What Are the Health Benefits of Bison Meat?

Medically Reviewed by Christine Mikstas, RD, LD on June 14, 2024
4 min read

Bison have been roaming the American Plains for thousands of years. Their meat is rich in proteins and other nutrients. Bison health benefits can include freedom from the chemicals and hormones used on traditional farm-raised cattle. 

Bison flavor is rich and sweet, making it an attractive addition to your dinner table. While bison health benefits are appealing, though, you must be cautious about the associated risks.

American bison are large animals with a prominent hump. They're found all over the US and Canada. They graze open grasslands, and a herd needs a large land area. They're not typically domesticated or bred in cattle pens on farms. That's why bison meat is not plentiful and costs more than beef.

Bison are not the same as buffalo, though they are often called by that name. So-called buffalo burgers may actually have bison meat in them. Buffalo, though, live in Asia and Africa.

The US Food Safety Inspection Service (FSIS) oversees the inspection of food livestock, including cattle, sheep, swine, equine, sheep, and goats. Bison and several other animals are not inspected, but they're still subject to regulation by the US Food and Drug Administration.

Bison meat has a rich, sweet flavor. It has a low saturated fat content, making it both healthy and easy to cook.

Bison meat is healthy meat. A 100-gram portion provides 20 grams of protein, 178 calories, and 8.5 grams of fat. It has almost no carbohydrates or fiber. Bison meat also provides small amounts of iron, magnesium, calcium, zinc, and other minerals.

Bison meat is a complete protein source containing all 20 amino acids that humans need. Bison meat also contains conjugated linoleic acid (CLA), which has anti-inflammatory properties. 

Non-ruminant meat sources like fish, turkey, pork, and chicken do not contain CLA.

When cattle roamed free and grazed on the range, they were slaughtered at 4 to 5 years of age. Currently, though, 99% of all beef in the US comes from grain-fed cattle slaughtered at about 14 months. Such beef has a higher fat content and higher omega-6 to omega-3 ratio, which can potentially cause cardiovascular disease.

Bison, meanwhile, are primarily range-fed and eat grass. Their meat has a lower fat content than beef. Among commonly consumed North American animals, only elk meat has less fat. Bison meat also has a more favorable fatty acid composition than beef.

Bison meat has fewer calories and less saturated fat than beef, and a relative proportion of unsaturated to saturated fats is better for health, especially heart health. 

Compared to beef, bison meat is also richer in protein. Bison steaks and roasts had a lower Index of atherogenicity, which indicates that bison meat is associated with a lower risk of vascular disease.

Bison meat consumption is better for the heart and blood vessels than beef. Bison meat reduces inflammation and lowers oxidative stress. It may be a healthier alternative in societies where red meat makes up a large proportion of the diet.

Cattle on farms are regularly given antibiotics and hormones to increase their weight and meat yield. Bison, on the other hand, graze on grassland and are free from these drugs.

Bison has to be cooked carefully since it is leaner than other red meat. Be careful not to overcook it. Thinner cuts can be broiled, grilled, or pan fried. Larger and less tender cuts do well with braising or stewing. Ground bison meat can be consumed as bison burgers, meatballs, pasta sauce, stroganoff, and nachos.

You can find bison meat in supermarkets and farmer's markets. Larger cuts can be used for 3 to 5 days, but you should use ground bison meat in 2 or 3 days. If you can't use it, freezing is safe for some months.

Cooking methods like salting, microwave cooking, drying, or smoking do not kill parasites. For safety from bacteria and trichinella, cooking the meat to an internal temperature of 71.1°C (160°F) is necessary. Freezing the meat at -15°C (5°F) for at least a month also renders it safe.

Bison live in the wild, and their environment is less protected than that of farm animals. They're more likely to be infected with viruses, bacteria, and prions. 

As a result, bison meat can cause brucellosis, an infection normally caused by eating undercooked meat. This disease is caused by a bacteria called Brucella. If you are infected, you may have a fever, back and joint pain, flu-like symptoms, and arthritis.

Ground bison meat has been linked to Escherichia coli outbreaks. Symptoms of E. coli poisoning start 3 to 4 days after eating contaminated food and include diarrhea (often containing blood), vomiting, and painful stomach cramps. Sometimes, such infections can lead to a life-threatening kidney disorder called the hemolytic-uremic syndrome.

If you find out about a bison meat recall, discard or return your remaining meat or patties.

Even if meat has not been recalled, use safe practices to handle and cook ground meat. Wash hands thoroughly after touching raw bison meat. Cook any food containing ground bison to an internal temperature of at least 160°F (70°).