Eating chicken has become synonymous with eating healthy, and it’s a common assumption that chicken and fish make up the gamut of healthy protein. But there are several alternatives to chicken that offer flavors all their own. If you don’t have a local hunter buddy, these foods may take some work to locate, but they’re worth checking out if you want to expand your menu into other healthy protein sources.
Because of its extremely low saturated fat content, rabbit is one of the foods of choice for heart disease patients and the elderly. The meat is 100% white meat, and you can expect rabbit to have a very mild flavor, with very little “gamey” taste. Recipes for rabbit commonly call for extended cooking times, and the FDA suggests cooking rabbit in the oven for not less than one hour, and making certain the meat achieves a temperature of at least 160-degrees Fahrenheit. Owing to its exceptionally low fat content, may recipes for rabbit recommend stewing.
A single 3-ounce serving of rabbit contributes just 3-grams of fat, and so contains just 147 calories. However, at 28-grams of protein, that 3-ounce serving is a muscle building powerhouse. Rabbit is also a great source of iron, with a single serving contributing about 23% of your recommended daily allowance of iron.
Derived from another North American game animal, venison is the meat harvested from deer, and was a favorite of Native American Indian tribes. A 3-ounce serving of venison contains even less fat than rabbit, contributing just 2-grams of fat to your diet. Like rabbit, the low fat content demands careful attention in the kitchen. Recipes commonly include slow cooking methods to tenderize the meat, with the crockpot being a favored kitchen tool. Slow grilling can provide very tasty meals if careful attention is given by the chef. Venison goes well with red wine, making for an antioxidant laden meal.
Owing to the extremely low fat content, a 3-ounce serving of venison has even fewer calories than a serving of rabbit, coming in at a mere 128-calories, less than 2-grams of saturated fat, and 26-grams of protein.
Estimates suggest that at one time, there were as many as 30 million prairie bison in the United States. Commercial hunting pressure in the early 1900’s, encouraged by the U.S. government, decimated those numbers, but restoration efforts over the last 30-years have allowed these massive creatures to return to their home range. Interest in bison for commercial purposes has increased again, and from a nutritional standpoint, it’s understandable. A 3-ounce serving of bison contains about 5-grams of fat, and has just 145-calories.
Although bison has a low fat content, it’s slightly higher in fat than venison or rabbit, which makes cooking bison slightly more forgiving to the chef. Still, most recipes call for slow cooking, and careful attention is required on the grill. Recipes for bison burgers often recommend mixing bison with fats to keep them juicy, but this should be avoided when possible, as it adds unnecessary calories. When cooking steaks, most experts recommend the use of tongs, rather than a fork, for turning bison on the grill. Using tongs avoids puncturing the steak, which would release the all-important tenderizing juices.
Once favored by kings, quail are the closest cousins to chicken on this list, and one of the easiest to locate. Quail are very small birds, so a single quail breast is typically between 3-5 ounces in size, making it the perfect serving size. It’s not uncommon to see quail, usually in 2-breast packages, in the frozen meat section at your local grocer.
In sharp contrast to the recommended slow cooking methods for the other protein sources on this list, most experts recommend cooking quail on intermediate heat for no more than 10-minutes. The short cooking time will seal in flavors and keep the meat from drying out. If you want to try your hand at roasting, try sealing the meat first by searing quickly over high heat and then popping them in the roaster.
Expect your efforts to reward you with a meat that is slightly more gamey than you’ll expect from chicken, but also sweeter, and in contrast to chicken, well complimented by red wine. Nutritionally, quail is lower in fat than chicken, with a single serving providing just 2-grams, and no saturated fat. Although lower than the other foods on this list, quail still has more protein than a single serving of chicken (13-grams), and the low fat content means a single serving of quail has a mere 69-calories.
As you can see from this short list, the options for someone who wants to eat healthy, yet still enjoys steaks and burgers, extends well beyond chicken or fish. Cooking these foods requires some adjustment on the part of the chef, as the low fat content makes it very easy to overcook these foods. But with a little effort, there are many options that can provide meat lovers with alternatives that even exceed the health benefits of chicken.
About the author: Greg Hayes is the author of Live Fit Blog, a blog about healthy living, weight loss, and what it means to be a father, friend, husband, and much more.