Nutrition-wise blog

Wild game — A healthy choice?

By Jennifer K. Nelson, R.D., L.D. and Katherine Zeratsky, R.D., L.D. December 4, 2009

When autumn arrives in my home state of Minnesota, I start getting questions from hunters about the health effects of eating wild game. Deer, elk, caribou and antelope are examples of game meats, and duck, pheasant and turkey are commonly hunted game birds.

In general, wild game is leaner than domesticated animals, because animals in the wild are typically more active. In comparison to lean cuts of beef and pork, game meat has about one-third fewer calories (game birds have about half the calories) and quite a bit less saturated and total fat. Cholesterol for wild and domestic meat ranges from 50 to 75 milligrams for a 3-ounce serving — with wild game tending to be in the lower end of the range.

With game there are a few health-related precautions to keep in mind:

  • Chronic wasting disease (CWD). Similar to mad cow disease, CWD is found in deer and elk. While human infection is a potential concern, there have been no verified cases. To minimize risk, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) suggests that hunters who harvest deer or elk from known CWD-positive areas consider having the animal tested for CWD before consuming the meat. (Information about testing is available from most state wildlife agencies.) In addition, hunters should take precautions such as avoiding animals that appear ill and following good field-dressing practices, such as wearing gloves and minimizing the handling of brain and spinal cord tissues.
  • Lead levels. A number of studies have demonstrated that lead ammunition can cause lead contamination of game. Whether this is a concern has yet to be determined. However, the CDC recommends discarding portions of game that contain lead bullet fragments or using non-lead ammunition. For those at highest risk of adverse effects from lead exposure — pregnant women and children younger than 6 years of age — it may be prudent to avoid eating game shot with lead bullets or slugs.

Of course, eating game is a matter of personal choice. After considering all the information, what are your thoughts?

- Jennifer

Dec. 04, 2009