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Fatty Acid Profiles of Western Canadian Bison (Bison bison) Meat

Abstract: Western Canadian bison meat is renowned for its natural healthfulness; however, studies on the dietary effects on the fatty acid (FA) profile are limited. Herein, we evaluated the FA profiles of retail bison (longissimus dorsi) representing grain-fed (Grain), grass-fed (Grass) and grass-fed plus oat and pea screening supplement from early (Early-con) or late (Late-con) season harvested finishing regimes. Bison meat contained less than 30 mg fat/g meat, and was lowest for Early-con bison. Proportions of polyunsaturated FA (PUFA) were greatest in Early-con and lowest for Late-con bison. Early-con bison had the greatest proportion of omega-6 (n-6) FA and Late-con bison the lowest, yet as mg/g meat, total n-6 content did not differ. In contrast, Grass and Early-con bison had greater proportions of 18:3n-3, 20:5n-3, 22:5n-3, 22:6n-3 and total omega-3 (n-3) FA. The n-3 content for Grain, Grass, Early-con and Late-con bison were 38, 90, 69 and 69 mg/100 g meat, respectively. The 3:1 n-6/n-3 ratios of Grass, Early-con and Late-con bison were superior to the 7:1 ratio of Grain bison. Proportions of potentially beneficial biohydrogenation intermediates (BI), including t11-18:1 and c9, t11-conjugated linoleic acid, were greater for Early-con and Late-con bison. Proportions of cis-monounsaturated FA were similar for both Grain and Grass bison; however, Late-con was greater than Early-con bison. Cumulatively, Grass, Early-con and Late-con bison were more desirable compared to Grain on account of greater proportions of n-3 FA and a lower n-6/n-3 ratio. Furthermore, seasonal supplementation enhanced the BI proportions with potential beneficial bioactivity in Early-con and Late-con bison.

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Alex’s Notes: Last month we had the pleasure of comparing grass-finished lamb and beef from New Zealand, and today I want to share with you yet another awesome animal – the bison! If you have never eaten bison then you are truly missing out on one of the leanest yet most tender meats on the market. The good news is that bison is one of the most common game meats on the market and it is not too difficult to find. The bad news is that its availability and fame has made it a target of conventional feeding practices and most nutritional information is based on these bison. Now, I will add that by “conventional” I am talking about grain feeding and by no means am saying that bison are crowded into feedlots like cattle; it simply can’t be done because the bison are – unlike the domesticated cow – wild animals.

Anyway, the Canadians (the researchers are in Canada) acknowledge all of the above and sought to determine the fatty acid profiles of bison using four different feeding practices.

“Bison ribeye steaks (longissumus dorsi) from grain- and grass-fed feeding programs were purchased at retail under various farm labels. Multiple steaks sold under a single label were purchased over a period of months to be representative of the supply available to consumers. Efforts to determine the bison diets used during the finishing stage were made by contacting producers directly. In general, grain-fed bison (Grain, n = 19) were fed whole oats in drylot pens with access to conserved hay, whereas grass-fed bison (Grass, n = 19) were grazed on fresh pasture and wintered with either mixed brome or alfalfa hay.”

“The effects of seasonal pasture supplementation prior to slaughter were also investigated. These samples were collected from a single large producer and divided into two groups: Early-con (n = 59) bison were supplemented with 3.7 kg/head/day oats plus 0.5 kg commercial pea screening pellet containing 15% dry matter crude protein, from May until July, while on fresh native pasture; Late-con (n = 53) bison grazing native pasture beginning in May were supplemented with 3.7 kg/head/day oats plus 0.5 kg commercial pea screening pellet from July until slaughter.”

The most surprising outcome in my opinion was that all the bison samples contained less than 3% fat, with the lowest fat amount in the early-con group! This may not be surprising until you compare it to beef, which has nearly three times as much fat for the same cut (rib-eye). It is interesting to read the authors explanation of the lower fat content in the early-con bison, as they explain that bison have seasonal metabolic changes that encourage growth and feeding during spring to compensate for reduced intake during winter. Thus, the supplemental feed during this time likely accelerated muscle growth. Early-con also had the highest absolute amounts of PUFA, while late-con had the greatest MUFA content, and SFA did not differ between any groups.

Because early-con had the greatest PUFA, it also had the greatest linoleic acid, but when expressed as a percentage of fat content, linoleic acid didn’t differ between any groups. The early-con bison also had the greatest amount of gamma-linolenic acid, and arachidonic acid didn’t differ between groups. For the omega-3s, alpha-linolenic acid, EPA, & DHA were greatest in the grass and early-con bison. Overall, omega-3 proportions were greater for the grass and early-con bison than the late-con or grain. On this note, all bison groups had an omega-6: omega-3 ratio of 3:1 except for the grain group, which had a ratio of 7:1.

Before everyone goes outside screaming “I told you so,” I want to emphasize that while grass-fed bison have a more favorable omega profile, we also cannot forget that the bison contained only 3% fat and thus the absolute contribution of this stuff is likely minimal. Unfortunately, the researchers don’t present the data in terms of grams per unit of weight and instead only supply the percentage contribution to the total fat content. For those interested, I have summarized the main fatty acids below.

Fatty Acid

Grain

Grass

Early-con

Late-con

14:0

1.11

1.27

0.94

1.24

16:0

18.7

19.1

17.9

20.0

18:0

18.1

18.2

18.3

16.4

 

       

c9-18:1

38.6

36.1

33.7

41.6

 

       

18:2n-6

7.85

7.16

9.34

4.83

18:3n-6

0.05

0.05

0.08

0.04

20:4n-6

2.69

2.91

3.23

1.76

Total n-6

11.09

10.6

13.21

6.92

 

       

18:3n-3

0.68

1.67

1.69

1.10

20:5n-3

0.31

0.83

0.90

0.44

22:6n-3

0.17

0.30

0.41

0.24

Total n-3

1.57

4.20

4.49

2.52

 

       

n-6/n-3 ratio

6.9

2.5

2.9

2.7

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