, vitamin E, thiamin, riboflavin, beta-carotene, calcium, potassium and magnesium. Grass fed beef also has a more favorable ratio of omega-3 to omega-6 fatty acids, with about twice the amount of omega-3 as omega-6. A proper balance of the two types of omega fatty acids helps to lower the risk of several diseases, including cancer, diabetes and heart disease. Another benefit of grass fed beef is that it contains high amounts of conjugated linoleic acid (CLA), a type of fat that lowers the risk of breast cancer.

    On the negative side, non-organic grass fed beef cattle may potentially be raised on pastures that have been exposed to pesticides and chemical fertilizers, and they also may be given antibiotics and hormones.

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    Comparison of Grass Fed Beef and Grain Fed Organic Beef

    While organic grain fed beef is clearly superior to the non-organic variety in that it is free of harmful additives, it still poses an increased risk of infection by acid tolerant E. coli bacteria that is caused by feeding the cattle a diet of grain.

    Grass fed beef eliminates the heightened E. coli risk, and provides a nutritional advantage of increased vitamins, minerals and other healthy nutrients, as well as decreased fat content, but some grass fed beef may still be exposed to harmful additives. So, is grass fed beef better than organic beef? Organic grass fed beef, which combines the advantages of both, would be the best choice of all.

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    Resources

    "Benefits of Organic Grass Fed Beef." www.organicfacts.net

    "Health Benefits of Grass Fed Products." eatwild.com

    Robinson, Jo. "Pasture Perfect." www.organicconsumers.org