October 29th, 2010
11:17 AM ET

Does wild game meat cause the same health problems as red meat?

Every weekday, a CNNHealth expert doctor answers a viewer question. On Friday, it's Dr. Melina Jampolis, a physician nutrition specialist.

Question asked by Rob of Colorado

Does wild game meat (deer, elk, antelope, etc.) cause the same health problems typically associated with red meat consumption or are its health benefits more akin to eating fish or chicken?

Expert answer:

Wild game such as deer, elk and antelope tend to be very lean due to their active lifestyle and natural diet. Their meat, therefore, is lower in total and saturated fat than red meat.

In addition, fat from wild game contains a higher proportion of polyunsaturated fatty acids. Their nutrition statistics are very similar to a skinless chicken breast, with most cuts having around 110 to 130 calories, 2 grams of fat and 25 grams of protein for a 3 oz. serving. Deer, elk and antelope have a vitamin and mineral composition similar to beef, so these meats are good sources of iron (5 mg/4 oz.), B12 (3.6 mcg/4 oz.), B6, niacin and riboflavin.

While no research that I could find looked specifically at game meat in terms of health risks or benefits, based on their nutrition profile, they can be considered a good source of lean protein that can be consumed in moderation as part of a healthy diet along with skinless poultry, fish and trimmed lean meats.

It is not known whether game meat is associated with an increased risk of heart disease or cancer, as red meat and especially processed red meat are. In addition, they do not have the health-promoting benefits associated with fish, especially fatty fish, which is high in omega 3 fatty acids, so it is important to try to consume at least two servings of fish per week, according to the American Heart Association.

Similar to other types of meat, it is probably wise to cook game meats at lower temperatures for a longer period of time to avoid the formation of potentially cancer-causing compounds associated with cooking meats at higher temperatures.

Of note, there has been some research showing increased lead levels in people who consume wild game meat on a regular basis due to lead bullets. This has led some health agencies to recommend that pregnant women and children avoid consumption of game meat harvested with lead bullets.

Disclaimer: My response to this question does not imply that I endorse the sport of hunting. I am simply responding to the question regarding nutrition information.

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Get a behind-the-scenes look at the latest stories from CNN Chief Medical Correspondent, Dr. Sanjay Gupta, Senior Medical Correspondent Elizabeth Cohen and the CNN Medical Unit producers. They'll share news and views on health and medical trends - info that will help you take better care of yourself and the people you love.