Venison: Is It Healthy?

Chicken, beef, pork, salmon.

We know the nutrition facts of those foods. 

As a hunter, we pride ourselves with putting food on our tables that we worked for. However, when it comes to losing weight, building muscle, or improving performance, you need to know what is in your food. Diet calculators have all the info for farm raised animals, but not wild game. Which means we kinda guess if we use the calculators. 

Most people compare venison to beef or lamb, but it’s too lean to be compared to those foods, and it’s not really like chicken. 

So, what’s in venison? Is it really healthy for us? 

Short answer, yes! It’s a high-quality meat with many health benefits. 

Now, here is the hard part about venison. Below will be generalizations, because these animals are wild and their diets vary depending on time of year and their location in our country, their nutrition is going to vary. The same thing goes for any animal (or plant) food, but farmed animals can have their diets regulated more, meaning we have a better idea of what is in that piece of steak versus that elk backstrap. 

High-Protein Low-Fat

Venison is notorious for being super lean and if you overcook it, it gets dry and gamey. Because venison is naturally lean, it’s low in calories with only 128 calories per 3 ounce serving and 25 grams of protein. It only has about 2 grams of fat, which is why you need to be careful cooking it. 

Compared to boneless skinless chicken breasts, they have 142 calories per 3 ounce serving, 26 grams protein, and 3 grams of fat. So venison is very close to chicken. 

If you look at beef, a ribeye steak has 222 calories in a 3 ounce steak, 22 grams of protein, and 14 grams of fat. Now let’s be real, who actually eats 3 ounces of a ribeye? 

It would appear that venison is about the same as chicken in this first part, but let’s move on to the other areas.

Healthy Fats

Many of you may know by now, that eating pasture-raised grass-finished beef is healthier than it’s grain-finished counterpart. The reason for this is that when the animals eat their natural diet, the fat in them, that you end up eating, is actually healthy for you. 

True wild game is as pasture-raised as it gets. While they might sneak some corn and soybeans into their diet, the majority of their diet is still wild plants. 

What does this mean when you throw your backstrap on the grill? 

  1. Higher levels of Omega-3 fatty acids. 
  2. Slightly higher fat soluble vitamins A, D, K
  3. Higher levels of conjugated linoleic acid (CLA)
  4. Animals live fairly stress-free

It’s well documented that most Americans get too many omega-6 fatty acids in their diet. This can lead to a whole bunch of health problems, but the main one is systemic inflammation. We should have a omega-3 to omega-6 ratio around 1:2-1:3, but many Americans have a ration of 1:20. Swapping high omega-6 fats, like conventional chicken or pork fat, for something higher in omega-3s, like venison or wild caught salmon, may improve your overall health. 

Fat soluble vitamins are low in a lot of Americans, especially vitamin D. Eating venison isn’t going to get you to 100% of your RDA, but it may help when done with a healthy diet. 

The research is still going back-and-forth on the benefits of CLA. It seems to have some anti-cancer benefits, helps you burn fat, and raises your metabolic rate. There isn’t enough evidence to say that it for sure does all these things, so I wouldn’t recommend supplementing with it, but getting it from food is fine. Egg yolks and dairy from pasture-raised cows are also good sources. 

The last part is both animal welfare and a way to increase nutrition for you. Long term stress in animals is bad, and can negatively affect the meat. Animals that are stress-free may be healthier than their stressed counterparts. An example you can see is eating a buck at the start of the rut versus eating one at the end of the rut. Generally, the one at the end isn’t going to taste as good.  In terms of welfare, deer live happy lives until a hunter harvest them quickly. Animals in food lots (generally) live their entire lives stressed before going to the slaughter house. 

Venison is High in Vitamins and Minerals

Venison is rich in vitamins and minerals, which means it has a high nutrient density.

Nutrient density might be a new term for you, basically it means a food is low in calories and high in vitamins and minerals. 

So how does it compare to chicken or beef?

3 oz Serving SizeVenisonBeefChicken
Thiamine16%3%4%
Riboflavin26%6%6%
Niacin46%30%59%
B632%21%26%
B1226%24%5%
Pantothenic Acid7%3%8%
Calcium1%3%1%
Iron19%9%5%
Magnesium6%6%6%
Potassium10%9%6%
Zinc21%27%6%
Copper10%3%2%
Manganese1%0%1%
Selenium16%36%34%
Data from Nutritiondata.self.com. Data is for cooked meat

As you can see from the table, venison is comparable or higher than chicken and beef in most categories, with selenium being the only nutrient that is low compared to beef or chicken.

Venison is significantly higher in thiamine (B1), Riboflavin (B2), iron, and copper than beef or chicken.

Remember, the numbers above are for a 3 ounce serving and venison is lower in calories than both beef or chicken, meaning you could eat more to get the same number of calories and get more vitamins and minerals!

Weight Loss

Venison is low in calories and high in protein making it the perfect food while dieting.

High protein foods, like venison, help you retain lean muscle while dieting and help you feel full longer.

In addition to that, the high protein content will help you recover from your workouts!

Immune Health

At the time of this writing, we’re still dealing with a global pandemic (not going to say the C word). But even without that going on, keeping your immune system healthy is important for everyone.

Zinc is an important nutrient in maintaining a healthy immune system. When dieting, many people avoid eating beef because of the higher calories, but beef is also a good source of zinc.

Chicken, on the other hand, is low in zinc and is what most people substitute beef with, meaning they just lost a major source of zinc in their diets.

Venison is the perfect substitution for both chicken and beef since a 3 ounce portion has 21% of the RDA of zinc.

Iron to Fight Anemia

One of the main reasons I started hunting was that my wife is prone to anemia, but also developed a weird sensitivity to beef. She also has some stomach issues with taking iron supplements, and we couldn’t afford to buy bison all the time.

Venison has almost double the iron of beef (19% vs 9% in a 3 ounce portion) making it a perfect food to get your iron levels up.

I’ve also found that women also tend to avoid red meat because they’re worried about the calorie content. With venison having just over half the calories of beef (127 vs 222), it is a win-win for everyone.

Human Health Concerns

Venison is generally considered safe to eat.

Chronic Wasting Disease (CWD) is a disease that affects our deer populations here in the United States and is similar to ‘Mad Cow Disease’. While there is no evidence of the disease crossing to humans, you should avoid eating certain parts like the brain, spinal cord, etc, especially in high CWD areas.

Hunters should get their deer tested if they’re in a CWD area.

Another concern is that men eating too much venison may get dangerously high iron levels. Someone, like myself, who eats 8-10 ounces of meat at lunch and dinner can get too much iron if you eat venison everyday at both meals. A few days a week is okay, but try to limit venison, and other red meat, to one meal per day.

Is venison healthy?

I would 100% say YES!

Venison is an amazing health food that, if you hunt or have hunters in your family, you should incorporate as part of your diet. If you’re worried about gamey flavor, the best solution is to marinate the meat in vinegar, citrus juice, or buttermilk to remove that gamey flavor.

Not sure how to incorporate venison into your diet or meal plan? email me at: chris@provide-and-protect.com or click the button below to sign up for coaching.

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