George Brown has always thought the venison he eats is good for him, as are the meals he centers around other animals he hunts each winter — rabbit, dove and duck.
And, he says, he'll never gain weight from squirrel, raccoon or opossum.
“No way that’s going to happen,” said Brown, of Brandon. “That ain’t a threat. I can’t stomach the idea of eating them.”
Yet, those three game animals, like most others, when eaten in moderation, produce a healthy diet, low in both total fat and saturated fat while high in protein and many important minerals.
Food labels for game, similar to those required on store-bought food, are available online and provide interesting and valuable information.
One aspect of game and fish that might surprise diners is a high level of cholesterol. Even Brown’s beloved venison approaches that of similar cuts of beef or pork. In comparing a three-ounce serving of venison backstrap, or loin, to that of a similar cut of beef, like a New York or Kansas City strip, the venison offers only a slight reduction in cholesterol, 67 grams from 72 grams.
But the beef, trimmed to ¼-inch of fat, has 14 total fat grams and 6 grams of saturated fat while the venison contains just 2 grams of total fat and 1 gram of saturated fat.
“I never knew it had that much cholesterol," said Brown, who because he has a family history of cardiovascular disease watches his cholesterol intake. “I guess it’s not as good for me as I thought.”
Well, not exactly. Because game meat is lower in saturated fat, it is more heart-healthy. According to experts, high levels of saturated fat lead to an increase in low-density lipoprotein (LDL, the bad cholesterol that can clog arteries). The cholesterol that the body produces most often is far greater than what is consumed in the diet.
According to Connie Grantham, a registered nurse who for more than a decade ran the lipids management office of the Jackson Heart Clinic, the liver metabolizes saturated fat into LDL.
“In that respect, game such as venison is heart healthy,” Grantham said. “But, it is still important to monitor cholesterol intake. For most people, a daily limit of 300 milligrams of cholesterol is recommended, but for people who have a history of cardiovascular disease, that number drops to 200.
“Everyone should monitor saturated fat.”
When Grantham teaches classes on healthier cooking to patients, she is often asked about game and fish.
“I stress that it is indeed healthy when consumed in moderation,” she said. “It is also important how it is prepared.”
Deer meat loses its dietary advantages when processed into sausage or burger. Venison has very little marbling (veins of fat in meat). Since deer fat, or tallow, is unpleasant to taste, all, or at least as much as is possible, is removed during processing.
To make burger or sausage, either beef fat or pork fat or both are added to the venison in levels between 20 and 40 percent.
For other game meats, such as fish, squirrel, rabbit and opossum, preparation can nullify its low-fat benefits. Frying fish or game, or smothering game in gravy can turn a healthy meal into a fattening dish.
To lower saturated fat levels in game birds or waterfowl, remove all skin. For small game animals, remove as much fat as possible prior to cooking. Consider grilling or roasting instead of frying.
By the numbers
Beef: A 3-ounce (85g) serving of beef loin (NY or KC strip) has 224 calories and 129 calories from fat, 14g of fat of which 6g are saturated, 75 mg of cholesterol, 46 mg of sodium and 22 g of protein.
Chicken: 100 grams of chicken breast, skin removed, has 165 calories and 32 calories from fat, 4g of total fat of which 1g is saturated, 85mg of cholesterol, 74mg of sodium and 31g of protein.
Deer: Low in Sodium. It is also a good source of Thiamin, Riboflavin, Iron, Phosphorus, Zinc and Selenium, and a very good source of Protein, Niacin, Vitamin B6 and Vitamin B12.
Squirrel: Low in Saturated Fat. It is also a good source of Riboflavin, Niacin, Phosphorus and Selenium, and a very good source of Iron.
Quail: Low in Sodium. It is also a good source of Thiamin, Riboflavin, Iron, Phosphorus, Zinc and Copper, and a very good source of Protein, Niacin, Vitamin B6 and Selenium.
Opossum: Low in Sodium. It is also a good source of Protein, Niacin, Vitamin B6, Iron, Phosphorus and Selenium, and a very good source of Vitamin B12.
Bass: Good source of Phosphorus and Selenium, and a very good source of Protein, Vitamin B12 and Manganese.
Dove: Low in Sodium. It is also a good source of Protein, Niacin, Vitamin B6, Iron, Phosphorus, Zinc, Copper and Selenium.
Rabbit: Low in Sodium. It is also a good source of Iron, Phosphorus and Selenium, and a very good source of Protein and Niacin
Racoon: Low in Sodium. It is also a good source of Protein, Thiamin, Riboflavin and Iron, and a very good source of Vitamin B12.
Wild duck breast: Low in Sodium. It is also a good source of Riboflavin, Niacin, Vitamin B12, Phosphorus, Copper and Selenium.