There are many sources that discuss the difference between grain-fed and grass-fed beef.

Many claim there is a difference in the nutritional characteristics of the beef.

Does the diet of a cow have any influence on the nutrition of the end product that you may eat?

  • Calling this "the old grain-fed vs grass-fed debate" seems to mischaracterise the debate, which is generally about which is better (according to various criteria, including animal welfare, environmental, and nutrition) not whether there is a difference at all.
    – Oddthinking
    Jun 6, 2014 at 10:11
  • While I do grant that there are people making that claim the standard on this website is still to provide a citation to an outside source making the claim and I think that would improve the question.
    – Christian
    Jun 8, 2014 at 20:07
  • @Christian That is not the standard. The standard is notable, clear, objective, and narrowly tailored.
    – user5582
    Jun 9, 2014 at 6:36
  • Protip: Grass fed beef is tough and chewy, so tenderize it
    – user36356
    Nov 18, 2016 at 12:46

1 Answer 1


Yes, there is a difference [1], and the longer the cattle are finished with grain, the greater the differences appears to be [2]

Grass-based diets have been shown to enhance total conjugated linoleic acid (CLA) (C18:2) isomers, trans vaccenic acid (TVA) (C18:1 t11), a precursor to CLA, and omega-3 (n-3) FAs on a g/g fat basis. While the overall concentration of total SFAs is not different between feeding regimens, grass-finished beef tends toward a higher proportion of cholesterol neutral stearic FA (C18:0), and less cholesterol-elevating SFAs such as myristic (C14:0) and palmitic (C16:0) FAs. Several studies suggest that grass-based diets elevate precursors for Vitamin A and E, as well as cancer fighting antioxidants such as glutathione (GT) and superoxide dismutase (SOD) activity as compared to grain-fed contemporaries. Fat conscious consumers will also prefer the overall lower fat content of a grass-fed beef product. [1]

However, in the amount of meat that one might ordinarily consume and with the normal food preparation of removing visible fat, the effect on your health may not be that much different. I don't think the hypothesis that grass fed is better (or less bad) for cardiovascular health has been tested in prospective trials yet.

[1] Daley CA, Abbott A, Doyle PS, Nader GA, Larson S. A review of fatty acid profiles and antioxidant content in grass-fed and grain-fed beef. Nutr J 2010 Mar 10;9:10. doi: 10.1186/1475-2891-9-10. PubMed PMID: 20219103.

[2] Ponnampalam EN, Mann NJ, Sinclair AJ. Effect of feeding systems on omega-3 fatty acids, conjugated linoleic acid and trans fatty acids in Australian beef cuts: potential impact on human health. Asia Pac J Clin Nutr. 2006;15(1):21-9. PubMed PMID: 16500874.

  • Are there any studies on the levels of vitamins and minerals in the meat of grass-fed vs grain-fed cows? Or only this research on fats and antioxidants? It makes intuitive sense that if cows can't properly digest grains, they may have a shortage of some of these nutrients. But just because it sounds true doesn't mean it is.
    – Josh
    Mar 31, 2016 at 17:13

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