Nutritionist Aimee K. Hockett, MS dives into the health benefits of game meat and why to include protein variety in your diet.
When we eat different protein sources, we need to know how the different options fuel us and how our body processes each fuel source differently. Free range sources of meat are more popular than ever, and we feature bison in our Unstuffed Pepper and boar in our Hearty Harvest Bowl.
Eating a variety of different types of proteins and fats is an important aspect of eating a balanced diet. These aspects are not only necessary to fill our belly, but they actually play an important role in sustaining our energy, blood sugar, hormones and concentration. When we choose protein sources, every option has a different balance of the types of micro-proteins and fats known as amino acids or fatty acids. Each different protein or fat chain influences different chemical reactions in the body ranging from sleep metabolism to mood regulation. We need a range of different sources because we need to fulfill a long list of different health requirements to keep us healthy.
Game meats have a unique makeup of amino acids, fatty acids, and micronutrients that offer a range of anti-inflammatory health benefits. This specific blend of different vitamins and minerals impact the time it takes to break down, absorb and turn that food into fuel. A more (dietary) complex nutrient profile means your food will take longer to absorb through the digestive tract, which results in a slower drip of long lasting energy and more effective nourishment throughout your body.
Some instances of hunger or cravings that we struggle to pinpoint can mean we lack the types of nutrients that actively slow the time it takes to absorb the food eaten (like fiber, protein, fats, and specific micronutrients like B vitamins or electrolytes). In other words, certain nutrients (like proteins) have a hand in keeping us full and satisfied because of the time it takes our digestion to break food down and absorb it. We get small amounts of fuel over a longer period of time with a more complex set of nutrients in our food choices.
It is common for people to rely on foods that the digestive tract processes very quickly (the most common examples are refined carbs that are low in vitamins & minerals). This can cause big spikes and crashes with blood sugar and energy levels because foods that have quick absorption rates can lead to hunger, cravings and energy crashes during the day. Game meat is an excellent source of fuel because it has the potential to fully nourish the body through a more complete ‘fullness’ and ‘energy’ satisfaction (it’s nutrient density means it takes longer to digest and absorb, leading to longer lasting energy).
Wild game can satisfy our hunger needs, daily energy levels and stabilize our hormones more effectively because of their unique blend of nutrients. They have a higher percentage of fat with a favorable blend of fatty acids and higher concentrations of omega 3’s compared to conventional or leaner meats available on the market (Strazdiņa et al. 2013). Additionally, game meats are rich in essential amino acids that are not made in the body and therefore necessary for healthy muscle function and energy production. This combination is ideal for someone with a hectic day or an adventurer on a physically taxing outdoor excursion.
When buying meat, we want to know what we are nourishing ourselves. We should be aware of whether or not we are including a full range of necessary amino acids and fatty acids. We know that beef has iron and pork has B Vitamins, but what are the complex micronutrient contents of wild free range options of meat? Here is a chart detailing the general protein, fat, cholesterol and micronutrients offered by wild bison and wild boar. (Read on for what benefit each of these has to our body.)
|Bison - 6 oz cooked piece||Wild Boar - 6 oz cooked piece|
|Fat: 22%||Fat: 12%|
|Cholesterol: 120 mg||Cholesterol: 130 mg|
|Zinc: 114%||Zinc: 64%|
|Vitamin B12: 173%||Vitamin B12: 50%|
|Vitamin B6: 53%||Vitamin B6: 55%|
|Niacin: 73%||Niacin: 51%|
|Thiamin: 22%||Thiamin: 48%|
|Phosphorous: 51%||Phosphorous: 33%|
|Riboflavin: 41%||Riboflavin: 22%|
|Choline: 40%||Choline: 47%|
|Iron: 30%||Iron: 11%|
|Potassium: 13%||Potassium: 15%|
|Magnesium: 12%||Magnesium: 15%|
|Selenium: 96%||Selenium: 40%|
|Copper: 29%||Copper: 6%|
Micronutrient and Vitamin Tracker. (n.d.). Retrieved from http://www.wholesomeapp.com/
With a higher protein and fat content found in Boar and Bison compared to pork and beef, there is also a higher level of other nutrients present. Minerals like Zinc and Selenium are typically found in protein sources because they both play an important role in protein metabolism or formation. Since boar and bison have higher amounts of protein, they also offer a higher mineral density.
To many people, an ‘anti-inflammatory’ diet consists of a high amount of omega fats from foods like fish or extra virgin oils. You may be surprised to learn that wild game meats offer a high level of omega-3 fats because of their free range grazing habits. The grasses and plants eaten by these types of animals contain a lot of omega-3’s but they are not something humans can digest. When free range animals graze on these nutrient rich plants, they absorb those properties and the resulting fat content is higher in omega-3’s, making it an excellent anti-inflammatory food to include in your diet.
