Nutrient Content of Bison Meat from Grass- and Grain-Finished Bulls

M. J. Marchello1 and J. A. Driskell2
Animal and Range Sciences Department, North Dakota State University, Fargo; and
2Nutritional Science and Dietetics    University of Nebraska, Lincoln

Consumers are eating bison meat as an alternative meat.   Approximately 300,000 bison (Bison bison) are being raised for meat production in North America according to Sam Albrecht, Executive Director of the National Bison Association.  Bison meat does provide nutrients to meet some of the nutritional needs of humans.  Some controversy exists regarding the nutritive quality of grass- and grain-finished bison.  The data which exist as to the nutrient content of meat from grass- and grain-finished bison are given in this paper.  More detailed descriptions of the research from which these data are derived have been published.1-4

Shoulder clod (Triceps brachii), ribeye (Longissimus thoracis), top round (semimembranosus), and top sirloin (Gluteus medius) cuts were obtained from bulls.  These cuts came from 31 grass-finished (average age = 32 months) and 100 grain-finished (average age = 24 months) bulls that were raised in various regions of the United States and Canada (Table 1).  This should be representative of the bison meat that is available to consumers.  Few differences in nutrient content were observed between the four cuts from grass-finished bulls;4 the same was true for the grain-finished.1-3  Therefore, the nutrient content of these four cuts were averaged. 

The macronutrient and food energy content of meat from grass- and grain-finished bison bulls is given in Table 2.  Comments regarding the nutritional content5-12 of this meat are also listed in Table 2.  The functions of these macronutrients and food energy are discussed in detail elsewhere.12

The vitamin and mineral (micronutrients) content of meat from grass- and grain-finished bison bulls is given in Table 3.  Comments regarding the nutritional content5-7,9,10,12-15 of this meat are also listed in Table 3.  The functions of these micronutrients are discussed in detail elsewhere.12

All of these nutrient content assays were done on raw or uncooked meat.  This is the usual method for presenting such data in that consumers cook their meats in different ways and to different degrees of doneness.  Moisture is lost during cooking, thus increasing the concentrations of minerals and protein in the cooked meat.  The vitamin content of meat is decreased following cooking, with water-soluble vitamins, such as thiamin, vitamin B6, and vitamin B12, being about two-thirds retained and fat-soluble vitamins, such as vitamin E, about three-fourths retained.16  This same pattern has been observed in the cooking of meat from other species such as beef.16

The information given in the tables may be useful for nutritional labeling, though labeling is not required for fresh meat.  Utilizing these data, producers can provide consumers with Nutrition Fact information.  Based on current research only minimal differences exist in the nutrient content of meat from bison that have been finished on grass and those finished on grain.  However, more research is needed, especially controlled feeding studies.  It is important that the industry speak with one voice to consumers about the nutrient content of bison meat.  Consumers frequently are more interested in how bison meat compares with meat from beef, pork, or poultry, and it compares well.  Research indicates that bison meat contains many nutrients which are essential to human life and health.


1Marchello, M.J., Slanger, W.D., Hadley, M., Milne, D.B., Driskell, J.A.  Nutrient composition of bison fed concentrate diets.  Journal of Food Composition and Analysis 11:231;1998.

2Driskell, J.A., Yuan X., Giraud D.W., Hadley, M., Marchello, M.J.  Concentrations of selected vitamins and selenium in bison cuts.  Journal of Animal Science 75:2950;1997.

3Driskell, J.A., Marchello, M.J., Giraud, D.W.  Riboflavin and niacin concentrations of bison cuts.  Journal of Animal Science, in press.

4Marchello, M.J., Driskell, J.A.  Nutrient composition of grass- and grain-finished bison.  Great Plains Research, in press.

5Food and Drug Administration.  Food Labeling: Reference Daily Intakes and Daily Reference Values.  Food Register October 29, 1992 (58 FR 2206).

6Food and Drug Administration.  Food Labeling: Nutrient Content Claims, General Principles, Petitions, Definitions of Terms; Definitions of Nutrient Content Claims for the Fat, Fatty Acid, and Cholesterol Content of Food.  Federal Register December 17, 1992 (58 FR 2302).

7Committee on Diet and Health, Food and Nutrition Board, National Research Council.  Diet and Health: Implications for Reducing Chronic Disease Risk.  Washington, DC: National Academy Press; 1989.

8American Heart Association.  Dietary guidelines for healthy American adults: A statement for physicians and health professionals by the Nutrition Committee.  Circulation 7:721A;1988.

9Federation of American Societies for Experimental Biology. Third Report on Nutrition Monitoring in the United States, Vol. 1-2.  Washington, DC: United States Government Printing Office; 1995.

10Subcommittee on the 10th Edition of the RDAs, Food and Nutrition Board, National Research Council.  Recommended Dietary Allowances.  Washington, DC: National Academy Press; 1989.

11Neuringer, M., Conner, W.E.  n-3 fatty acids in the brain and retina: evidence for their essentiality.  Nutrition Reviews 44:285;1986.

12Spallholz, J.E., Boylan, L.M., Driskell, J.A.  Nutrition: Chemistry and Biology, 2nd ed.  Boca Raton, FL:CRC Press; 1999.

13Institute of Medicine, National Academy of Sciences.  Dietary Reference Intakes for Calcium, Phosphorus, Magnesium, Vitamin D, and Fluoride.  Washington, DC: National Academy Press; 1999.

14Institute of Medicine, National Academy of Sciences.  Dietary Reference Intakes for Thiamin, Riboflavin, Niacin, Vitamin B6, Folate, Vitamin B12, Pantothenic Acid, Biotin, and Choline.  Washington, DC: National Academy Press; 2000.

