The Internet is awash in websites that proclaim the nutritional benefits of ground beef from grass-fed cattle. However, researchers in Texas A&M University’s Department of Animal Science have published the only two research studies that actually compared the effects of ground beef from grass-fed cattle and traditional, grain-fed cattle on risk factors for cardiovascular disease (CVD) and type II diabetes in men. Was ground beef from grass-fed beef actually more healthful? No, the study found.

Americans consume about 40% of their total beef intake as ground beef, which is much higher in total fat than most intact cuts of beef. In fact, ground beef is one of the most important sources of the healthful monounsaturated fatty acid – oleic acid – in the diet. Ground beef from grass-fed cattle naturally contains more omega-3 fatty acids than from grain-fed cattle (three times as much), but is higher in saturated and transfat.

At the other end of the spectrum is premium ground beef, such as from conventionally produced Certified Angus Beef or cattle with Japanese genetics (available as Wagyu or Akaushi ground beef). Ground beef from these cattle is very high in oleic acid, and also much lower in saturated and transfat, than ground beef from grass-fed cattle.

The information below is based on TAMU research that compared the fatty acid composition of ground beef from grass-fed and grain-fed cattle. Ground beef from grass-fed and grain-fed cattle that contains 10%-15% total fat (85%-90% lean) is available in retail stores, so the values listed below are for a 4-oz. ground beef patty (quarter-pound) that contains 85% lean (15% fat).

The most abundant omega-3 fatty acid in our foods is α-linolenic acid (ALA), one of the two essential fatty acids that must be obtained from the diet; tthe other is linoleic acid, which is an omega-6 fatty acid. ALA is found in flax seed and walnuts, but Americans obtain most of their ALA from canola oil.

Although the scientific studies aren’t conclusive, ALA may slow the growth rate of cancer cells and reduce risk factors for CVD. The Daily Reference Intake (DRI) of ALA is 1.1 grams (g)/day for women and 1.6g/day for men. So, a quarter-pound ground beef patty from grass-fed cattle contains 0.055 of the 1.1g ALA required by women, and 0.055 of the 1.6g ALA required by men.