How Healthy Is Venison?

Venison, or deer meat, has been a part of the American diet since the days of the Pilgrims, according to a December 2009 article published in "Field and Stream." Venison is a nutrient-rich food that is lower in fat than many other types of red meat. But you'll need to butcher the venison properly if you shoot the deer yourself to avoid food-borne illnesses and keep it a healthy food.

Venison is lower in fat than beef. (Image: atomich/iStock/Getty Images)

Calories and Macronutrients

You'll save fat and calories if you opt for venison over beef. A 3-ounce serving of roasted venison contains 140 calories, less than 1 gram of fat and 26 grams of protein, which is 50 percent of the daily value for protein if you follow a 2,000-calorie diet. In comparison, a 3-ounce serving of grilled beef tenderloin steak, which has the same amount of protein as the venison, provides 179 calories and 7.6 grams of fat, including 3 grams of saturated fat.

Vitamins and Minerals

Eat a 3-ounce serving of roasted venison, and you'll get 10 percent of the DV for thiamine, 15 percent of the DV for zinc, 20 percent of the DV for iron and phosphorus and 30 percent of the DV for riboflavin, niacin and vitamin B-12. The B vitamins thiamine, riboflavin, niacin and vitamin B-12 help you turn the food you eat into energy, keep your skin and hair healthy and play a role in brain and nervous system function. You need zinc for forming proteins and DNA and healing wounds, iron for forming red blood cells and phosphorus for kidney function and creating strong bones.

Cholesterol Content

Venison provides a significant amount of cholesterol -- 95 milligrams, or 30 percent of the DV. It contains almost no saturated fat, however, so it is still a heart-healthy meat as long as you eat it in moderation and keep your daily cholesterol intake below the recommended limit of 300 milligrams per day. While dietary cholesterol can have a small effect on your blood cholesterol levels, saturated fat has a much greater effect, according to University of Illinois Extension. A July 2011 article published in "The British Journal of Nutrition" concluded that a link between dietary cholesterol intake and heart disease isn't supported by epidemiological data.

Potential Health Risks

One health risk from eating venison comes from the potential for it to be contaminated with lead. The lead used in the shot that kills the deer can spread quite far into the meat, making it difficult to remove it all during butchering. A study published in "PLoS ONE" in 2009 found that 80 percent of professionally processed deer meat samples contained lead fragments. This may help explain the higher-than-average lead concentrations found in the blood of hunters and their families. High blood levels of lead can cause kidney damage, hearing problems, aggressive behavior, anemia, constipation and difficulty sleeping. Also, be aware that venison can cause food-borne illnesses, such as E. coli, if it isn't properly cleaned, stored and prepared.

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