Grass vs Corn Fed Beef and the Health science behind it – Zak Gentile

During world war two famers produced more grain (particularly corn) than the American population could use. The vast amount of corn made it more sustainable than using up grasslands for cow feed. In Down to Earth we learned about all the new benefits of transportation including railroads and cars. These factors include the cheep prices associated with beef currently.Farmers started to feed the surplus corn to cattle and why not? It conserves the uneaten food and fattens the cow quicker than grass. Cows that are genetically modified can get up to 1200 pounds in a little over a year. (Eisenbraun) That same weight on grass-fed takes 4-5 years. This is due to growth hormones, antibiotics, and protein supplements given. What’s wrong with affordable, quicker, and more sustainable beef? What people don’t understand is the potential health hazards. Food inc. did a fantastic job generalizing the differences in beef. I’ll being going more in depth with the  science and health issues associated with the beef.

imagesCattle evolved eating grass so eating corn just isn’t natural for them. When a cow consumes corn the acidity in the cow’s stomach is changed. This changed acidity promotes the growth of E.coli. Which is strongly believed to evolve in the gut of cows. The development of this environment created an acid resistant strain of pathogen which survives in human stomachs and can prove to be fatal if not treated. Corn-fed cows are prone to bloating, diarrhea, ulcers, liver disease and weakened immunity. To prevent this from killing the cow they are given a constant supply of antibiotics. Since the antibiotic supply is continuous the bacteria that survive can reproduce nullifying the effects after time. (Eisenbraun)

Grass-fed cows have more nutritional value. They are higher in calcium, potassium, and has seven times more beta- carotene (beta-carotene is a precursor of vitamin A). Vitamin A is for healthy skin, our immune system, as well as vision. It has double the amount of omega-3’s, four times more vitamin E, and higher in ALA (a-linolenic acid).(Cross) Omega-3’s benefit the heart, regulate cholesterol, and effect learning. Studies have shown that the longer cows are fed corn the lower its omega-3 ratio is. (Kiernan) California state university studied three decades of research and found that beef from grass-fed cows fit more closely to saturated fats but also has beneficial nutrients. Grass-fed operations were under 50 a decade ago, now there are thousands. (Cross)


Corn-fed cows barley move their entire lives, while grass fed are running around grazing. It is because of this that they are leaner and when tasted, chewier. Still most people prefer the taste of corn-fed beef. Its also 2-3 dollars (on average) cheeper than grass. Typical beef consumption per year for a person is 67 pounds. That person would save 300 dollars if they only ate corn-fed. However grass-fed cows save a person 16,000 calories a year to process the beef. (Aubrey)

Living conditions for corn fed cattle

Air view of living conditions for corn fed cattle

Dept. of Animal Science at Texas A&M University had two studies that compared grass and corn beef effects on CVD (cardiovascular disease) and cholesterol levels in men. Grass is higher in omega-3’s but also in saturated/ trans fat. Corn-fed beef is very high in oleic acid (blood pressure reducing monounsaturated fat) and much lower in saturated/ trans fats. The most abundant omega 3 fatty acid in our foods are ALA. ALA is believed to slow the growth of cancer and reduce CVD. ALA intake should be 1.6 grams per day for men. So, a quarter pounder ground beef patty from grass-fed cattle contains 0.055 1/3 of whats recommended. Oleic acid reduces LDL- cholesterol the cholesterol we don’t want and raises HDL- cholesterol we do want. Corn-fed cattle increases oleic acid (Smith)

So which is better oleic acid or omega-3? Studies show when men consumed both types of beef for five weeks older, mildly hypercholesterolemia men, grass-fed beef decreased HDL-cholesterol. In men with normal cholesterol levels corn-fed beef increased HDL-cholesterol.  Neither beef type increased LDL-cholesterol in men. Neither type of ground beef had negative effects on risk factors for CVD or type II diabetes, but the beef from the corn-fed cattle provided more positive health benefits by increasing HDL-cholesterol. (Smith)

The tie breaker in my option would go to the grass fed cow for a few reasons but mainly for the vast nutritional benefit it contains.

Corn-fed on the left, Grass fed on the right. You can see the fat color difference. Yellowish (on the right) is due to the beta carotene in grass.

Corn-fed on the left, Grass fed on the right. You can see the fat color difference. The Yellowish (on the right) is due to the beta carotene in grass.

Corn-Fed Vs. Grass-Fed Beef (Karen Eisenbraun)

The Truth About Grass Fed Beef (Allison Aubrey)

Grass Fed versus Corn Fed: You Are What Your Food Eats (Bill Kiernan)

The grass-fed vs. grain-fed beef debate (Kim Cross)

Ground beef from grass-fed and grain-fed cattle: Does it matter? (Stephen B. Smith, Ph.D)


5 thoughts on “Grass vs Corn Fed Beef and the Health science behind it – Zak Gentile

  1. Nick Rolli Post author

    Fascinating how the cows are fed makes them have more of a value for nutrition. Also, I had not known before reading your blog entry that corn fed cows rarely move throughout their life, meanwhile cows that are fed by grass are constantly running around.

  2. earthhist Post author

    It’s sad to realize how corn-fed cows live their life. Not only is it unhealthy for them to be eating corn, but I could imagine living without moving must take a tole on the mental state of the animal. I knew very little about omega-3’s and oelic acids before reading this post, it was very informative!

  3. Jonathan Palmer

    I thought you provided a different perspective on the topic of grass vs corn fed beef. The scientific information was interesting to me because I have never thought about the beef I eat in that way. It was surprising to me that corn fed wasn’t much worse than grass fed. I have always thought of grass fed as being the expensive very high quality meat that was extremely healthy, but this blog shows that corn fed has benefits of it’s own.

  4. earthhist Post author

    You did an awesome job showing the differences between the two types of meat and how choice humans make, can affect the meat that humans consume. I also thought your last choice for a picture was a great way to end your blog, nicely done Zak. – Lucas DeAngelo

  5. Matt Sargent

    The differences you showed between the two types of beef were very interesting, and I agree with you that grass fed cattle seems like the far better option of the two, but do you think that with todays population and consumption rates that we could survive without the fast paced production of corn-fed cattle?


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