15Institute of Medicine, National Academy of Sciences.  Dietary Reference Intakes for Vitamin C, Vitamin E, Selenium, and Carotenoids.  Washington, DC: National Academy Press; 2000.

16Yuan, X., Marchello, M.J., Driskell, J.A.  Selected vitamin contents and retentions in bison patties as related to cooking method.  Journal of Food Science 64:462;1999.


State/Province                                                                                            Grass                 Grain

Alberta                                                                                                             -                       24

British Columbia                                                                                               -                       6

California                                                                                                          -                       6        

Colorado                                                                                                          1                      3

Delaware                                                                                                          -                       1

Kansas                                                                                                             8                      17

Manitoba                                                                                                          -                       6

Michigan                                                                                                          -                       3

Missouri                                                                                                           -                       3

Nebraska                                                                                                         5                      -

North Dakota                                                                                                   2                      14

South Dakota                                                                                                   5                      15

Texas                                                                                                               3                      -

Wisconsin                                                                                                         7                      -

Wyoming                                                                                                          -                       4

Total                                                                                                               31                 100





Nutrient                                                       Grass               Grain                       Nutritional Commentsa

Protein (%)                                                  21.5                 21.7          Excellent source of protein

 Moisture (%)                                               75.9                 74.6          Typical of most meats

 Fat (%)                                                       1.7                     2.2          Low in fat

                                                                                                             Low intakes associated with decreased incidence
                                                                                                             of heart disease & cancer

                                                                                                            Diet should contain <30% of                                                                                                             calories

Saturated Fat                                               47.4                 42.5          Low intakes associated with (% of            
                                                                                                            fat) decreased incidence                                                                                                             of heart disease & cancer

Monounsaturated Fat                                   35.4                 46.5          Higher proportion associated with (% of 
                                                                                                            fat) decreased incidence of heart disease                                                                                                             & cancer

Oleic acid                                                    34.0                 42.7          Higher proportion perhaps associated (% of fat) 

                                                                                                            with decreased incidence of heart disease


Polyunsaturated Fat                                      17.2                 11.0          Higher proportion associated with (% of fat) 

                                                                                                            decreased incidence of heart disease & cancer

Linoleic Acid                                                13.8                 10.5          Recommended ω-6:ω-3 intake is (% of                 
                                                                                                            fat) 4-10:1 (ω-6)

Linolenic Acid                                               3.4                    0.5          (ω-3) (% of fat)

Ash  (%)                                                      1.2                   1.2           Reflective of total mineral                                                                                                             content


Cholesterol                                                   65                      66          Lean meat (mg/100 g)                                                                                               
Low intakes associated with decreased 
                                                                                                            incidence of heart disease & cancer


Food Energy                                              133                    141           Relatively low in calories

(kcal/100 g)                    

Note:  Recommended ratio of saturated:monounsaturated:polyunsaturated fats is 1:1:1 with <10%
 of calories from each

aReferences 5-12.

TABLE 3.  Comparison of the Vitamin and Mineral Content of Raw Separable Lean from Grass- vs. Grain-Finished Bison


                                                                                                                         Mean %

                                                                                                                        Daily Valueb

 Mineral                          Grass      Grain         Nutritional Commentsa           Grass       Grain    

Calcium (mg/100g)            5.5         4.9           Not good source                     <1c                     <1

 Copper  (Fg/100 g)         160         142           Some samples may contain        8             7

                                                                       10+% and thus be a good source

Iron (mg/100g)                 2.8          2.9           Both are good sources             16           16

Magnesium (mg/100g)     25.8        24.2          Some samples may contain        6             6

                                                                       10+% and thus be a good source

Manganese (μg/100g)       11.5       13.4          If use % lower estimated          <1           <1

                                                                       safe and adequate daily

                                                                       dietary intake as is no daily value

Phosphorus (mg/100g)      181         198           Grass-finished is good source   18           20       

                                                                       while grain-finished is excellent source

Zinc (mg/100g)                  3.3          3.8          Both are excellent sources        22           25

Sodium (mg/100g)           44.7       52.2           Both are low in sodium              -d             -

                                                                       Recommended intake is <2400 mg daily.

                                                                       High sodium intakes are associated

                                                                       with increased incidence of hypertension.

Potassium (mg/100g)       305         336           2000 mg is estimated                 -              -         

                                                                       minimum requirement

Selenium (μg/100g)         105          26            If use recommended dietary     191          47       

                                                                       allowance as is no daily value

Vitamin A (μg/100g)       -               0.8           Not a good source                    -            <1

-Carotene                          -           nd            Moderate intake levels               -              -       

                                                               may be associated with

                                                               decreased incidence of heart

                                                               disease and cancer                    

Vitamin C (mg/100g)         -            nd            Not a good source                    -            <1

Thiamin (mg/100g)             -          0.043         Not a good source                    -             3

Riboflavin (mg/100g)          -            0.940       Some samples may                    -             6

                                                                       contain 10+% and thus be

                                                                       a good source

Niacin (mg/100g)               -          1.910         Good source                             -            10 

Vitamin B6 (mg/100g)        -          0.240         Good source                             -            12

Vitamin B12 (μg/100g)        -          2.565         Excellent source                        -            43

Vitamin E (mg α-TE)          -            0.048       Not a good source                    1            <1


aReferences 5-7,9,10,12-15.  These vitamins and minerals perform many functions in the body which are detailed elsewhere (reference 12).  Low intakes of several of these nutrients have been associated with increased incidence of heart disease, while excessive consumption of a few of these may also result in effects detrimental to human health.
bDaily Value (given as a percentage) is an expression of recommended intake per serving that is utilized in the nutritional labeling (as Nutrition Facts) according to Food and Drug Administration regulations (reference 5).
cContains less than 1% of the Daily Value.
dNo Daily Value exists/data have not been published.

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