SAMUEL: Why eat wild game?

West Virginia hunters have not had to worry about Covid while making extra trips to the store because many have deer meat in their freezer. Me too. I’ve been eating deer meat all of my life. My dad was a public school teacher and my mom a part-time secretary. Needless to say, with four children, that deer meat was extremely important to our family. We didn=t eat it because it was healthy, although it was. No, we ate deer meat because it tasted good, was inexpensive, and it filled the freezer.

Andrew Spellman has been giving you deer recipes in the paper and on the Internet, so I thought I’d present reasons for eating a Paleolithic diet. It’s called the Paleo diet because early man consumed wild game. They ate no cereals or whole grains, no dairy products, no refined sugar, no processed foods and very little salt. Vegetarians often talk about the unhealthy impacts of meat on their diets. From all the studies I found (and the results were quite similar in all those studies), it would appear that indeed, eating wild meat is just plain good for you. In my later years, finances have not been an issue, and buying meat no problem. That said, we still consume one-two deer per year. Yes, it still tastes great, but we also eat deer meat because it is healthy. There have been a number of studies documenting this and I want to summarize a few.

At Kansas State University they compared 3.5 ounces of beef to the same amount of deer meat. Deer meat had 158 calories, but the beef contained 40 percent more. Deer meat had 1.25 grams of saturated fat and 112 mg of cholesterol. Beef contained 223% more fat and 125% more cholesterol. Lean beef did a bit better with 31% more calories, 189% more fat, and 118% more cholesterol. From this one comparison, it is quite obvious that deer meat is healthy food. Oh yes, though this study did not mention it, my guess is that there were no chemical additives in the deer meat.

Additives are negative for store-bought meats. Hormones and antibiotics are sometimes a part of growth promotion in domestic animals we consume. In recent years we’ve seen the meat industries respond to demands for healthier meats, and we can expect that trend to continue. Even so, there can be additives, but you won’t find them in wild-harvested venison.

From the following table, you can see how deer meat compares to beef, pork and other wild game. This North Dakota State University study also showed that deer had much lower amounts of fat. Elk, moose, caribou and antelope did too. Saturated fat in all wild game was far lower than for beef or pork. Same for the caloric content. Although not shown in the table, deer, elk and moose also had a tad more protein than beef. The one negative shown in this study was that the cholesterol content of deer meat was about one-third higher than beef. Interestingly, elk and moose meat had about the same amount of cholesterol as beef. I love elk and moose meat. You would too.

Different studies give different results, but all favor venison as healthy. A study done at the University of Missouri showed that in a 3 ounce serving of beef, there were 184 calories, 3 grams of saturated fat, and 73 mg of cholesterol. Pork was almost identical in content to beef as was roasted chicken. Roasted deer meat had 134 calories, 1 gm of total fat and 95 mg. of cholesterol. For all you wild turkey hunters, 3 ounces of uncooked turkey had 121 calories, no saturated fat and only 55 mg of cholesterol.

So, what is the bottom line here? Clearly, heart doctors would love for all their patients to switch to wild game diets. Indeed a study done at Colorado State University looked at blood from people who ate big game meat for six weeks. Before and after comparisons showed lower total cholesterol, lower proportions of good and bad cholesterol (interesting since the content is a bit higher in deer meat), and much lower triglycerides. Purdue University found that steers on grass and deer both had healthier ratios of omega-6 to omega-3 fatty acids. That ratio was two to one, but other studies show the ratios for grain-fed steers were five to one. Grass-fed was the difference and of course, deer have that diet. Years ago a hunting friend from Arizona sent me a want ad from a big-city newspaper where a heart doctor was asking for hunters to donate venison for some of his heart patients. Interesting.

Let me end with one other observation. You can find venison on restaurant menus, and you can buy venison on the Internet. But none of that venison is wild game. Farm-raised venison is not wild game venison simply because of diet.

Of course not everyone hunts, so let me put this out to the hunter readers. Share some of your prize with friends and neighbors. They’ll find it tasty, and it sure helps to keep the ole heart beating.