Decoding Meat Labels: Which is Healthiest?

Shopping for meat can be confusing. In addition to deciding what cut of meat you want, you also have to wade through a host of classifications like grass-fed, organic, free-range, and more. What does it all mean? Check out this handy guide, so you’ll be in the know next time you go.  

  • Grass-fed: This designation means that the cattle were raised on grass and hay, though it may not have been exclusively that way. Grass is a more natural option for cattle because their stomachs can more easily digest grass than grain, which makes grass-feeding a more natural and humane way to raise them. Grass-fed beef is leaner than grain-fed, and there’s a slight difference in flavor, with grass-fed slightly gamier. When preparing grass-fed beef, cook it no more than medium-done, because it’s leaner. Grass-fed beef is higher in healthy omega 3 fatty acids, beta carotene, and vitamin E, but there are currently no regulations regarding the use of the term.  
  • Grain-finished: Cattle that are grass-finished are raised on grass for the first six months, but then fattened on grain, typically corn or soybeans, prior to slaughter. These cattle gain weight quickly and have more marbling than grass-fed beef. About 85 percent of beef sold in the United States falls into this category, so if the label doesn’t say grass-fed, the cow was probably grain-finished.  
  • Organic: This is a legally defined term, so it is governed by strict rules. There are regular inspections to verify that meat labeled organic is being produced without synthetic fertilizer, hormones, antibiotics, pesticides, irradiation, or genetically modified ingredients. However, organic doesn’t mean that the animals were grass-fed or pasture-raised, and organic cattle can be fed grain as long as it’s organically grown. Organic meats pose the lowest risk of mad cow disease because organic rules forbid feeding animal byproducts to other animals.  
  • Natural: Producers of conventionally raised animals are permitted to use the label “natural” as long as their product doesn’t contain chemical preservatives, artificial color or flavor, or any other artificial ingredient. By this definition, though, all fresh meat is natural. Much natural beef is raised sustainably, but there’s no way to know for sure because there’s no certification or inspection. 
  • Pastured: This doesn’t apply to beef but is permitted for pork and poultry products, as long as the animals have been raised on pasture. Swine and poultry can’t live on grass alone, because they’re omnivores, so this isn’t the same thing as grass-fed. 

If you’re looking for highquality cuts of meat, head to R&R Quality Meats and Seafood to check out our selection. At R&R Quality Meats & Seafood, you’ll always find fresh, premium meats and seafood, sourced from trusted providers. Locally owned and operated, we’ve been serving the Redding, California community since 1971, providing high-quality meats and seafood along with friendly, personalized customer service. To learn more, give us a call at (530) 241-7770 or contact us through our website.

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