Although Americans are eating more chicken, 58 percent of the meat eaten in the U.S. is red meat according to a 2011 study published in Public Health Nutrition. However, when it comes to health, some cuts of beef may not make the best choices because of their fat content. Bison is a leaner red meat and may serve as a healthier alternative, especially to the fattier cuts of beef.
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What Is Bison?
Bison, also called buffalo, is a type of red meat that's part of the same family as cattle. Like cattle, bison are raised on ranches and graze on grass. Although, with its growing popularity, some bison are raised on farms and are grain finished -- which means they're fed grain during the couple of months prior to slaughter -- according to the University of California at Berkeley. Though the meat's flavor varies depending on what the bison eats, it tastes a bit like beef, but is a little sweeter and richer. Grass-fed bison are environmentally friendly, according to Berkeley, because they help control grass growth, nourish the soil with their waste and limit the formation of greenhouse gases.
Bison Compared to Beef
Nutritionally speaking, bison probably makes a better choice than beef. Not only is bison lower in calories and fat than beef, but is similar to beef in protein, vitamin B-12 and iron. A 3.5-ounce portion of broiled bison ribeye steak has 177 calories, 6 grams of fat, about 2 grams of saturated fat and 30 grams of protein, and meets more than 15 percent of the daily value for both vitamin B-12 and iron. By comparison, the same serving of broiled beef ribeye steak has 265 calories, 17 grams of fat, almost 7 grams of saturated fat and 27 grams of protein. Like bison, the beef ribeye is a good source of both vitamin B-12 and iron.
However, it's not all bad news for beef. While a bison burger makes a good choice compared to most burgers when eating out, with 152 calories, 8 grams of fat, 3 grams of saturated fat and 22 grams of protein per 3-ounce serving, 93 percent lean ground beef makes a nutritionally comparable burger with about the same amount of calories, fat and protein as the bison burger.
Bison, Beef and Health
Beef is much higher in saturated fat than bison. Getting too much saturated fat may raise blood cholesterol levels and risk of heart disease. The American Heart Association recommends limiting your intake of saturated fat to no more than 6 percent of calories, which on a 2,000-calorie diet means no more than 13 grams of saturated fat a day. Choosing bison over beef may be better for your heart.
However, red meat in general is linked to health risks. People who consume more red meat have higher rates of heart disease, diabetes and certain types of cancer, and have a shorter lifespan, according to a 2012 study published in the Archives of Internal Medicine. However, the researchers noted a decrease in mortality when red meat was replaced with other sources of protein. So, although bison makes a healthier choice than beef, you may want to limit your overall intake, and instead replace some of your red meat with poultry, fish, low-fat dairy, nuts and beans.
Tips for Healthy Bison Cooking
Though bison makes a good substitute for beef in most recipes, you must be careful how you prepare it. Because it is a leaner cut of meat, bison cooks quicker than beef. Also, if it's cooked too long or at a high temperature, the meat gets tough and a bit chewy.
For best results, sear a bison steak at a high temperature in a pan with vegetables, then reduce the heat until it's cooked to medium-rare to medium. Ground bison should be cooked until it's just about pink in the center, or until it has an internal temperature of 160 degrees Fahrenheit.