There are numerous benefits to eating grass-fed meat that we have discovered or learned about over the years.
Beef from cattle raised and finished on grass — and some types of forage — is better for you mainly because the animal’s diet is healthier, as opposed to cattle which eat mostly corn and grain-based feed. Additionally, cows that are allowed to graze — not raised on a feedlot — are generally treated more humanely and are typically not given feed that contains unnecessary antibiotics and hormones. If you want to go a step further, the use of regenerative farming practices by those raising grass-fed and finished cattle is believed to be better for the environment.
But there is another, underappreciated and less discussed advantage to eating grass-fed beef that we believe makes the experience far superior to the alternatives.
During one of the first discussions I had with ButcherBox founder and CEO Mike Salguero about his reasons for starting the company, he explained something that he had noticed since switching to a diet that included more grass-fed beef. After years of eating steaks and the like, he had become aware of a unique post-meal experience when eating grass-fed beef.
He just felt…better.
For Mike, it was a feeling of lightness, of lacking a sense of the fullness and bloatedness that accompanied the consumption of non-grass-fed steaks in the past. These sentiments were supported by how he felt on the occasions when he had no choice but the eat a standard (or feedlot-raised) piece of beef. He told me how profound the contrast was eating non-grass-fed meat after spending long periods avoiding beef from cattle fattened up on a mostly corn-centric diet.
After one meeting at a highly-reputable steakhouse, Mike said that he could physically feel the differences. He was more tired, felt more gastrointestinal discomfort, and had a greater sense of tenseness and restlessness than he had experienced while eating grass-fed steaks.
To Mike’s mind, this was due to the energy that the body needed to break down meat from cattle enriched with corn, versus that that was easier for the stomach to handle: Naturally-raised grass-fed cattle.
What Mike was trying to articulate is an argument that can be traced back to Michael Pollan’s writing in the New York Times and The Omnivore’s Dilemma. According to Pollan, cows aren’t naturally suited to eating corn; in fact, he has explained in various articles and interviews, that a cow’s digestive system, specifically the “rumen,” cannot digest starchy corn as easily as it can grass, which it can also turn into protein. This, according to Pollan, can make cattle sick when they are weaned off grass, but is economically cheaper and leads to fatter cattle and more marbled beef.
“In the same way ruminants [like cows] have not evolved to eat grain, humans may not be well adapted to eating grain-fed animals,” Pollan wrote in 2002.
This point makes sense when you think about it: We evolved as meat-eaters who naturally consumed animals that, for centuries, millennia even, ate nothing other than grass (and similar plants). While humans as consumers have gotten used to the ways that the food industry can more quickly and cheaply “produce” beef, this development may not be in the best interest of our bodies and, specifically, our digestive systems.
This evolution-related theory is a big reason why grass-fed beef is so popular with Paleo dieters.
Digging into the literature on this topic is a bit of a challenge. While there is a great deal written on the nutritional differences between grass-fed and feedlot-raised cattle, there is significantly less examination about how our body reacts to the process of digesting the two.
One author I discovered, Lily Nichols, who runs the website PilatesNutritionist.com, said that she’s noticed a difference among her clients with food sensitivities when they switch from grain- or corn-fed beef to grass-fed. According to this post, choosing grass-fed beef has helped reduce heartburn, bloating, and other digestive troubles among her clients.