The way cows are fed and raised can have a huge impact on their meat's nutrient composition and flavor. Up until very recently in farming history, cows were naturally grass-fed. It wasn't until only a few decades ago that farmers started giving them grains. Some cows are even fed candy!
When I buy red meat, I opt for grass-fed. I suggest to my clients that they do the same. But why? Is there that much of a difference? Does it really matter? I get push-back from people because of the price. Grass-fed meat tends to cost more. Some people also prefer the flavor of grain-fed meat, so I sometimes get push-back there too. The flavor of grain-fed is what most people grew up on if they were fed the standard American McDonalds diet. Grain-fed also tends to be more fatty, and the fat is more likely to be marbled throughout the cut of beef.
I prefer and recommend grass-fed red meat for a multitude of reasons. For starters, I don't agree with some of the cattle-raising practices in big feed lots. Cows are often crammed in stalls. They can lack access to the outdoors. And, to keep them healthy, they are often given medications such as antibiotics and synthetic hormones.
The biggest reason that I prefer grass-fed red meat products is for the fatty acid composition in the meat. Overall, grass-fed and finished beef contains less fat than its grain-fed conventional counterpart. On average, grass-fed beef contains up to five times more omega-3 fatty acids than grain-fed beef. Omega-3 fatty acids are an essential fatty acid that can help reduce inflammation and other cardiac conditions such as high blood pressure and arterial plaque formation. Grass-fed beef also contains about twice as much conjugated linoleic acid (CLA) than grain-fed beef. CLA is a naturally occurring fatty acid that has been shown to help improve lean muscle formation and recovery, reduce visceral fatty deposits in the body, and lower LDL cholesterol and triglycerides while increasing HDL cholesterol. Some studies also link CLA to improved insulin sensitivity, therefore reducing the risk or complications of type 2 diabetes.
Toxins tend to accumulate in fatty tissues of animals. Grass-fed cows who graze in pastures for their entire lifecycle are much less likely to have nasty toxin build-up. Cows who are fed grains and who are given medications will have more toxins stored in their fat. And, as mentioned above, grain-fed beef tends to be more fatty, and the fat is marbled throughout the cut of beef. You're more likely to be exposed to toxins when eating grain-fed beef from large feed-lot operations. I don't know about you, but I prefer not to consume toxins if I can help it.
If you want more information about this, check out Diana Rogers' site and book + film Sacred Cow. We don't necessarily need to eliminate red meat for our health. But we should definitely be considering the source and the quality of our red meat. As Diana says, "it's not the cow, it's the how". It makes very little sense to me to say that a food our ancestors ate for millennia is all of the sudden contributing to modern diseases. Why blame an ancestral food for a modern disease? Think about that the next time your cardiologist tells you to cut back on red meat. Most likely it's the type of red meat you're eating, or what you're consuming along with it that's the real problem.