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The Pasture Raised Perspective – Part 2: Micronutrients and Antioxidants in Grassfed Beef

Let’s take a closer look at what vitamins and antioxidants are found in beef, and the micronutrient differences between grassfed vs. grainfed. Micronutrients include vitamins, minerals, and phytochemicals. In America, many people have inadequate intakes of these nutrients. Antioxidants are essential for good health because they neutralize free radicals. Free radicals damage cells in the body through oxidative stress. They can come from toxins, infections, stress, and normal body processes. It’s important to eat a diet rich in antioxidants to keep a healthy balance of free radicals and antioxidants. 

Vitamin A

This vitamin is needed for the immune system, healthy skin, heart health, eye health, and plays a vital role in pregnancy. There are two types of vitamin A: preformed vitamin A and provitamin A. Preformed vitamin A is only found in animal foods and is more bioavailable, meaning it is ready for our bodies to use. Provitamin A is found in both plant and animal foods. It is less bioavailable but more common. Our bodies can convert provitamin A into a form that we can use. A lot of the vitamin A in our diets comes from provitamin A carotenoids. Beta-carotene is a precursor to vitamin A, an essential vitamin for cellular health and vision. It’s also a powerful antioxidant that may reduce the risk of cancer. 

In meat, vitamin A (including beta-carotene) is mostly concentrated in the fat because it’s fat soluble. If you eat grassfed beef, you may have noticed that the fat is slightly yellow. Several studies have found that grassfed beef contains more beta-carotene than grain-fed beef. One study showed the grassfed beef had 7x more beta-carotene. While a half-pound of conventional beef has about 14 mcg of beta-carotene, a grassfed half-pound of beef has 102 mcg. It’s unclear whether this effect would be larger with pasture management systems like rotational grazing. However, it certainly shows us that diet quality of the animals affects the nutrient content of the meat, and likely the animals’ health as well.

Vitamin B

The B Vitamins (B3, B5, B6) are typically 2-3x higher in grass-fed beef. Sometimes these vitamins are added to grainfed rations to raise vitamin B levels in conventionally raised meat. This is not necessary in grass-fed diets.  

One study showed that niacin (a form of Vitamin B3), was 9x higher in grassfed beef compared to grainfed beef. Niacin promotes a healthy nervous system, digestive system, and skin.

​​Vitamin C

Vitamin C compounds were 1.5 times higher in the grass-fed beef compared to grain-fed beef.  Even though meat is not a particularly great source of Vitamin C, higher concentrations in meat have been found to improve shelf stability and quality of the meat.

Vitamin E

Vitamin E is a powerful antioxidant the majority of Americans do not get enough of on a daily basis. It prevents fats and cholesterol from being oxidized by free radicals. Because of this, vitamin E is important for preventing atherosclerosis, heart disease, and protecting against cognitive decline.

Grassfed beef has more vitamin E than conventional beef. In the research, conventional beef had 170-660 mcg of Vitamin E in a half-pound, while grassfed beef ranged from 475-1,750 mcg in the same amount of meat. For reference, adults should be getting 15,000 mcg per day of vitamin E. The meat at the upper end of the grassfed range is providing a significant amount of vitamin E. Considering that almost 90% of Americans don’t even get 12,000 mcg per day, grassfed could make a big impact. The extra vitamin E in grassfed beef also gives the meat a longer shelf life by preventing the fats from being oxidized. This clearly demonstrates the vitamin E in grassfed beef has a tangible effect on fat oxidation.


Glutathione is an antioxidant protein essential for the immune system and vital in repairing and rebuilding tissue. It can turn toxic hydrogen peroxide into water, keeping cells and DNA from being damaged. In a 2007 study, grassfed beef contained double the amount of glutathione compared to grain fed.The grassfed beef had higher glutathione redox potential, meaning that the meat had more antioxidants and could neutralize more free radicals. This shows that the animals’ diets matter and change the antioxidant content and activity of the meat. It is important to remember that the antioxidants (and all other nutrients) work together in the body. When vitamin E neutralizes a free radical in your body, the vitamin E becomes a free radical itself. Vitamin C then neutralizes that free radical Vitamin E, creating free radical vitamin C. Next glutathione neutralizes the resulting free radical vitamin C. All of these nutrients need each other to work! While focusing on a single nutrient can be helpful when there is a deficiency, we should usually be focusing on eating a variety of nutrient dense foods. In other words, don’t get too caught up in the specifics. Instead, take this as evidence that grassfed cows are healthier animals and their meat is likely better for your health as well.

In Part 3, we’ll continue the nutritional breakdown of grassfed vs. grainfed beef, focusing on the abundance of healthy fats found in grassfed beef.




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