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Bison edges beef in nutrition study


Posted July 16, 2013
(Summer 2013 VA Research Currents)

  This bison was photographed at Wildlife Prairie State Park in Illinois. VA researchers have confirmed that bison meat is healthier than beef for the heart.

This bison was photographed at Wildlife Prairie State Park in Illinois. VA researchers have confirmed that bison meat is healthier than beef for the heart. (Photo by Ted Lee Eubanks Jr., Fermata/www.byways.org.)

Bison meat has been touted as being healthier than beef. Bison typically graze in grasslands and according to the National Bison Association they are not routinely given growth hormones or antibiotics, as are cattle. Also, analyses have shown that bison meat is less dense in fat and calories than beef and higher in certain nutrients, such as iron and vitamin B-12. It also has a more healthful balance of fats—for example, a higher ratio of polyunsaturated fat to saturated fat.

Clinical evidence of the implications for health, though, has been lacking. A team including researchers at the Cleveland and Salt Lake City VA medical centers put the claims about bison to the test: Fourteen healthy men, average age 34, took part in the study. They each ate a single 12-ounce serving of each meat, and then 10 of them took part in a longer-term phase of the trial in which they ate 12 ounces per day, six days per week, of either bison or beef, for seven weeks. After a 30-day "washout period" to clear their system, the men continued for another seven weeks, switching to the other meat.

When all the lab analyses had been done, the researchers concluded that bison poses less risk to cardiovascular health. For example, following a single beef meal, triglycerides and a marker of oxidative stress called hydroperoxides were elevated, as was a harmful form of cholesterol called oxidized LDL. Also, a measure of artery health called flow-mediated dilation was reduced. After a single bison meal, the increase in triglycerides was smaller, and there was no change in hydroperoxides, oxidized LDL, or flow-mediated dilation. After the long-term diet, several markers of inflammation and oxidative stress were worse from the beef but not the bison diet, although neither regimen had an effect on body weight, percent body fat, or lipids.

The researchers concluded that "in terms of vascular health, bison meat appears to provide a healthier alternative [to red meat]."

(Nutrition Research, April 2013)