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The Grass-Fed Difference

By Tyler Woodward

Ever wonder if grass-fed beef is just another grocery store marketing scheme or if it actually makes a difference in your health and the lives of the animals? 


The Grass-Fed Difference:

When it comes to nutrition if there’s one saying that encompasses it all it is: 

‘You are What You Eat’

And when you really think about it, this applies to every animal under the sun. Dogs and cats eat meat, monkeys & apes mostly eat fruit, we humans eat a bit of everything, and cows eat grass. Take away our staple food groups and you remove a part of us, a piece of our physiology. We all evolved to thrive on different food sources and we require these food sources to thrive. For example:

  • Humans have need to consume vitamin C through our diet while dogs and cats are capable of synthesizing their own Vitamin C 
  • Everyone knows dogs can’t eat chocolate, but why can we? Chocolate contains oxalic acid (oxalates) and theobromine compounds which humans can break down (metabolize), but dogs can’t, making them poisonous.
  • Cows and all other ruminant animals produce the enzyme cellulase that allows them to break down the cellulose fibers found in grass and other foliage. Humans on the other hand can’t digest cellulose, so it just passes through their intestines undigested.

Cows Eat Grass:

Cows Eat Grass


Cows along with all other ruminant animals like sheep, lamb, deer, and bison, evolved to consume grass among other foliage. Ruminant animals all have a four-part digestive system that allows them to eat insoluble fiber like that found in grass and foliage and make it into usable energy. Unlike monogastric (one-stomach) animals like birds, pigs and humans, who rely on chemical digestion through enzymes to digest their food, cows largely rely on bacteria. 

When cows consume food it enters their rumen which is home to thousands of bacteria. In cows, their food will sit in the rumen for about 48 hours where bacteria will ferment the food and in doing so produce the enzyme cellulase. Cellulase is able to break down cellulose into the simple sugar, glucose which cows are then able to absorb through their intestines and use as energy. They do this primarily in 2 ways:

  1. Ruminant animals frequently regurgitate their food, re-chew it and swallow it again in a process called “cud chewing”. This allows them to break down the fiber into smaller pieces that allows them to be more easily fermented by the bacteria in their gut.
  2. Cows are known for burping, but little did you know that they’re also notorious for being slobbery. Cows produce between 100-150 Liters of saliva daily. This saliva counteracts the acidity of the foliage they’re consuming, allowing them to maintain a neutral pH in their rumen. 

Why Is This Beneficial?:

The Ultimate Recycling System - Cows have an innate ability to convert food that is indigestible to humans into usable energy. Think of all the waste that humans produce being that we are only able to consume the “flowers” of plants like in corn. Cows are able to consume this inedible cellulose and convert it into usable energy. While the inedible stalks of these plants aren't “grass” they're very similar in its composition compared to grains.

Biohydrogenation - Grass and foliage are mainly made up of polyunsaturated fats which are extremely unstable and are likely to oxidize (rust) in our body wreaking internal havoc when in excess in the form of oxidative stress. The bacteria in cows are able to “saturate” or hydrogenate these polyunsaturated fats into saturated fats, making them stable for human consumption along with a ton of other benefits. 

Humans have tried to replicate this process in cows, but failed rather miserably. The goal was to make vegetable oils more stable, so they would be solid at room temperature, but they only partially hydrogenated or “saturated” these fats leaving high quantities of the extremely unstable trans fats in their wake. While cows are not perfect either and have a small concentration of trans-fats of about 5-6%, hydrogenated vegetable oils can have up to 60% trans-fats, which gave way to the trans-fat uproar that occurred around 2010. 

Vitamin A Conversion - Plants are generally rich in provitamin A, also known as Beta Carotene. The issue is that humans are very poor at digesting and utilizing beta-carotene and converting it into Vitamin A as retinol (animal vitamin A), with many studies showing its as low as 3-5%. Retinol on the other hand has an absorption rate as high as 75-100%. Luckily for us, cows are readily able to convert beta-carotene into retinol, making them a great source of Vitamin A.

Vitamin K & B-Vitamins Synthesis - The bacteria in cows' rumen have yet another role in producing Vitamin K and the B-vitamins. While the bacteria in humans can produce these vitamins in small quantities in the colon, it's not enough to satisfy our dietary needs. Additionally, small amounts of Vitamin K1 which is found in plants can be converted into the usable form Vitamin K2 in the testes of humans, but again not enough. Cows on the other hand can produce large amounts of these vitamins making them a viable source of these nutrients.