Despite potential concern around a higher fat and cholesterol content, the unique blend of B Vitamins, Omega Fats, Minerals and Amino Acids found in game meat can provide many health benefits. In some cases, higher cholesterol can result if there is high inflammation in the body and a lack of anti-inflammatory agents to combat the physical toll of inflammation. Cholesterol is the backbone to all hormones in the body. When inflammation is high as a result of high amounts of inflammatory foods or a lack of anti-inflammatory nutrients, the body can see higher loads of cholesterol stored in the liver. If a food has higher cholesterol, that does not necessarily mean your body will end up with higher cholesterol. Cholesterol is a better marker for inflammation, chronic pain, digestive or hormonal health or an unhealthy diet as opposed to simply pointing to a diet that is high in cholesterol rich foods. (Hockett, https://www.theakkitchen.com/nutrients)
Here is a breakdown of the unique blend of nutrients present in boar & bison and what they have to offer to your overall health.
Zinc is present in over 100 different enzymes in the body. It’s primary role is to support the immune system. Consistent intake of zinc rich foods can help prevent frequent illness and reduce symptoms caused by illnesses like the common cold. It can also help support mood, concentration, hair, skin and nail health, appetite, and digestive regularity. It is necessary for the nervous system, wound healing, and proper protein synthesis. Wild game meat can have higher amounts of zinc because there is a higher concentration of amino acid proteins.
Vitamin B12 is necessary for proper digestive function and secretion of digestive enzymes. The digestive system is key to supporting the rest of the body because we need optimal function to pass nutrients through our system for delivery to our organs. This role means that it can help to manage many health symptoms or conditions related to cardiovascular health, mood management, brain health, nervous system health, anemia, and osteoporosis.
Vitamin B6 is very important in the metabolism of proteins, red blood cell creation and function, hormone function, hormone function and enzyme activity. It can help manage mood, concentration, anxiety, headaches, skin health, immune health, and proper muscle function. Additionally, it can be helpful in managing or treating symptoms related to PMS, depression, carpal tunnel, muscle spasms, cardiovascular health and brain function.
Niacin is very important to the creation and repair of DNA as well as protein and fat metabolism. It can be helpful in managing symptoms related to dermatitis, digestive health, alcoholism, mental health issues like depression or anxiety, insomnia, diabetes, high cholesterol, heart health, ENT health, and arthritis. It’s high Niacin content is useful in game meats because it can actually help us to digest and absorb the fuel it has to offer!
Thiamin is a main contributor to energy production and conductivity across the nervous system. It plays a major role in the metabolism and delivery of carbohydrates, proteins and fats. It is helpful in managing symptoms related to diabetes, heart health, memory, brain health, metabolism, and preventing cataracts.
Phosphorus exists around every cell membrane and is essential in our body’s physical structure as well as energy production/storage. It is helpful in managing symptoms related to arthritis, muscle pain/weakness, carpal tunnel, muscle spasms, stiff joints, wound healing, immune support, anemia, anorexia or lack of appetite, and alcoholism.
Riboflavin is a powerful antioxidant and metabolic manager. It can be helpful in treating or preventing sore throats, dermatitis, hypertension, metabolic syndrome, migraines, cataracts or eye related diseases, and frequent illness.
Game meats can have a higher percentage of selenium because it mainly found in protein sources. It is a strong antioxidant that helps protect the body from infection and help manage metabolism, skin health and thyroid hormones. It is managed by the kidneys and you only need to eat a small amount of protein rich ingredients that have selenium to get the full daily dose. Selenium can help manage symptoms related to hair, skin, and nails like dandruff. It can be useful in managing or treat symptoms related to diabetes, cognitive function, and thyroid health.
(If you have health issues where you are concerned about the impact of these ingredients, it is important to work with a health professional to find the root cause and what foods might be the best fit. This is generalized information about the nutrition facts of game meat and is not meant as specific dietary advice for a person with high cholesterol, thyroid disorders, skin disorders or other health concerns. If you are uncertain whether game meat is a good option for you, it is important to seek out a professional with insight about these types of foods).
Hockett, A. K., MS. (n.d.). Nutrition Facts. Retrieved from https://www.theakkitchen.com/nutrients/
Strazdiņa, V., Jemeļjanovs, A., & Šterna, V. (2013). Nutrition Value of Wild Animal Meat. Proceedings of the Latvian Academy of Sciences. Section B. Natural, Exact, and Applied Sciences,67(4-5), 373-377. doi:10.2478/prolas-2013-0074