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Diet & Nutrition

The Other Red Meat

A staple of traditional Native American diets, bison is making a comeback in modern, healthy cuisine

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We all know that classic American ditty, “Oh give me a home where the buffalo roam.” But did you know that the celebrated beast of the American West isn’t a buffalo at all? It’s a bison. Buffalo can be found in Asia and Africa; bison have roamed the plains of North America for centuries.

The confusion is the result of a French-to-English transliteration some 400 years ago. But whether you
call it buffalo or bison, it’s experiencing a resurgence in popularity. Genetically pure bison have been relocated to Native American lands to provide cultural and economic benefits; the bison herd in Yellowstone National Park is a top tourist attraction; and local health-food stores are starting to carry a full line of bison meats.

Only a few years ago, you were lucky if you could find a small frozen package of ground “buffalo” tucked away in an obscure corner your market’s freezer. Nowadays, meat cases display an enticing array of fresh bison-New York steaks, clod roast, rib-eyes, and more. For those who eat meat, this is cause for celebration. Bison is a great source of lean protein as well as a wealth of nutrients. Bison has more protein, and less fat and cholesterol, than beef (90 percent lean), pork (84 percent lean), turkey, and even skinless chicken.

In addition to a roster of virtuous vitamins, bison provides selenium, iron, and copper. Bison meat also contains omega-3 fatty acids-and we all know how essential those are for combating inflammation and helping lower cancer, heart disease, and dementia risk.

Eaten in moderation, bison can be an integral part of a healthy diet. Making tacos? Try ground bison. Sunday dinner? Crank up the slow cooker with a bison clod roast. Barbecued pork chops? Try a couple of bison New York strips instead. And as always, make sure your portions are small-no more than four ounces per person is more than enough if you surround it with a tasty gluten-free grain dish and a bevy of vegetables.

And for all of us who are concerned with how our food is raised, it’s reassuring to know that bison are still essentially wild animals, allowed to roam and forage at will.

So the next time your protein cravings swing toward meat, make it bison-and discover for yourself this tidy package of excellent nutrition and exceptional taste.

Because of its lower fat content, bison requires a slightly different cooking treatment than beef. For larger cuts, such as a roast, slow, wet cooking is best. For steaks and burgers, medium heat and a shorter cooking time are the way to go.