Read More: Cholesterol Collusion

The Nutrients In Grass:

grass nutrients

It turns out that grass is very nutritious and provides nearly all of the nutritional requirements for cows. Grass contains:

  • Betacarotene (Provitamin A)
  • Vitamin C
  • Vitamin E
  • Phosphorus
  • Iron 
  • Nitrogen
  • Magnesium
  • Calcium

Grass contains quite literally everything a cow needs to thrive. While grass is extremely nutritious to cows (remember we can’t digest it), there are two extremely important nutrients that I’d like to highlight

  • Vitamin C - Unlike carnivores, ruminant animals must get their vitamin C from their diet. Vitamin C contains the enzyme tyrosinase which contains the essential trace mineral copper. While vitamin C is a potent antioxidant on its own, copper is an extreme vital nutrient that we need to thrive. Without copper there is no ceruloplasmin (the active form of copper) and without ceruloplasmin our cells cannot use oxygen to create energy. 
  • Vitamin E - Grass happens to also be a rich source of Vitamin E, another potent antioxidant. Vitamin E helps to counteract the oxidation or rusting of polyunsaturated fats in our body and the more polyunsaturated fats you consume (think fried foods) the higher your vitamin E requirement. Most foods that contain vitamin E also contain high quantities of polyunsaturated fats, so they cancel each other out. Luckily, cows are able to “saturate” these unsaturated fats from grass, making them a viable source of Vitamin E for us. 

Interestingly it was found in this study that cows that consume natural Vitamin E by eating grass have more Vitamin E in their milk compared to supplementing with Vitamin E.

Read More: The War On Micronutrients | The Battle You Never Knew You Were Fighting

What About Grain-Fed Cows?:

Grain-fed cows


Grains like corn, potatoes, wheat, barley are made up of mostly soluble or easily fermentable fibers. When cows eat large portions of grains these fibers ferment rapidly in their rumen, allowing for an overgrowth of bacteria. These bacteria produce large quantities of the very acidic lactic acid which makes their previously neutral rumen (think like water) into an acidic environment more like human stomachs. 

On top of this, cows no longer need to produce nearly as much saliva to digest these grains. Without the saliva to neutralize these acidic plants, their rumen becomes more acidic. As their rumen becomes more acidic it kills the bacteria that previously resided within it, physically changing the composition of the bacteria in the rumen within just 2-6 hours!

Remember, it’s these essential bacteria that are responsible for producing all the vitamins that we need that we cannot derive (or absorb poorly) from plants. 

Cows can actually die from grain overload if they are introduced to grain too rapidly. This results in a condition known as grain acidosis from the increased acid production in their rumen causing cows to experience bloating, indigestion, abdominal pain, diarrhea, and potentially death. 

The Grain-Fed Life:

Grain-fed cows live a rough life. After 4-6 months when they become of age, grain-fed cows will be shipped off to a feedlot where they remain more or less the remainder of their life. Feedlots can contain up to 150,000 cattle in a single location, each cow stuffed next to the other in a cage. Feedlots tend to have major sanitation issues due to the cows crowding one another and the manure they produce. 

This leads to the cattle living very stressed lives and in combination with the lack of nutrients they’re consuming compared to a grass-fed diet, grain-fed cows are much more likely to get sick. Grain-fed cows are routinely given antibiotics in their feed in order to prevent them from getting sick. 

Compared to grass, grains are generally nutrient poor and do not contain nearly as much beta-carotene (provitamin A), vitamin E, Vitamin C along with the electrolytes magnesium, calcium and sodium. Cows cannot produce any these vitamins on their own and like us must consume them through their diet. If they are fed a diet void of these nutrients they will become deficient in them, meaning they are a poor source of these vitamins for us. 

Additionally, because the majority of these cows are kept inside of feedlots, they do not get nearly enough sunlight compared to grass-fed cows. This in turn results in grain-fed cows having less vitamin D and again have a higher likelihood of becoming sick.

The antibiotics administered to these cows also significantly increase the rate at which the cows grow, on top of the steroids that are commonly injected into the cattle. Grain-fed cows typically have a lifespan of only 14-16 months because they grow so rapidly which results in grain-fed cows being much about 20% fattier than grass-fed cows.  

Last, the change in microbiome composition in the cows from eating grain can also commonly result in nutrient malabsorption. Meaning the cattle can no longer properly absorb and digest the vitamins & minerals that are in their feed.

The Grass-Fed Difference:

While both grain-fed and grass-fed meat are derived from the same animal, in my opinion they are as different as night and day. By buying grass-fed beef you are voting with your dollar to support the ethical farming of cows compared to the cruel factory farming that the majority of our cows face today. Not only does this benefit the cow, but it also benefits you.

You now know that grass-fed cows are significantly healthier and more nutritious than their grain-fed counterparts. Buying grass-fed beef supports both a healthier you and a better planet. Here are all the benefits of purchasing grass-fed meat:

Thermo Diet

If you want to learn more about how to structure your nutrition to provide your body with the fuel it needs to thrive then check out the Thermo Diet Program! The Thermo Diet is a way of eating designed to nourish your body with all the vitamins & minerals it requires to function optimally, so you can flourish! Click here to check out the Thermo Diet Program today!


My goal in writing this article, as always, is to provide you with logically-based principles that you can use to form your own conclusions regarding any information you may come across within this subject. I really hope you found this article interesting and if you have anything to add to this article, or any comments or criticism, feel free to reach out to me on our facebook groups or on Instagram @tylerwoodward_fit. Also, please feel free to share this article with anyone that might be interested.

Thanks for reading!

Until next time… be good

~Tyler Woodward