Serve this grilled trip-tip — whether the beef is grass-fed or grain-finished — with ratatouille. (Washington State Beef Commission)

Serve this grilled trip-tip — whether the beef is grass-fed or grain-finished — with ratatouille. (Washington State Beef Commission)

What’s the difference between grass-fed and grain-finished beef?

Here’s what some of the more common USDA-approved labels on beef in the grocery store mean.

Your choice to eat beef — or not — and what kind of beef you eat likely comes from personal feelings about animal welfare, interest in sustainable farming methods, food safety issues, taste and nutrition.

In this column I’ll go over the different types of beef in the grocery store and their nutrition profile, so you can make the best buying decision.

Confused by the many different labels on beef? The United States Department of Agriculture approves labels for beef based on specific criteria. The common ones are for “grass-fed,” “grain-finished” and “organic,” though you might also see other USDA-approved labels on beef.

Most beef comes from cattle that spend the majority of their lives eating grass. For grain-finished beef, the cows are removed from the pasture at about six months and taken to a feed yard where they eat local feed (corn, potato hulls, sugar beets, and hay or forage). They may or may not be given Food and Drug Administration approved antibiotics to treat, prevent or control disease and or growth-promoting hormones.

Grass-fed beef spend their entire lives eating grass until they reach the weight to be slaughtered. They may or may not be given FDA approved antibiotics to treat, prevent or control disease and/or growth promoting hormones.

Certified organic indicates the cows have never received any antibiotics or growth-promoting hormones. Organic cows may be either grain or grass-fed, as long as the feed is USDA certified 100-percent organic. Some may even spend time at a feed yard. All cattle are commonly fed vitamin and mineral supplements to balance their diet, just like people.

One concern people have with beef relates to cows’ production of antimicrobial resistant E. Coli strains in their colons. This is a risk we may not be able to escape if we eat beef. Studies show there are no safety advantages to eating grass-fed versus grain-finished beef as far as E. Coli goes. (All cows poop and will continue to do so!) The best advice is to cook your beef to the safe temperature of 160 degrees to kill E. Coli. Undercooked or raw beef could be dangerous.

Beef contributes a plethora of nutrients that make it an unquestionably healthy choice and one that can be part of a healthy diet. Besides protein, it provides a substantial amount of iron (that is easily absorbed, as opposed to iron in plant foods), B12, B6, Zinc, Phosphorus, Niacin, Riboflavin, Selenium and Choline to our diet. There are 21 cuts of lean beef to choose from that average 150 calories for a three-ounce serving (the size of a deck of cards) — a nutrient-rich calorie bargain.

There are no significant differences in nutrition between grass-fed or grain-finished beef. Grass-fed beef is a bit leaner and could possibly be a bit drier, so care in cooking is a must. The flavor varies with what the cow eats. In a blinded side-by-side taste test of grass-fed versus grain-finished beef, I chose the grain-finished.

Disclaimer: This is not a paid endorsement.

Kim Larson is a registered dietitian nutritionist, certified health and wellness coach and founder of Total Health. Got to or to learn more.

Garden grill trip-tip

1 beef tri-tip roast (about 1½ to 2 pounds)

1 small eggplant, cut crosswise into ½ inch thick slices

2 small red and/or yellow bell peppers, cut lengthwise into quarters

2 medium yellow squash and/or zucchini, cut lengthwise in half

1 cup grape tomatoes, cut in half

¼ cup lightly packed chopped fresh basil

Salt and ground black pepper

For the marinade:

⅓ cup olive oil

⅓ cup dry white wine

2 tablespoons fresh lemon juice

1 tablespoon minced garlic

Combine marinade ingredients in small bowl. Place beef roast and ⅓ cup marinade in food-safe plastic bag; turn roast to coat. Close bag securely and marinate in refrigerator 15 minutes to 2 hours, turning occasionally. Cover and reserve remaining marinade in refrigerator.

Remove ¼ cup of reserved marinade for ratatouille; set aside. Toss vegetables (except tomatoes) with remaining marinade.

Remove roast from marinade; discard marinade. Place roast in center of grid over medium, ash-covered coals or over medium heat on preheated gas grill; arrange vegetables (except tomatoes) around roast. Grill roast, covered, 25 to 35 minutes for medium rare (145 degrees) to medium (160 degrees) doneness, turning occasionally.

Grill eggplant and bell peppers 7 to 11 minutes; zucchini and yellow squash 8 to 12 minutes (on gas grill, eggplant 6 to 8 minutes; bell peppers, zucchini and yellow squash 7 to 11 minutes) or until tender, turning occasionally.

Remove roast when instant-read thermometer registers 135 degrees for medium rare; 150 degrees for medium. Transfer roast to carving board; tent loosely with aluminum foil. Let stand 10 minutes. (Temperature will continue to rise about 10 degrees to reach 145 degrees for medium rare; 160 degrees for medium.)

Meanwhile, cut grilled vegetables into 1-inch pieces. Combine vegetables, tomatoes, basil and reserved ¼ cup marinade in large bowl; toss to coat. Carve roast diagonally across the grain into thin slices. Season roast and ratatouille with salt and black pepper, as desired. Serve roast with ratatouille.

— Recipe reprinted with permission by the Washington State Beef Commission. Find more recipes at

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