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Conventional or grass-fed beef?

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In spite of today’s high beef prices, some families are opting to pay even more for grass-fed beef. They believe it’s tastier and more nutritious than conventional grain-fed beef. Are they onto something?

First, some beefy definitions:

Conventional beef. Cattle that spend the majority of their lives grazing on grassy pastures. They are then “finished” for the last three to nearly 12 months on a primarily grain-based diet that may include corn, soybeans, roughage, and nutritional supplements. The animals are often given antibiotics and hormones.

Grass-fed beef. These cattle eat grass and forage from the pasture until they are harvested. Until January of this year, the Department of Agriculture formally defined this method of feeding. “Grass-fed” beef can still be found in the meat case, but there is no legal definition of this term. Instead, look for private bodies that certify beef as having been raised on grass. These include American Grassfed, Food Alliance, and Animal Welfare Approved, which also look at the confinement of animals, environmental stewardship, and use of hormones and antibiotics.

Better nutrition?

Proponents of grass-fed beef point to its superior nutritional profile. For example, a serving of grass-feed beef provides roughly two fewer grams of total fat and one more gram of protein.

One widely heralded claim is that it provides a greater amount of omega-3 fatty acids.

It is true the grass-fed contains double the omega-3s, but the overall amount is very small. Conventional beef contains 0.02 gram omega-3s per 3½ ounces, compared to 0.05 gram per 3½ ounces. If you want omega-3s, go for fatty fish and omega-3 eggs.

The undisputed benefits of grass-fed, pasture-raised beef include the long-term sustainability of animal farming and the ways the animals are cared for.

Two more labels you may encounter at the meat counter:

Naturally raised beef. This is a Department of Agriculture certification that the meat is harvested from cattle raised completely free from growth hormones, antibiotics, or animal by-products. This could be either grain- or grass-fed. By contrast, “natural” beef can come from cattle raised on a feedlot, fed genetically modified grain or grain grown with pesticides, or given antibiotics or hormones.

Grass-fed organic beef. This meat comes from cattle fed on only 100 percent organic grass and forage. These cattle are never given antibiotics or hormones. Consumers Union recommends this whenever possible.

If grass-fed or other premium beef is not in your budget, watch the portion size and select extra lean cuts of conventional beef.

Christine Palumbo is a registered dietitian nutritionist in Naperville, Ill. Find her at Christine Palumbo Nutrition on Facebook, @PalumboRD on Twitter, or ChristinePalumbo.com.

Southwest chicken dip

Prep: 10 mins. Cook: 25 mins

Yield: 10 half-cup servings


1 1/2 cup Stonyfield Whole Milk Plain Greek Yogurt

1 8 oz. package Neufchatel or cream cheese (softened)

1 cup salsa

1 tsp. chili powder

2 cups chicken breast (cooked and shredded)

1/2 cup black beans (drained and rinsed)

1/2 cup corn

1 cup shredded Mexican blend cheese

Garnish: sliced scallions, shredded cheese, beans, and corn

DIRECTIONS: Preheat oven to 375-degrees Fahrenheit. Mix all of the ingredients together in a large bowl until incorporated. Transfer the mixture to a baking dish or cast-iron skillet and bake in the oven for 20–25 minutes until bubbly. Remove from oven and garnish with scallions, shredded cheese, beans, and corn.

Serve with celery sticks, carrot sticks, pita chips, and/or crackers.

NUTRITION FACTS (without garnish): 190 calories, 8 g carbohydrate (4 g sugars), 16 g protein, 11 g fat (6 g saturated), 1 g fiber, 330 mg sodium, 8% DV vitamin A, 2% DV vitamin C, 15% DV calcium, 4% iron.

Used with permission from Stonyfield.com.

Updated 5:30 pm, December 9, 2016
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