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Venison a healthy alternative to domestic meats

CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- By the time West Virginia's deer seasons end on Dec. 31, hunters will have killed more than 125,000 whitetails.

The meat from those animals will provide a mind-boggling number of meals for the hunters, their families and friends. The average Mountain State deer yields 35.5 pounds of meat. Cut into 4-ounce portions, venison from that many deer will create more than 17.7 million servings.

Though similar to beef, venison contains more protein, far fewer calories, far less fat and far less saturated fat. Venison is somewhat higher in cholesterol, but the lack of fat keeps the cholesterol from becoming a problem.

Meat from wild game contains much less fat than meat from farm-raised animals. Wild animals seldom develop the "marbling," or intramuscular fat, found in cattle or hogs. Wild critters are simply leaner.

Time and again, nutritional studies have confirmed that fact.

The U.S. Department of Agriculture's Nutrient Database shows that a 4-ounce serving of boneless, cooked venison steak contains 170 calories, 2.96 grams of total fat, 1.1 grams of saturated fat, and 88 milligrams of cholesterol.

A similarly sized serving of lean, cooked beefsteak contains 212 calories, 7.52 g of total fat, 2.8 grams of saturated fat, and 76 mg of cholesterol.

Nutritional studies at several universities have yielded similar results.

A study by University of Missouri researchers, for example, revealed that a 3-ounce serving of roast beef contained 184 calories, 3 grams of saturated fat and 73 mg of cholesterol. Roast venison, on the other hand, contained just 134 calories, only 1 gram of total fat and 95 mg of cholesterol.

At Kansas State University, researchers used larger portions - 31/2 ounces as opposed to 3 ounces. Beef contained 221 calories, venison just 158. Beef had 1.75 grams of saturated fat, venison just 1.25.

Numbers don't mean much unless they translate to health benefits, though, and researchers at Colorado State University conducted a study to see how a diet of venison and other game meats differs from a diet of store-bought meats.

Researchers recorded their test subjects' cholesterol and triglyceride levels, had the subjects eat game meat instead of store-bought meat for six weeks, and then repeated the blood tests.

The subjects had lower total cholesterol than before, better proportions of low-density lipoprotein (bad) cholesterol to high-density lipoprotein (good) cholesterol, and lower triglyceride levels.

Paul Johansen, assistant wildlife chief for the state Division of Natural Resources, said the quest for such a high-quality food source lies at the heart of West Virginians' perpetual fascination with deer hunting.

"West Virginians are very resourceful," Johansen said. "They know how to take care of themselves, be it with a vegetable garden or by harvesting a deer during the hunting season.

"Being able to put some nutritious, high-quality meat in the freezer is a huge part of the motivation West Virginians have to deer hunt, and I think that's a good thing."

Reach John McCoy at johnmccoy@wvgazette.com or 304-348-1231.


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