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The Truth About 100% Grass Fed Cows’ Whey


The words, “100% grass-fed whey,” are highly attractive to consumers seeking only the best and healthiest whey protein products. But what does “grass fed whey” really mean? And is it really better?

“Grass-fed” is defined by USDA to mean cows that are fed only grass and forage for life, except for milk prior to weaning. These animals cannot receive grains or grain byproducts. Hay, silage, forbs (immature legumes, brassica), browse and the like are acceptable.

Grass Fed Cows’ WheyBut the regulations allow unspecified non-grass food during adverse environmental or physical conditions, do not prohibit hormone treatments, and require access to pasture during only part of the year.

Many believe grass fed cows yield the healthiest milk and most superior whey protein. Though this may seem true in theory, in reality the term grass-fed can be manipulated to deceive consumers and conceal the truth.

So here are the facts…

Some distributors of grass fed whey protein make outrageous claims of special attributes for their product or the process that produces it. They typically use slick statements in their website and labels to fool consumers into believing their products are superior to their competitors’. It’s time to set the record straight on these claims and reveal the truth. Below are some of the most common claims vs. the true facts.

  • Claim- Grass Fed is superior to Pasture Raised

Facts: Nothing is further from the truth. USDA regulations do NOT prohibit the use of hormone treatments in “USDA Grass Fed” livestock. When you purchase “100% USDA Grass Fed” beef, unless it’s organic, there is no guarantee the product is hormone treatment free.

By comparison, pasture raised whey from New Zealand or Australia comes from hormone free cows. In the US, pasture raised dairy is largely organic and therefore hormone free. Although “pasture raised” is not a legal term in the US, the dairy industry largely defines it as meaning that cattle are allowed to graze year round, have their diet supplemented with plant based feed in winter, and are hormone treatment free. It’s an approach that puts emphasis on the well being of the animal and produces high quality meat and dairy products.

  • Claim- 100% USDA Grass- Fed cows must be allowed to graze all year round

Facts: Not true. USDA “Grass Fed” regulations require pasture feeding during only part of the year — “from the average date of the last frost in spring to the average date of the first frost in the fall in the local area of production.” So in Texas, steers need to be pasture fed only 185 days per year. The other 180 days, they can be confined in a feedlot and still qualify as “100% USDA Grass Fed.” In North Dakota, a steer might only need pasture feeding for several weeks. The rest of the year it could be confined in a feedlot and still be labeled “100% USDA Grass Fed.

“So, in reality, a so-called 100% grass fed animal may actually spend most of its life in feedlot confinement.

  • Claim- Grass Fed cattle are humanely treated

Facts: Grass fed regulations are highly restrictive and raise concerns about how humane a strict grass feeding regime is. Cattle are allowed to consume only grass and forages which may actually fail to support their nutritional and energy needs. They can only have supplemental feeds during adverse environmental or physical conditions. That’s unlike pasture raised animals who live outdoors on pastures and are allowed a greater flexibility in grazing choices.

Grass-fed animals may be more restricted and stressed than pasture raised animals. The problems with strict grass feeding arise particularly during times of drought, harsh winters or poor forage quality. Due to highly restricted supplementation policy, grass fed cattle may suffer from protein deficiencies and impaired growth.

Young and growing animals need a consistent balanced diet to be healthy, resist disease and grow. A diet based on grass alone may not be sufficient to ensure normal growth of young animals. 100% grass feeding has also resulted in substantially decreased milk production in lactating cows, potentially affecting the milk supply to their young offspring. In comparison, pasture raised animals are allowed moderate supplementation to promote healthy growth, adequate milk production and less stress.
Not surprisingly, the so-called humanely treated grass fed animals are largely raised for slaughter, young animals included, because of greater profits. The average life expectancy of mature grass fed cattle is a mere two years. In comparison, pasture raised cows are grown in an environment fit for milking as they are less stressed and seem to enjoy longer life.

  • Claim- Grass fed whey has a superior taste.

Facts:  Some grass fed whey products have been known for their “herby” aftertaste. Bad taste could also be an indication of low grade quality.

The most reliable way to check the quality of your whey is through an organoleptic test which includes smell, taste and solubility. If the whey is non-soluble in its non-instantized form, or if it smells bad and has a funky aftertaste, return or discard it regardless of label claims. Poor solubility, bad smell and a funky aftertaste may indicate rancidity, possibly with high levels of broken proteins and peroxidation. Note that rancid proteins can be toxic and should be avoided regardless of what the label claims.

About Ori Hofmekler — founder of Defense Nutrition and author of The Warrior Diet, is a nutritional and fitness expert. Follow him on Twitter, Facebook and Google+.

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