By Candy Sagon
Washington Post Staff Writer
Wednesday, March 15, 2006
Cows that graze on grass only, instead of being fed corn or grain, produce beef and milk that is higher in beneficial fatty acids, according to a new report by the Union of Concerned Scientists.
The report, released last week, compared studies of omega-3 levels in grass-fed and conventionally raised animals. The animals that grazed in pastures were found to have significantly different fat content and fatty-acid levels than the cows that were kept in milking barns and feedlots and fed primarily corn.
The fact that grass-fed beef was lower in both total and saturated fat was not a surprise. What was new, said senior scientist Kate Clancy, who wrote the study, was that grass-fed beef had higher levels of certain omega-3 fatty acids. There is some evidence that those fatty acids may help in preventing heart disease and in boosting the immune system.
In a news conference discussing the report's results, Clancy noted that the amount of omega-3s on a per-serving basis was "relatively small," but she pointed out that grass-fed animals also required fewer antibiotics than conventionally raised cows -- another benefit for consumers. What the report confirms, she said, is that "what's good for cows is good for humans."
But dietitian Mary Young with the National Cattlemen's Beef Association feels that beef -- whether grass-fed or conventional -- should not be considered a major dietary source of omega-3s.
"Three ounces of salmon has 35 times more omega-3s than three ounces of beef," Young said. "As a dietitian, I tell people to eat fish for omega-3s and eat beef for other nutrients, like B vitamins, zinc and iron."
Not only are there nutritional differences between conventional and grass-fed beef, but the two kinds of beef also taste different, said butcher Nick Furlow at Organic Butcher in McLean. "We sell grass-fed beef when we can get it, but I always tell consumers to expect a slightly gamier flavor and less tenderness than grain-fed beef," he said.
However, Julie Simpson, owner of the Food for Thought market in Culpeper, Va., disagrees. "I wouldn't describe it as gamier -- it's a bigger, beefier flavor, but it can be less tender if you don't cook it right," she said. Simpson sells only dry-aged, grass-fed beef that she buys from the Higginbotham family farm in Orange and Wolf Creek Farm in Wolftown, Va.
"People are used to the fat and marbling of grain-fed beef, but grass-fed beef has much less fat. I tell them to marinate the roasts and cook them slow and low in liquid so they don't turn out dry and tough. For steaks, I recommend not cooking them beyond medium rare," she said.
"If you're willing to alter how you cook these meats," added Simpson, "the health benefits far surpass the inconvenience of learning something new. I tell people it's how God intended animals to eat -- in a pasture, not in a feedlot."
Pricewise, grass-fed beef -- particularly if it's organic -- tends to be more expensive than conventional. At Whole Foods Markets, an organic grass-fed New York strip steak is about $20 a pound, while a conventional New York strip is about $15. Wegmans also carries organic grass-fed steaks and ground beef. Grass-fed cuts from locally raised animals are available at specialty stores such as Food for Thought in Culpeper, Home Farm in Middleburg and Organic Butcher in McLean.
To find other sources of locally raised, grass-fed beef, check:
· http://www.eatwild.com/products (a state-by-state listing of farms offering products from grass-fed animals)